Selvedge Stitches in Knit Fabrics

Woven fabric consists of finished edges to prevent the material from unraveling, and is known as the selvedge edge. Selvedge edges can also finish the sides of a knit fabric. Selvedge edges are extra stitches used to stabilize knit fabric, prepare it for seaming or to create a decorative edge on pieces that have no further finishing. The following discusses the why and how of using selvedge stitches.

Why Add Selvedge Stitches

Selvedge stitches are formed by changing the stitch pattern at the beginning and end of every row. These different stitches are not absolutely necessary, but are helpful with certain types of knit fabric. If the fabric doesn’t lie flat, particularly when there are no seams, you may choose to add selvedges to minimize the curling effect or use as a decorative finish. You may choose a selvedge to serve as a seam allowance. And if you aren’t seaming or adding bands, but don’t like the look of the stitch pattern at the edges of the piece, a selvedge is the answer.

Types of Selvedge Edges

Usually a selvedge is one stitch, but it can be made of two or more. Multiple stitch selvedges are often used to prevent curling of non-seamed items, such as scarves. A selvedge forms a firm edge, and is helpful with openwork patterns and slippery yarns like silk and rayon, which may otherwise lose their shape. Work any increases or decreases inside the selvedge edges. Also add selvedge stitches to the total stitch count when designing your own garments, and measure your work inside these edges.

Slip Stitch – This is often the one preferred by novice knitters, but is actually the one used least often. A slip stitch edge makes for a pretty selvedge, but its best use is as a decorative finish on a stand alone garter stitch piece, like the scarf in the image below. Slip stitch edges on stockinette fabric don’t add much or prevent it from curling. However, it’s a good edge for picking up stitches or backstitching seams, but is not ideal for invisible or mattress seaming, because each slip stitch represents two rows, and is likely to pull in the finished seam.

A slip stitch selvedge forms a flat chain along the edges, and there are a number of variations that can be used with any stitch pattern, such as garter and seed stitch.

French Method: RS rows: slip the first stitch knitwise, work to the last stitch, k1. WS rows: slip the first stitch purlwise, work to last stitch, p1.

English Method: RS rows: sl first st knitwise, work to last st, sl last st knitwise. WS rows: p1, work to last st, p1.

German Method: RS rows: k the first st, work to last st, wyib, sl last st purlwise. WS rows: p first st, work to last st, wyif, sl last st purlwise.

Other Variations:

Slip stitch garter edge: sl first st of every row purlwise, k last st.

Double slipped garter edge (decorative): Every row: sl first st purlwise, k the second st and k the last 2 sts of the row.

Garter Stitch – A garter stitch selvedge is the easiest for beginners to make. A garter stitch selvedge forms a firm edge, and minimizes curling of stockinette stitch. It can serve as a seam allowance, particularly to eliminate thick seams with bulky knits, because you are working invisibly through the garter stitch bumps at the very edge. Garter stitches are also useful at the edges of openwork fabrics.

garter selvedge swatches
double slipped garter selvedge

Stockinette Stitch – Sounds counterintuitive, but this is really a no-selvedge selvedge. The edges of stockinette stitch fabric are the best for seaming, and picking up stitches. It’s easy to work between the loops at the edges of stockinette fabric. Typically, it’s unattractive on its own, depending on the yarn choice. If you are looking for an edge that naturally rolls, then choosing stockinette or reverse stockinette stitch selvedge is a great choice.

Using selvedge stitches isn’t absolutely necessary, particularly if you are seaming or picking up stitches, as these edges will be hidden when finished. A slip stitch selvedge is a great choice for garter stitch fabric in a scarf or other pieces that don’t need further finishing. Garter stitch edges are useful when seaming bulky knits, to minimize thick seams and curling of stockinette fabric. A stockinette no-selvedge selvedge is the best for seaming and picking up stitches. Choose selvedge stitches wisely.