Beginnings, Endings, and Inbetween…What the Heck is Selvadge?

It always surprises me how life parallels our knitting. I don’t know why it should surprise me, as we bring into our passions the same personality and habits that we have in other parts of our lives. My own life has a number of beginnings and endings right now. My oldest stepdaughter and her husband are now proud parents of 7lb Jessica, born just a couple days ago.

I am (still) working on a baby blanket for her. It would have been done in plenty of time if I had one of my terrific test knitters (Hi Janet and Judy!) knit it, but I wanted it to be a little more personal. As I have been working on this project, I have been reflecting on many simple pleasures. Knitting itself, of course, as well as others more sentimental. One of the things that gives me pleasure in my knitting is how a project turns out, meaning how well finished it looks. Finishing contributes greatly to how our knitting looks, and though it can be tedious it is a task that can be done in pleasant solitude with your favorite music on to pass the time, your last mantra with this project. I say mantra because it is an introspective and meditative past time for me.

 Don’t get me wrong, I am notorious for not getting all the ends worked in. But I am getting better as I age. I am more willing to slow down a bit and enjoy what is at hand. I have learned a few tricks over the years as well. The very best I have learned is that finishing isn’t as bad as I used to feel, and that it goes much more pleasently with a little thought and planning before rushing to put stitches on the needles.

The first thing I look at in a knitting project is what kind of treatments do the selvage (also known as selvedge) edges have. Selvage edges are a topic not mentioned much in knitting, which I find odd in some ways and not surprising in others, given our desire to jump into the knitting as quickly as possible.  We are used to thinking of selvage in terms of sewing and fabric, without really thinking that we are creating a fabric.

When I taught in Ohio not too long ago, one of the topics I covered was selvage edges and I think it is important as a foundation to cover this topic. It makes the finishing of your project so much easier.

Every “edge” is a selvage. Whatever stitch is not surrounded by other stitches is essentially a selvage stitch. This includes your cast-on, bind-off’s, and the first and last stitch of every row. Are you working on a project that will be seamed together? Think about what you are seaming. Typically this would be one of those edges, or a combination of those edges.

Selvage stitches that are the first and last stitch of each row are something that we need to think about more. What do you do with these stitches? Are they going to be worked in a seam, or are they going to not be hid in a seam but be a finished edge? First and foremost, remember it is a selvage edge. Whatever you do in your stitch pattern does not get worked in the selvage stitch. Keep that selvage stitch clean for easy seaming. Also, when working shaping (like we do when knitting a sleeve, for example) remember that selvage stitch doesn’t have shaping worked in it. If you are instructed to work a decrease at the edge, it is better to work the decrease next to the selvedge, between the selvedge stitch and the other body stitches.

There are different methods of handling this selvage edge. Some like to work it in stockinette (knit on RS rows, purl on WS rows), reverse stockinette (purl on RS rows, knit on WS rows), garter stitch (knit on every row), or even purl on every row (which, by the way, looks like garter stitch also only typically a bit less condensed). When working lace, frequently the first stitch of each row is slipped in order to have a chained row of stitches at the edge, one chain for every two rows. This makes attaching an edging while it is being worked much easier.

Some knitters like to slip the first stitch of each row in their regular knitting as well, but this can make the stitch next to it a bit looser…so if you are a loose knitter (as I am) you may be better leaving this selvage treatment for lace. Stockinette for the selvage stitches at each edge makes for easy seaming. And no matter whether you are increasing, decreasing, or binding-off, the first and last stitch of each row are ALWAYS a selvage stitch.

