Thursday, January 24, 2019

Sewing with Selvages Tutorial

So I promised back here a tutorial on  Sewing with Selvages, and I am happy to say, that today is the day!!! And I am excited to share with you the basics of stitching with those treasured little selvages that we trim from the edges of the fabric and then save and save.   And I hope to share some helpful tidbits that I have picked up along the way of working with Selvages that will aid you as well.  So the following tutorial is the way I like to work with Selvages (and it of course, might be different than other methods you have read as some of it is simply preference.)   So let's get Stitching Selvages!!!


So the first question you probably ask when starting with Selvages is "how big do you cut the selvage."   And to that I say, "It just depends".   I know, super helpful right.   A good size, especially if you want some of the fabric to show, is about 1 1/2".   But, if I need that extra bit of fabric in my cutting, I make the selvage smaller.   Let me try and illustrate how I approach my cutting to better answer this question. 

First, I want to figure out exactly how many inches of the fabric I need and cut that first, (rather than cutting strips) so that I get the longest selvage piece.   So for example, if I am planning to cut (4) 2 1/2" strips, than I will first cut 10" of fabric. 

Then, I calculate how many inches I am going to need vertically add a 1/2" (because I don't like to deal with the fold at the bottom of the fabric) and then cut my selvage.   So in the same example, If I know want to cut 2 1/2" squares, I figure I can get 8 Sub-cuts in a strip which is 20" add my 1/2" at the bottom, and wham, cut my selvage at 20 1/2" horizontally on my mat.  Each time I get the maximum size selvage, while still getting the most out of my cutting.

I always approach my cutting this way, whether I am cutting Fat Quarters or Yardage.  Just try and maximize your cutting, while still getting the most of your selvage.  And then watch your selvage pile grow ;)   Before long, you will have quite a stack.   I like to store my selvages by color, but you can store them any way you like.


When working with selvages, you need some kind of foundation to piece to.  This can be Fabric or Paper.  If using fabric, you can use a Muslin, a solid, or a light print.   I used some super old fabric that I bought way back when that was way to thin to quilt with.  The nice thing about it being thin is it won't add quite as much weight to the quilt.    And if you are using paper, you can use copy paper or newsprint.  The nice thing about paper is you don't add weight, but you  will have to tear it all out, after it is stitched.  So pro's and con's with both.    Whatever foundation you decide to use, simply cut it to the size you need.   I am making 5 1/2" squares, so that is the size of my foundation square.   It doesn't have to be square, for instance, if you are making a mug rug, make your foundation rectangle.  And I like to cut all of my foundations at the beginning so I can see the progress I am making, and how many I have left.


So now you have your foundation and you are ready to add your selvages.   And you will note, I have 4 foundation squares laid out, because chain stitching is where it is at when piecing with selvages.  It will save so much time and thread and make the process a whole lot more fun!!!    So, go to your selvage stack and look for some shorter selvages.  Place them diagonal on the corner of your foundation, taking care that the ends of the selvage strip overlap the sides of your foundation.  Trim any excess selvage, as it is just easier to work with the size you need.

Now go to your machine and stitch an 1/8" seam along the edge of the print side of the selvage strip.   And this is where one of my preferences come in.  Technically you can stitch the first two selvages strips at the same time, but I just found that they shift and I often missed the under seam.  So I just like to stitch the first selvage strip like this.

And you are chain stitching all of the first selvage strips, so just keep stitching off of one, even past the foundation, and then feed the next strip in until you have done all the strips in your chain stitching.


So now with the first selvage secured in place, you can add your second selvage strip.   Place the second selvage strip onto the first, overlapping the two about 3/8" to 1/2".   This is just something you eyeball, and it gets easier with a little practice.   The main thing you want to remember is you have to stitch on that bottom selvage at the same time you are stitching on the top selvage.

