For the uninitiated, the term “selvage” can conjure up images of wrecked and decrepit vehicles languishing in a junkyard. But to intrepid quilters and sewers, lots of colorful images and fun projects materialize. Let‘s take a moment to review what selvage means to a quilter.

Selvage refers to the tightly woven area that runs along the lengthwise grain of the fabric. The selvages are a result of how the fabric is created. Threads that run the length of the fabric (longitudinally) are warp ends. Threads running laterally from edge-to-edge of the fabric as it emerges from the loom are weft picks. Selvages are the extreme lateral edges of the fabric and are formed during the weaving process. Selvages will not fray because the weft threads double back on themselves and are looped under and over the warp. The selvage is usually ¼ to ½ inches wide.

Since industrial loomed fabric often has selvages that are thicker than the rest of the fabric, the selvage reacts differently. It may shrink or pucker during laundering and cause the rest of the project to pucker also. Thicker selvages are also more difficult to sew through.

Descriptions for identification purposes may be woven into the selvage using special, colored or fancy threads. Fabric manufacturers imprint many textiles with the copyright symbol on the selvage edge of the fabric along with the manufacturer’s name to indicate U.S. copyright law protects the designs.

Using copyrighted fabric to make clothing, household goods and craft items for your personal use is clearly permissible under copyright law. Some manufacturers even print the phrase “for non-commercial home use only” on these strips to give their implicit approval for you to use these fabrics for home sewing projects.

Quilters are attracted to these strips containing words, symbols, and dots created by colorful, fancy thread. It is like catnip to a cat. You can’t resist and you can’t get enough. They carefully cut and save the selvage edges from the yardage. Saved for what, you ask—to create projects that will amaze you and your friends: purses, potholders, table runners, clothes, lampshades, chair covers, hats, placemats, and, yes, quilts.

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination!

And yes, I meant “selvage” in the first sentence. Let’s pretend you are not familiar with and have not been initiated into the wonderful world of  fabric and quilting.  Now pretend you are, however, familiar with “salvage” as it refers to junk. So you are sitting one day in your favorite coffee shop and you overhear a couple of nice ladies talking about cutting off the “selvage” and keeping them in a box to use later. One says she likes to make pillows with her saved selvages and give them as gifts. The other replies that she has made several skirts for her granddaughters and they love them. The ladies continue to tout the uses for their selvages, which turns out to be many. You sit there listening and thinking, “Should I correct them because they are pronouncing it wrong?” Lots of other questions form in your mind because you are wondering why these ladies are going to a junkyard and cutting off pieces of rusted metal and saving them to make pillows and skirts. Many images form in your mind; each more comical than the first. Now let’s all travel  back to a quilter’s reality where “salvage” refers to junk and “selvage” most definitely does not and everything is right with the world.

Sylvia Thomas, AQS Administrative Assistant
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[…] Do you save them?  Have you done projects with them?  What are they?  You can see their post here.  I felt like they really just skimmed the surface of selvages so, let’s talk selvages […]

Robin Grube

The info in your little article about selvage edges was very good, but the first sentence made no sense, since our fabric definition is the only one- otherwise the word is salvage. Not just for the “uninitiated”, but for everyone. There is a difference in meaning.

It was obviously word play–and clever at that!!

Myra Sattler

Always hate to toss any material.

Judy C in NC

I was wondering what is the correct/normal size that is cut off? Thanks from Judy C in NC


Whirl selvage strips can be turned into pillows, etc. I save mine and give to my daughter for use in her garden. Unlike the strips of plastic many folks use to secure their tomatoes and other plants, selvage strips are biodegradable. In addition she hangs an onion bag from one of her trees filled with these strips and watches the squirrels and birds recover them to use in their nest building. I, myself, have used the selvage strips as ribbon when a quilt is finished and wrapped for giving.


When you say “For the uninitiated, the term “selvage” can conjure up images of wrecked and decrepit vehicles languishing in a junkyard” I think you must mean “salvage.”

Loraine Bolton

Selvage? Surely it is “selvedge”, “save edge”?