Salvage Your Selvages!

salvage your selvages

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 colored 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 unraveling, 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 from the term self-edge, meaning a self-finished edge of the fabric. You will find that the specific weave in the selvage strip stops it from fraying entirely. It is “self-edged”.

salvage your selvages

The colored circles (or whatever 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 colorful 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 whatever 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 topstitching 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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130 Responses to Salvage Your Selvages!

  1. I use the selvedges to strengthen cotton fabric when making bag straps. Sew the fabric together, turn rightside out, put the selvedge inbetween the layers and quilt it together.

    They also make a good cloth tapes for historical garments too (but only for undergarments or items that aren’t seen in public).

  2. Betty Kavalski says:

    I’ve been sewing for 66 yrs since I made clothes for my baby dolls @7 and remember a time before perma-press and polyester blends. We cut the selveges off of all cotton fabric as a matter of course because you never knew if the selvage would shrink or not at the same rate as the fabric. I’m sure you’ve all had a towel shrink along the tightly woven strip across the end of the towel making it ,while still usable, hard to fold. ( And not the ones you put out for guests) Imagine a dress or blouse (girls didn’t wear slacks, lol) shrinking in one spot or another. My mom would make a deal with me she would buy me fabric for a new dress then buy enough for her and I and I had to make both dresses. Taking the required sewing in home ec. was torture because I was so much more advanced than my classmates and my teachers thought I was showing off. By the way, fabric was $.50 yd. I am one generation from using flour sacks like my mother. She would be 101 yrs next month Bless her Soul.

  3. Renee says:

    Thank you for your article and all the great comments! I just started sewing wovens, have noticed the beautiful selvedges and will use some for accents on clothing.

  4. Kathleen says:

    I think this is excellent information. I never knew about the markings on selvages, and your tips are great. I am a new sewer, and I am starting at the age of 78. Sewing is a lot of fun, but I have much to learn. I started with face masks (what else in 2020?) and have progressed to aprons. I made aprons for my son and son-in-law for Christmas as they do most of the cooking. Both of them were so happy with their new aprons that they asked me to make them more. Thanks again for your tips.

  5. Jeanene LaVonne Lorey says:

    I use the trimmed edges as a stash for fabric face mask ties, either without or with sewing them into ties that are perfect for slipping on pony beads for adjustable ear loops.

  6. Ann says:

    Salvages are wonderful for beginning watercolor students. I sew so I knew about the color circles. I have my students buy 1/2 yards of fabric of any color combination they like. I have them make a value chart to compare various colors in the fabric. Next they learn to mix colors. finally they make a drawing using the colors in the salvage to make a painting where all the colors work together. Nobody ever has colors that won’t work together.

  7. I used a selvedge of a cloche hat material (upholstery) to make a flat flower which I sewed onto a black swirled flower and used the same black fabric to make a hat band for the cloche. I had never used the selvedge for any thing before.

  8. Susan Parker says:

    The markings on the selvedge are called “registration marks” and they are used to verify that the colors are properly aligned during printing. Each dot or mark represents a colored screen so sometimes you see numbers with the registration marks.
    So while they are fun for quilters to use in projects and for matching the registration marks have a legitimate purpose during the printing process.
    The part of the selvedge without printing makes great stay tape for tote bags and other sewing projects.
    I love the bag and using the selvedges in the handles is a great idea, those handles will never stretch out of shape.
    I’ve collected selvedges for years, they are so much fun to use in projects.
    I wind the selvedges into balls and have them in a basket on a shelf in my sewing room. I enjoy seeing them plus they inspire me to make something!

    • Jean Burdon says:

      It was good to see that someone explained the true use for the coloured circles on the selvedge.
      I, myself am a Printer’s wife and so Registration marks of whatever kind were explained to me many years ago.

  9. Rusa says:

    I have been sewing for decades and I learned something new today! Thank you. Never even thought about the dots on the selvage.

  10. Judy says:

    I use my saved selvedges to be used as ribbon for wrapping gifts.

  11. newtexecan says:

    I loved all of the comments. I too have saved selvedges for years. Then I learned that an acquaintance used them to make doll clothes. So every time I know I am going to see her I take her a bag. I have a plethora of them!!!

    • Amy MacDonald says:

      That’s great! If you ever feel the need to give more away, let me know! I am collecting them for a quilt I want to make, and am also considering putting enough together to reupholster two chir seat and back cushions!!


  12. Jenny says:

    Could ou sew them all together and use them to knit of crochet a floor rug?

