What is Selvage in Sewing?

Unsure what the word selvage means when it comes to sewing?

If you’re new to sewing, you might feel a little confused by a lot of the new vocab words.

But don’t worry, in this blog post I’m going to explain step-by-step everything you need to know about selvage.


Selvage is actually CRITICAL to getting your final projects to turn out professionally.
So be sure to read this entire blog post because I promise, it will be a game changer for your sewing!

What is The difference between Selvage and selvedge?

So the first and easiest questions to answer is this one.

If you’ve been trying to look up what selvage is on the internet you’ve probably seen both of these words. And maybe you wondered, “What’s the difference between them?”

There is no difference.

Selvage is simply the American way of writing the words and Selvedge is the British way of writing it.

Prefer a Video Tutorial?

I have video posted at the bottom of this blog post that covers the same information!

What is Selvage?

While the word may sound super weird and complicated, it’s actually really simple.

Selvage is two parallel edges of the fabric you buy from the store.

And if you’re buying quilting cottons from Joanne’s or Hobby Lobby, it’s super easy to spot.

It’s the white bars that run down the length of your fabric (as shown below)

white bars on the side of your fabric are typically the selvedge edge
Large white bars on the side of your fabric are the selvage edge!

How to Find the Selvage?

Now if your fabric has those big white bars, easy peasy. Right?

But what if your fabric doesn’t have those white bards?

Don’t worry, I’ve got a lot of tips and tricks to help you find the selvage on ANY FABRIC!

Which sides are the selvage?

Now you know that selvage is two sides of your fabric, but which two sides?

Let’s imagine that we’re at the fabric store and you find a bolt of fabric that you LOVE!

You rush to the cut counter and tell them you want it all. Just kidding. How about two yards?

So, as they’re unrolling the fabric, they’re actually unrolling it along the selvage edge.

And where ever they cut it, that becomes the cut edge. (That one’s pretty easy right?)

But Abbie, what about once I get home?

What if I can’t remember which side is which?

How to find selvage on Woven Fabrics

Don’t worry, there are still lots of ways to figure out which sides are the selvage edges.

And one of my favorites is with woven fabrics. (Woven typically refers to fabrics that aren’t stretchy)

The trick is to go to the corner of your fabric and see which side is unraveling.

The selvage edge is finished and DOES NOT UNRAVEL.

Whereas the cut edge has just been, well, cut, so it has lots of loose ends that are going to start unraveling.

Like in the photo below!

the selvage edge does not unravel but the cut edge does unravel

Why doesn’t the selvage unravel?

Now you may be wondering: Why does one side unravel but not the other?

If we take a close look at the fibers that make up woven fabrics, we can see that the fibers create a grid.

the fibers inside woven fabrics are set up like a grid

And the fibers that run in the same direction as the selvage are called the Warp Threads.

And that direction has a special name which will be important later – The Straight Grain Direction!

On the other hand, we have the fibers that run in the same direction as the cut edge, and those are called the Weft Threads.

And that direction also has a special name – The Cross Grain Direction

Fibers that run parallel to the selvedge are called weft threads.
Fibers that run perpendicular to the selvedge are called warp threads.

Now, the Warp Threads just go in a straight line all the way along the fabric.

But the Weft Threads, when they get to the end of the fabric, they actually loop back and keep going.

That’s why the selvage edges don’t unravel.

There are no loose ends.

But we actually cut the Weft Threads when we cut out out 2 yards of fabric, so we have lots of loose ends.

And that’s what causes the cut edge to unravel.

Representation of the fiber in woven fabrics
Green = Warp Threads
Pink = Weft Threads
Cutting along the raw or cut edge
If we cut along the Raw or Cut Edge…
After you cut woven fabric, the weft threads can unravel
We have loose ends

A few other Ways to find the selvage

What if your fabric isn’t woven?

What if it’s stretchy? Just for your information, stretchy fabrics are typically called knits!

And knits don’t unravel the way woven fabrics do.

But don’t worry, here are a few more tips and tricks to help you find the selvage.

The selvage edge is typically woven more tightly than the rest of the fabric so it will look a little bit different.

Or you may find writing on it.

Or possibly some little tiny holes that run along the edge of the fabric. Those holes are actually where the loom holds the fabric as it pulls it through the weaving process!

The selvage edge is woven more tightly than the rest of the fabric.
Selvage is woven more tightly than the rest of the fabric.
There can be writing along the selvage edge
Writing along the edges.
The selvage edge may have tiny holes running along the edge
Tiny holes along the edge

Why is selvage SO important in sewing?

When you cut out ANYTHING in fabric, the direction you cut it out is SUPER important.

If you lay your pattern pieces any which way you want, you may find that your final result doesn’t hang straight.

It can look like it’s bubbled, or spinning, or any number of just sort of odd looking outcomes versus hanging nice and straight the way you want it to.

So to prevent this, all pattern pieces have ARROWS on them.

And these arrow typically point in the Straight Grain Direction – do you remember that from earlier?

The Straight Grain Direction runs parallel to the selvage.

Literally all of your sewing pattern pieces need to be aligned in either the Straight Grain Direction or the Cross Grain Direction (read your pattern to be sure).

Does it make sense now why this is so important?

The beautiful, professional looking end result of any of your sewing projects depends on you knowing which edge is the Selvage and lining your pattern pieces up accordingly.

Which direction do you lay pattern pieces on fabric?
Which direction do you lay your pattern pieces on the fabric?
Sewing Pattern pieces have arrows on them.
Every pattern piece has arrows…
Line Arrows on Pattern Pieces up with the Selvage Edge or the Raw Edge
And the arrows should line up with the Selvage Edge!

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From unboxing your sewing machine, to sewing your first straight stitches, in just a few short hours!

Everything You need to Know About Selvage
Video Tutorial

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