Salvage your Selvages!

salvage your selvagesNow 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”.

salvage your selvagesThe 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.

salvage your selvages

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!

salvage your selvages

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.

RFID shielded handbag

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!

salvage your selvages

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.

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39 Responses to Salvage your Selvages!

  1. Nancy C. Mack says:

    I started saving selvedges but have wondered how much do other people save (length and width). Would love to hear what others are doing!

  2. Anne-Marie Steinmetz says:

    I have a selvage “ball” to keep them in order.
    When quilt will be a gift, I sometimes use selvage as the ribbon.

  3. wendy says:

    I have never considered using selvages before, guess I will give it some serious cosideration now. thank you

  4. Diana says:

    Now if only they had care instructions, too!

  5. Iris says:

    They also make wonderful plant ties.

  6. Dianne Page says:

    I also have been saving selvages for years. I have made 2 small quilts, but have the strips made out of selvages and scraps to make a queen size and a full size quilt out of them. I gave a demonstration on making projects out of my selvage fabric, selvages sewn to a fabric foundation and used just like regular fabric. The ladies in my guild were very surprised by all the things I had made…including pincushions, potholders, soft toys, stuffed animals, mug rugs, Appliques for other things, small bags, larger bags, gallon size and smaller can covers, bottle covers for hiding things inside, notebook covers, cosmetic bags, small zipper purses, Coin purses, pencil carriers, shoe bags, small purse with long straps to hang around neck to use while shopping without carrying a purse, and of course zipper bags of all sizes for our sewing “notions” for meetings and classes…I was amazed with other things on the internet like stool tops, chairs covered with selvages, even a fitted woman’s dress and the biggest surprise was the old VW that was covered with selvages and fabric all over and was being used as an advertisement for a local fabric shop in a big town(used for deliveries)…My quilt ladies now realize that I am not the only selvage ‘crazy’ lady that is alive and well still collecting and saving selvages….Really enjoyed your article…thanks.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      WOW! Diane, i would love to see some of your pictures to add to the article, with full credit of course.

  7. Wanda Barefoot says:

    Wow! I LOVE this bit of info! I usually toss them in the trash but I won’t anymore. Bag handles? That’s pretty ingenious! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Lyric Joy says:

    Wonder if there is a place to purchase unwanted selvage.

  9. Pat Presley says:

    I learned this purely by experience, but thank you for affirming my beliefs!! In the beginning, I thought I should keep the shelved strip in case I ever needed more of this same fabric, I could go online and using the makers name to find more. I knew the little colored circles were the true colors of each color used in the fabric. Thank you so much! You provide so much valuable information.

  10. I am not not a creative person and color coordination is not my forte. I wish I had known this information years ago. It would have saved me time and frustration on coordinating colors. Thank you for the great tip. I will be using the information in future purchasing of materials. Thank you wodehousegirl for the info.

  11. Mary Jane Fields says:

    Have been sewing since I was about 10 and am now nearing 79 – wish I had known about using the color marks for matching fabrics, duh! I will now start using the selvedges before I leave the fabric store and look for more uses at home
    Mary Jane

  12. carmen says:

    The selvages could be use as facing for the neckline, too!
    Ciao from Italy!
    Carmen

    • Roch says:

      Yes, I was taught to always work the salvages into the hems for strength and durabitly, to not cut them out but always save them in the work.

  13. Wodehousegirl says:

    There is a pattern on Craftsy by jessicaquilter that is a bookshelf quilt using selvages as the book titles!! I have also seen a mug rug pattern use the same idea. Have fun

  14. Honor Hughes says:

    Wow how interesting learning about the history of the selvage. Never have I considered saving them for a project – how unique. Hope people post their projects.

  15. Zenia Rene says:

    Awesome post Myra! Thank you for the inspiration. Your bag definitely looks designer! Fantastic finish!

  16. Suzette Lempitsky says:

    I have been saving them to create “yarn” and will crochet them into rugs, throws, hot pads or ??? whatever else I can think of. Got the idea from when I strip old sheets and use in rag rug making.

  17. LoAnn Trowbridge says:

    My mother made a pillow from them–just the front. The back was plain. It was very pretty!

  18. Nancy Chiatovich says:

    I am going throuh my garbage can as soon as I am done reading this! I started a new Christmas project today and have tossed several! No more tossing for me! Thank you so much for the info on selvages and the cool ideas!

  19. Geri Blackwelder says:

    I’ve used them to trim and “brand” denim bags.

  20. I have never thought of keeping selvedge. Can’t imagine how many of them I have thrown away.

  21. Peggy says:

    I use them when I wrap gifts….no more buying ribbon, since I have an almost endless supply of selvedges.

  22. Tina says:

    I have made pincushions, and several bags from selvedges. Wish I could upload a picture to share. I love using my selvedges!

  23. I have made sewing chair seat before. I have a purse to take to a quilt show and everyone knows what it’s made from. My friends even save the selvages for me

  24. Sharon says:

    I’ve been saving selvedges for years. Love them!!! I am making 8″ blocks constructed with the selvedges to turn into a quilt. I think I have enough made now but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop saving! It’s addictive!!

  25. Ida Olson Horning says:

    About 5 months ago I saw (and photographed) a purse tote made entirely of selvages, while attending a quilters luncheon. The selvages sewn together from numerous projects were impressive!

  26. lLinda Kiefer says:

    The selvage can also be a very decorative and color coordinated trim, Some of the fringed ones are especially pretty. They are also useful for stay strips if you need them if the fabric is woven. With knits the selvage can be used as neckline banding by turning the decorative edge to the outside.

  27. Linda Caromile says:

    I used a triple stitched denim seam to make tote bag handles. I cut them close to the edge of the seam, cutting away enough fabric to make a bit of raw edge fringe. Really easy and really cute.

  28. Lisa Woolfork says:

    I have been saving my selvages for years! I have a huge bag of them. Can’t wait until I find the right project for them.

  29. ssjmommy says:

    Love this idea! I have noticed how pretty the selvages can be sometimes but never thought to use them. Thanks!

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