Now any seamstress or hobby sewist will undoubtedly have discarded that little white strip along the fabric edge without a second thought, probably a few hundred times or more. You know that “useless” strip where the manufacturer’s branding is printed…along with a few strange coloured circles? Well, there’s more to it than just branding! That printing along the fabric edge is known as the fabric selvage marking and, together with keeping the fabric from fraying or unravelling, it actually contains more useful info than you’d previously imagined.
What's in a name?
Before you learn the secrets of the strip: how about that weird name?! Well, the name selvage or selvedge originated form the term self-edge, meaning a self finished edge of fabric. You will find that the specific weave in the selvage strip stops it from fraying entirely. It is “self-edged”.
The colored circles (or what-ever other shape the manufacturer uses) contained in the selvage strip offer a wealth of guidance when it comes to color matching of fabrics for a larger project and, when placed alongside each other, the selvage markings of two different fabrics can tell you whether or not the fabrics really match, color-wise.
For example…should you be looking for a solid color match for a complex and colourful print, the selvage dots will allow you to tell whether or not your eyes are deceiving you as we often lose perspective of individual tones when a print is complex and color-rich. When dealing with two complex prints, matching more than two of the circles in each fabric up should tell you whether or not the fabrics will complement each other.
What’s even more exciting about the selvage strip is this: once you’ve used it to help you pick out colors for your project…save it! There is actually what I can only call a movement of sentimental sewists, quilters in particular, out there who religiously save their selvage strips. You’ll be inspired and utterly amazed once you’ve had a look at what some of these artists have done with their collections!
Plus, it’s not only because the sturdy, un-fraying weave makes for great pincushions, pencil pouches and seat-covers, it’s also because there, on what ever you chose to construct out of your saved up selvage strips, stands a history of the brands you’ve used and your choices and experience of every project you’ve undertaken since you started selvage-saving! In the end you can produce an item that's bright and detailed, a color coded history book telling the tale of all your hard work in front of the machine! One thing’s for sure: undertaking a selvage project of your own is bound to be a rewarding and sentimental experience!
The wide variety of fonts, colors and patterns used in different selvage strips make for incredible detail and what’s more…no one’s item, even if they use your selvage pattern, will look remotely the same.
When sewing together strips for your project, consider this: the cut edge of the selvage won't fray…instead, it may well create ribbons of the most adorable fluff, adding even more texture and detail to your piece. Keep about an inch of the actual fabric attached to your strip (to play around with) when you trim it off the main fabric. Use top stitching to sew your strips together: just within the finished edge.
You may not have noticed it in the project pictures, but I made the handles of the Gleam, RFID Shielded Handbag from the selvages of the Marimekko fabric I used for the bag. If you look closely, you'll see the markings. I used the technique detailed in the tutorial and video about Making Bag Handles from Twisted Fabric Scraps to make the handles. Not only were these handles very strong because of the more robust nature of the selvages, but the subtle display of a brand like Marimekko was fantastic. So many people have asked me about it and assumed the bag was a designer item. And all this with something sewists would often just throw away!
So Salvage your Selvages!
I’m pretty sure this has given you a little bit to think about, a little colored, printed strip to think about…happy sewing and happy selvage salvaging!
What sort of things have you made using selvages? Please share your ideas with us in the comments below.