And when stitching, again, I stitch 1/8" allowance, only this time, I am stitching on the selvage side of the strip.    And the inside notch of your 1/4" foot is almost always 1/8" so it makes a great little guide.  And just remember when stitching, you want to make sure you are not just stitching on the top selvage, but the bottom selvage as well.

And like before, chain stitching is going to save you time, thread, and make the whole process more enjoyable.    And that overlap gets easier and easier with practice.  If you miss a few seams underneath, don't get frustrated, just a quick seam rip and try it again.  It really goes fast when you get used to the overlap distance.


And now you are in a routine.  Add the third strip just like the second.  Make sure you are overlapping the foundation edges on the sides, and make sure you are overlapping the second selvage when stitching. 

Adding the third strip and continuing strips is just the same process the only difference is, you won't see a seam on the underneath selvage, so again, just make sure you are overlapping.

And just keep adding selvages until you have covered the entire foundation.  And again, you will find that chain stitching really speeds up the process.  It is just like spinning the pieces around in a chained circle, adding another selvage each time ;) 


So that's a lot on stitching really fast.   So I wanted to share a few helpful tidbits that might make your Sewing with Selvages easier and more fun.    

First, your selvages are not always going to be perfectly straight and sometimes this causes your strips to get a little more Up and Down then diagonal.  If that happens, just angle the next selvage strip so that it overlaps more on one side than the other.  It's a fast and easy way to get back to diagonal.   

And for those of us that are a wee bit more of a perfectionist than the quick fix above, you can always add grid lines on your foundation to keep yourself perfectly diagonal.  This takes a little bit, but will ensure your piecing stays perfect the whole way across your foundation. 

Another thing to watch out for when Stitching with Selvages are the little "fringe" at the bottom of the Selvage. First, don't sew on the fringe, it won't hold anything.   Use the inside edge of the fringe as the edge of the selvage and stitch 1/8" from there.   Also, the fringe can often cause you to think you are overlapping enough, when you aren't because you are stitching farther in.  So take care to really overlap when there is that fringe.

And when you reach the half way point and you are starting to move down the other side of the diagonal on the foundation, you will find you need to start stitching on the previous strip.  It is faster to make a few stitches on this strip than to stop your chain stitching and move your needle to the beginning of the new strip.   And you also won't have to worry about your thread getting tangled.

And we quilters like to use all the scraps right.  So just remember, those little pieces that you clip off the selvage strips, they make great first and last pieces.  So don't throw them away.  I love the tiny starts and finishes, so cute!!

And finally, when you are first starting sewing with selvages, and you might be struggling slightly with how much to overlap.  It doesn't hurt to quickly double check your work.  (especially on the fringe strips.)  Simply pull back the the top selvage and make sure the underneath selvage was caught in the seam and isn't popping out.    Trust me, way easier to find this before you add more selvages.    And like I said, once you have practiced a bit, you will get the hang of the overlap and won't need to double check anymore.

And this isn't so much as a tid-bit as just a note.  I am showing all these pics in a Monochromatic layout because that is the project I am working on.   But don't feel like you can't use any selvages you want.   You can use a whole rainbow of colors in your selvages.   And for that matter, if you don't want the print fabric to show, that is another great option.  Just overlap so only the selvages show. (just know, that is going to take double the selvages and the time ;)   Both are great ways to make your project your own.   


So once you have covered your entire foundation with selvages, you are ready to press it.  And for this, I like to use Starch!!!  It just keeps everything nice and crisp and flat. 

I like to spray a generous amount on starch on the front and then press it, taking care to move the iron in the direction of the selvages.   In this case downward.  You don't want to press all of your little fringes to poke up ;) 

Then I flip my Selvage Unit over, and again, apply a generous amount to the back and press it.  This is just mostly to add a little more stiffness to the unit.  All of those selvages are a bit flimsy, and making the entire square a little stiff makes it easier to piece with later on ;)


So now you can go back to your cutting mat and trim your Selvage Units.   Remember, when trimming these, you want to use your ruler and mat as a guide, not the foundation because it can sometimes shrink a little.