So when you get out your knitting and are getting ready to start your next project, get in the habit of taking a little time before you start to plan. What cast-on is suitable for what you are knitting? If the pattern does not say which one to use look at the type of knitting you are doing. Have fun learning new cast-on’s so that you have more to choose from and can pick one that is best for what you are doing.  What kind of knitting are you doing, and are you going to be seaming at the other selvage edges? If so, you might want to stitch with Stockinette for the first and last stitches of each row.  How about the neck? Do you need elasticity at the neck, or do you need structure? If you need elasticity, place the center front/back stitches on a piece of string or other stitch holder and then you have live stitches when working the neck band (you would of course pick up and knit between these two groups of live stitches). If you need structure for the neckline (perhaps you are knitting a cotton top out of a DK weight yarn, that has a wide and round neckline) you would want to bind-off those stitches to help keep the neckline stable so that it does not stretch out of shape. What are you doing for the shoulders? Again it is a question of elasticity versus structure. If you need structure there (most garments do, as the weight of the garment hangs on the shoulders) you can work a three needle bind-off and bind-off and seam in one fell swoop.

A few minutes of planning before jumping in does require a little ability to delay our gratification in starting a new project that we are itching to get into. The rewards in a masterfully knit and finished garment, as well as the pleasure you will have in the easy finishing, are worth it though. Just as in other parts of our lives, there are things we need to think out and things that we can be spontaneous about.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace


9 Responses to “Beginnings, Endings, and Inbetween…What the Heck is Selvadge?”

  1. Melanie Says:

    Truly sound advice. I had been knitting for a very long time before I started considering how a piece would end before I actually started knitting.

  2. How Do I Knit a Selvage Stitch? Here’s how… Says:

    […] JoLene Treace Unraveled: What the heck is selvadge – interesting blog post about “how our life… […]

  3. giulia Says:

    I am knitting a dress and the top is V neck shaping and sleeveless
    therefore i need a neat, firm selvedge edge both on the neck and arm
    the pattern is in stockinete stitche, what kind of selvedge would you recommend me to use ?

    Thank you


    • jolenetreace Says:

      I would recommend trying several on a stockinette swatch to see what you like best. I am a very loose knitter, and what works for me may not work well for you. That said, the big question that comes to my mind is are there going to be any bands that are attached to the edge? If you are attaching a band, then the selvedge can just be worked in stockinette. If you are working an edging or band of some sort next to the stockinette, then I would look at the stitch pattern the edging or band is worked in. For example, if you have a seed stitch band you could continue that in your selvedge. You would want something next to the stockinette so that the edges do not curl and lie flat, hence the need for a band or edging. If you are wondering about a selvedge for your band, a chained selvedge looks neat and tidy, and is used frequently when knitting lace.

  4. Emma Says:

    I am just beginning to knit clothing, and I found your article so helpful. I did have a question, however, about something you brought up. You discussed knowing if you need elasticity or structure for the item being knitted. How do you know? I am so new to knitting clothing instead of just scarves that I am learning as I go what questions I should ask. Thank you so much for any tips!

    • jolenetreace Says:

      Thank you very much, I am glad it was helpful. A good thing to remember with garments is the phrase form follows function. In this case, looking between elasticity versus structure in the context of the knitting itself. What area are we talking about. For example, a shoulder seam needs a lot of structure because the weight of the whole garment hangs on the shoulders. There is alot of stress put on the shoulders. Without structure there (a seam) stitches can stretch in those areas because of the stress on the garment in those areas.

      Conversely, an area that elasticity is a good thing is a neckline. It needs to be stretchy enough to go over the head if it is a crew neck or turtleneck. Another type of edge that elasticity is desired is a piece of lace because a shawl or stole is blocked, and lace stretches out quite a bit when blocked. That is why that edge needs to be elastic. So ask yourself what is the function of the area in question. How will it be treated, what does it need to do, what is it’s job…and the “form” will follow.

      Peace and Knitting, JoLene

  5. Emma Says:

    That makes sense. Thank you very much!

  6. Mary Says:

    I recently watched a you tube tutorial for a knit lacy scarf. She slipped the first stitch knitwise {counting as one knit stitch). Then she worked her pattern stitches. Finally she ended each row with a knit into the back of last stitch. Does anyone know a reason for working the last stitch of each row in this way? I understand why you would slip the first stitch. It’s that last stitch which is knitted in the back that puzzles me. Mary

    • rnrant Says:

      It is another way of working a chained selvedge. By working it in the back loop it sets the stitch a particular way to give a certain effect.

      Cheers, JoLene Treace

      Sent from my iPhone

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