Sunday, January 19, 2014

Salvaging Selvages and Old Denim Jeans

Here we have one of my two new selvage pillows:
Pattern here. Newbies, do I hear you asking me exactly what is a selvage (British spelling selvedge)? In the world of quilting cotton, selvages are the two thick finished edges on either side. One edge is often white/unprinted, and bears manufacturing information plus a delightful series of color dots:
The dots along the lower edge here reveal the colors used in the fabric. I'm wondering: Do those dots have a special name? 
Here's a bunch of cut-off selvages:
The selvage on the opposite edge is often not white nor marked with information - it can look almost exactly like the middle of the fabric. But quilters virtually always remove both selvages before cutting quilt pieces - both have a thicker weave and pinholes. If you use a selvage in a conventional quilt, the quilt police will persecute you. Friends, relatives, and infants, on the other hand, can't tell the difference without magnifying headgear

When I started quilting, quilters generally tossed the selvages. I couldn't quite do that - so I crocheted them into things (like this:

 or jammed them into the empty coffee cans that serve as small scrap bins.  

But in recent years, the humble selvage has gone from peasant to royalty. This happened partly because young artists/craftspeople are ornery and love breaking rules; partly because of the interest in upcycling; and partly because selvages' spareness - lots of white with a few dots of color - mirror the austere aesthetic of the modern quilt movement. (Q: Can I earn an Internet  MFA for a sentence like that?) 

If you go to and type "selvages" in the search engine, you will see what I'm talking about. There's an an abundance of beautiful, light, fascinating and witty projects - not just quilts and tote bags, but backpacks, stuffed whales, a Halloween mummy, an office chair, a spectacular spinning skirt. and much, much more. You'll thank me. You're welcome.

People take several different approaches to severing their selvages. Some include only a tiny bit of the featured print area, just enough to capture the pinholes. Others take a generous inch or more of the printed area. Over the years, I mostly did the former, but only recently converted to the latter, so the bulk of my selvage collection does lean to mostly white.

For these two pillows, I wanted to intensify the upcycling theme, so I combined them with denim from  jeans. Selvages and old jeans! Arsenic and old lace! What's not to love? 
On the left is a traditional snail's trail block; the pillow measure about 17" square. The pillow on the right is a rectangle that's a little bigger. I'm calling it 'Labyrinth.' It's improvisationally pieced, a variation on a log cabin block, meaning you add strips and chop them off when they're about the right length.  An easy, illustrated pattern for both that I spent the last two weeks toiling over is here

I created the 'selvage fabric' by laying selvages across a breadth of plain white muslin, and zig-zagging the edges with 'invisible' nylon thread. That's what you saw in the second photo in this posting, above. Once everything is zigzagged down, you can cut out your new selvage fabric and play with it just as if it were regular yardage. 

On the back of the pillows, I used more pieced jeans, and, just for fun, threw on some pockets. I didn't stitch through those thick pocket seams - I cut the pockets an inch out from its edges, then folded the fabric under and stitched next to the fold, all the way around. 
(I don't want to think about what this person kept in that back pocket because I just noticed, oh no! it looks like cigarette packs? No, wait, maybe it was a wallet. The jeans don't smell like tobacco. Oh wait, it was an iphone! Phew)

What if you don't have enough selvages to make a project? I wouldn't recommend cutting selvages off all the fabric in your stash, without thinking it through first - what if finishing a future quilt, or saving someone's life, depends on obtaining more of that specific fabric? Without the name and manufacturer, you'll have a MUCH harder time locating more. 

So remove SOME of the selvage. 

Or, write the information on a sturdy piece of white scrap fabric, with an archival permanent pen, then safety-pin that information to the fabric whose selvage you want, and THEN cut off and use the entire selvage. In decades to come, your heirs and heiresses will find these notes in your stash and know for certain that you had a serious obsessive disorder. I haven't done this yet, but considering how these two pillows decimated my selvage stash, I might need to start doing it soon.

Yes, I'd love to see you what you have made in the past/will make in the future from selvages!  
The pattern for both is here


  1. Love! I personally am a little intimated by the selvage thing (sometimes I am a little fabric challenged as far as knowing which side is up.). Ingenious to use them as art.

  2. Selvages are a lot of fun, Simmy! Try it, you might like it! And thanks for stopping by!