  13. pandits says:

    Thanks for sharing this amazing post. I got the most important information from here.

  14. Debra Mills says:

    After all these 60 years of sewing, I could have had some really cool projects from all those selvages! Reckon I better cut me some strips from now on and make some cool projects!

  15. Olivia Morrissette says:

    A big thank you from me, too! I had no idea.

    Just one of the reasons I stay with!

  16. Cecilia says:

    After reading this article, I will be salvaging my salvage.
    Great idea! Cecilia

  17. Laura says:

    I’ve always used the selvages to test for colour-fastness and how the colours will do in the wash/ in the sun.
    Thanks to that, I’ve prevented some expensive mistakes and determined which materials are handwash only vs which ones can handle the washing machine. When sewing for kids, nobody I know has the time or energy to handwash play clothes.

  18. Mariann says:

    My Mum has sewn them together and then made bath & toilet mats. The ideas are as big as your imagination. Happy sewing everyone.

  19. Gayle says:

    Great article. I’ve known about the registration, and used them always when coordinating fabrics. Never thought to save the selvage though. When you made your handle on the Gleam bag did you use the selvage as just one half of the tube or both sides of the tube? Did you use the 2″ strip as in the instructions for Twisted Handles?

  20. Debbie Barnes says:

    Use salvage on ends of zippers when making bags to give more strength. A great replacement for twill tape.

  21. Maureen Gallagher says:

    Just a tip – wash all your fabrics, or at least all your selvages, before using. As mentioned by a few others, selvages shrink – some more, some less, than their main fabric. If you sew several together in a project, things could get a bit messy after washing if not preshrunk.

  22. Pj says:

    I have saved the salvage edge from swimwear for years. There are so many uses for them, its just incredible!
    Smaller fabric pcs that I am using are rolled and tied with a scrap of swimwear salvage before going on a shelf
    Recently,packed my sister’s sewing business and moved across country.
    The swimwear salvage strips were used to tie items in place and secure to side walks of the rental truck. These strips work better than nylon cable ties! My brother was amazed and I explained that my sis and I have used these multi purpose swimwear salvage ties over and over for many years…lol

  23. Linda L. says:

    I have a slightly different question. Why are we supposed to cut the selvedge off the fabric in the first place? It seems to me particularly strange to cut off a finished edge and then later finish the seam. I know there are many times when you aren’t cutting a straight line that you will lose that edge anyway. It also makes sense when you’re quilting with a 1/4″ seam since it would show.
    When I make a dress or skirt with a zipper down the back in a straight line, I always use the selvedge as the edge where I put the zipper. It makes a much sturdier edge especially on children’s clothes where they sometimes yank at the zipper.
    As another example, I’m making flannel crib sheets now for the newest member of our family. Leaving the selvedge on as the edge along the long side of the fitted sheet means I only have to hem it at the top and bottom. I also gain an inch or so of extra width which helps anchor the sheet when the child wiggles around.
    My high school Home Ec teacher was too horrified by the concept of leaving it on to be able to explain it to me other than to say that’s what you have to do. I’ve been trying to figure it out ever since. Anybody have an explanation?

    • Jackie says:

      Not an expert, but I thought it was because it draped and stretched less than the rest of the fabric, so, depending on where it was used, it might effect the way it hung.

    • Lynda says:

      Hello Linda,
      All selvedges shrink a little in the wash… some of them shrink a lot! In some sewing projects this could present a problem.

    • Carolyn Newsome says:

      Selvedges shrink differently from the rest of the fabric. This can cause small pieces to warp out of control. Sometimes they iron out flat; sometimes not. Who wants to keep ironing them?

      Use them to tie newspapers or your quilt magazines together, wrap packages, tie up your tomatoes, keep boxes shut, hang wreaths, most any thing.

      This from a former home ec teacher. Long ago!

    • Toni says:

      Selvage is a slightly tighter weave than the fabric and can shrink more causing puckering. So it’s fine to leave it on in certain circumstances as you mentioned, but not for straight seaming. I prewash all cottons and that will show you very quickly whether the selvage causes puckering. Then you know whether or not you can leave it on.

  24. Pam Hopp says:

    Selvages are also great to use as a stay tape. While reading your very informative article I thought “I should have saved them with, with a substantial border of fabric, from various clothing, crafting, gift sewing projects for future reference and precious memories.”