So simply place your ruler onto the foundation centering it.   This is easiest if you have the same size of ruler that you are trimming to because you can simply just cut around all 4 sides trimming the excess.   But if not, you can still trim two sides, and then rotate your ruler and trim the remaining two sides.

And remember, it is okay if you have a little bit where the selvage is stitching out over the foundation.  That is just where the foundation shrunk a little.   Some quilters like to oversize their foundation slightly to compensate for that, but I figure, I am not to stressed about 1/16" of an inch.


One final thing I like to do is run a quick stitch around my unit, just to keep the edges of all those selvages in place.  This again will make it easier when you go to piece with it, and also makes it so you can store the units longer without the edges fraying.     So simply stitch 1/8" seam along the edge of the block.

And again, I find this quickest if you just chain stitch all the units on one side.  Clip the threads and rotate continuing until you have secured all 4 sides of all your units.


And just like that , you have amazing little squares all Stitched with Selvages!!!!   These would make a great little set of coasters, or you can take it to the next step, and piece with them ;)

I hope you have found this tutorial helpful and that you will see how fun it is to Sew with Selvages!!!

And be sure to pop back in tomorrow, when I will share how I turn these Selvage Units into a Selvage Star Block!!!   I can't wait ;) 
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  1. Thanks Melissa! This has helped so much. I can't wait to start sewing my selvages!

  2. Gracias por el tutorial! Está muy bien explicado. Justamente este fin de semana me dediqué a organizar mis selvages por color y tengo muchísimos. Ese diseño hecho con cuadrados me parece facilícimo. Probaré la técnica. Saludos desde Venezuela!

  3. Neat! I'm going to have to start saving selvages. I never have.

  4. Thank you for doing this tutorial. I have admired projects with selvages and totally had the wrong idea about how to sew them onto a foundation, how people got pieces long enough to use, and what width would be okay to work with. Your pictures are always so helpful. This is going straight onto my Pinterest tutorials board!

  5. Thanks for all the helpful tips! I have a bag of selvedges and didn't really know how to use them. Looking forward to tomorrow's post!

  6. How interesting, it never occurred to me to save selvages!

  7. Wow, this is a really nice tutorial, Melissa. Thanks, really!
    I am going to try this. I like yours with all one color. That is pretty.
    I have been saving my selvages, but I still have way too many still attached to my gorgeous fabrics.
    Happy Friday

  8. How do they wash up? Do you have puckering etc.

  9. Nice tutorial Melissa . Thank you . I have been saving salvages for a someday project.

  10. Thank you for the tutorial, Melissa. It's nice to hear from someone who has learned the "ins and outs" first hand. I know you wish you had a mentor. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  11. I really must make something from the selvages that I have saved!

  12. Thanks so much for this tutorial. I have been saving my selvages but did not realize that you had to use a foundation piece under it. Thanks again.😀

  13. I knew I was saving my selvages for a reason! Thanks for the great tutorial

  14. Great tutorial! Sigh...more scraps to save. Lol
    Btw I saw the metal wreath rings at walmWalfor $3

  15. Thanks. I have some selvages, but haven't ever used them.

  16. Great tutorial. I have been saving selvages and I think this project should be on my 2019 to-do list.

  17. I made coasters using a similar method, but just having one row of stitching on the overlap. I did not stitch around the edges. Mine really did pull up and shrink when laundered. These are great tips.

  18. I was surprised to see that this form of 'string' piecing didn't use the 'flip and stitch' method. Is this because the selvages have a particular composition and are okay stitched "raw"?

    1. Yup, because you can leave the Raw edge of the selvage ;) It makes it a fun way to do it.

  19. This is exactly what i needed to understand!! Thank you.

  20. Thank you for explaining this so it was easy to understand!!! I can't wait to sew my 1st selvage quilt!! 🥰🥰

  21. Thank you so much! Great tutorial, cannt wait to try this!


Thank you so much for your sweet comments. I just love hearing from you!!
Have a Happy Quilting Day :)