  25. colleen bakri says:

    Ive been using them for years. Ive made pot holders, needle holders, front of purse, and many quilts. Like everything else you get addicted to the and friends all give them to you. For quilts you sew the on a foundation on the diagonal FUN

  26. Kary kerper says:

    The colored circles are for quality control. To check the “registration” and individual colors of the print before and during production.

  27. Wendy says:

    This was very interesting. I didn’t know what all the information meant but yesterday I cut off the selvage to try finding more of a particular fabric. But I will definitely be using them for other use now. Thank you, good article.

  28. Wendi Dwyer says:

    Wow- when I think about the lovely selvages I have thrown away! 🙁

    I keep all useable scraps too- but never thought of saving these. Genius!

  29. Joy says:

    Please give more info regarding the purpose of the colored circles. I’m thoroughly confused as to their purpose.

    • sharon says:

      It’s a color register. Most all products that have been printed have it. It shows what colors have been used or mixed . Use it to find coordinating colors for your project.

  30. Carla Hundley says:

    Cool info! I’m going to start
    a banner with the strips sewed
    onto a strip to hang on the wall.
    Carla from Utah

    • Nina Hiatt says:

      I have some polished cotton with the print right up to the selvage with info. Is that an indication of it s age?

  31. Lesley Brown says:

    Wow ! Thankyou so much , I never knew this. I have been sewing and tossing those edges away for over 50 years. How much time have I wasted matching fabrics for projects when all the time the easy answer was at my finger tips if only I had known .I will be making sure every sewer in my circle learns this. Love your posts and your site.

  32. Heather McVeagh says:

    I’ve always kept my selvages. I often use them as drawstrings for a bag. Also, I’ve been known to use a particularly pretty one as a ribbon for a gift.

  33. shirley says:

    Well, I am bit different, I sew them end to end , then crochet them into rugs, and hot pads.

    • Linda says:

      Do you join straight or on bias? Just curious, I never thought of using selvages for fabric strip crocheting or knitting. Awesome idea!

  34. Wendy Richardson says:

    I’ve been sewing for many, many years and I have to admit that I didn’t know any of this. Thanks sew much for the fascinating article. I will most definitely be salvaging my selvages going forward!

  35. Beth Bennett says:

    Wow! I have sewn for years and didn’t know this. I am definitely going to start saving them now. My husband is always getting onto me because I make all this stuff for people and have all these scraps. What is one more back of scraps? No seriously, one of these days I am making a quilt of all these scraps. I just have to have some free time from sewing for other people….

  36. Grammy says:

    Salvages have been my best friend. When considering a decorating project I buy the material for drapes, pillows, whatever first. The selvage is carried with me to select wall colors, coordinating fabrics, just everything. After all, someone a lot more “color smart” than me has used their years of learning and experience to select the right combinations. This method always results in perfectly coordinated projects for me,

  37. Lori says:

    Very interesting idea. I will be using this to match fabrics. Thank you!!!

  38. Jane Burg says:

    I have been saving the selvages for years! Still haven’t done anything with them though. One of these days I’ll actually do something with them. 🙂

  39. Linda G says:

    I use the selvages of the fabric as stay tapes for extra support where needed, both in knits (they have selvages, too) and wovens. The selvage usually matches the fabric and has the same care requirements.
    Keep in mind, however, the selvage usually shrinks more at first than the rest of the fabric width, if the fabric shrinks when washed (like cottons and rayons do). Always wash or preshrink the fabric and selvage before using it as a stay or it might cause the seam, edge, or hem where it is attached to pucker and pull. Sometimes, it helps to wash and dry the selvage a second time, after it has been cut away from the yardage, before inserting it into the garment. That is why we were taught to avoid cutting the selvage into the pattern piece itself; it shrinks at a different rate than the fabric and can distort your garment or project. If you use it as a stay tape, it is often best to make sure you carefully cut away or clean finish any remaining non-selvage edge of the edging before insertion so it doesn’t fray.
    Selvages make great ties for rolled up interfacings, fusibles, and other fabrics, too, as well as ties to keep all the cut pieces of a project together in a roll.

  40. mejinno says:

    Can you believe, I just bought 3.5 yards of cotton especially for the selvage. I will have to find a project for the yardage after I skim off the selvage. lol

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      It must be some special selvage! I would love to see it 🙂

    • Olivia Morrissette says:

      Excellent! That isn’t the tail wagging the dog . . . nah!

    • M-E Jinno says:

      I did that recently also. I was working on a traveling quilt and the inscription on selvedge was just what I needed as a part of the quilt block. I still haven’t figured out what to do with the fabric. . . probably a shirt or item of clothing.

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