The Rundown on Selvedge Denim – What’s It All About

Another term you will without a doubt come across when entering the Raw Denim world is Selvedge (aka Selfedge, Selvege) Denim.  What’s all the fuss about?  Why do denim-addicts and denim-amateurs alike pay extra special attention to it?

Let’s start off the easy way.  By definition, it is “the edge of woven fabric finished so as to prevent raveling, often in a narrow tape effect, different from the body of the fabric” (source: dictionary.com).

One distinction that must be made clear as well is that Raw denim ≠ Selvedge denim. Many people confuse the two and think they are essentially the same, however there is a big difference.  Raw denim refers to the wash while Selvedge is the edge. I’ve found that most Raw Denim is “selvedge” and not all Selvedge Denim is raw. From a more visual standpoint:

Non-selvedge denim

Non-selvedge denim 

VERSUS

Selvedge Denim

Selvedge Denim

See the difference?  Non-selvedge denim’s edges are not crisply finished and thus can easily fray.  Whereas with selvedge denim, the edges are nicely bound (hence “self-edge”), diminishing the likelihood of the ends/edges unraveling.

It’s important to bear in mind as well that as Selvedge Denim is becoming more and more popular, it does not always equate to higher quality nor justify a higher tag.  You have to be sure to check the other denim characteristics (i.e. raw? sanforized? weight?).

The history behind Selvedge Denim is pretty interesting in itself too, and begins with the old style loom being born in the late 1800′s.  It was able to produce tightly woven and heavier denim in strips that were quite narrow but very long.

In fact, the denim was so narrow that in order to maximize use of the denim, the jean manufacturer had to weave fabric all the way to edges, which were consequently bound.  The “self-edge” would be done in various colours (red being the most common), a practice fabric mills follow to differentiate between fabrics.

Check out the video in our earlier post on Momotaro Jeans to see this traditional loom in use, or check below.

File:Japaneseweavera.jpg

Traditional Japanese Shuttle Loom

However, in order for the jean manufacturers (e.g. Levi’s, Lee)  to keep up with the ever increasing denim demand in the 1950′s, they switched to the projectile loom – a machine which could produce wider denim for less cost – giving the end consumer a cheaper and lower quality pair of jeans.

Nick Coe

Nick is the Founding Editor of RawrDenim.com.

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  • Anonymous

    Good info for a noob *thumbs up*

    • http://dev.rawrdenim.com Nick

      Thanks!

  • Jimmy

    nice intro on selvage  ..I happened to come across your blog and have been hooked since..each post is a worth reading..keep up the good works!!!

    • http://dev.rawrdenim.com Nick

      @b8f4346fe5fed789e062ed2e1c12a473:disqus  Thanks, appreciate the feedback & support!  If you ever have any requests for specific content, do let us know – info @ rawrdenim.com
      Cheers,
      Nick

      • jbd

        Well the explanations for the length are quite wrong. THe width of the fabric has nothing to do with it. Obvious by the fact that the selvage edge runs perpendicular to it. The jeans could be as long as the yardage of the roll. The length is such because of the shrinkage. They will more than likely shrink 2 inches in length and 35 to 36 allows for that without wasting extra fabric and increasing cost for the manufacturer

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  • Geoffb480

    Just wanted to know why some selvedge denim is only available in one length for example 35in.

    • Sbuffel

      Because 3 feet is around the maximum width that the old looms could make. They weren’t anywhere near as wide as the projectile looms mentioned above.

      • chellspecker

        The length wouldn’t be an issue. The three-foot maximum refers to the width of a piece of fabric. It could of course be made in any length. You could make a pair of jeans with sixteen-foot-long legs with three-foot-wide denim. The pieces are cut on the grain, so the vertical orientation of the garment runs parallel to the edge, which is typical for most garment production. Trevor is probably right on this one.

    • Trevor H

      If your talking about the inseam of the pants and why there is often only one inseam length available for a pair of selvage denim it’s often because these jeans are very high end, so the manufacturer often assumes the owner is going to take them to a tailor anyway, so the inseam length is longer than needed

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  • chellspecker

    This article doesn’t go into very much detail. Selvedge, as noted, refers to the “already bound” or “self-bound” side edges of a length of denim fabric. Ironically, incorporating the selvedge into the side seam of each leg is actually a cost-cutting measure, intended to get the maximum use out of a piece of fabric with the minimum waste. By incorporating the fabric’s self-bound edge into the seam allowance of each leg, there was no necessity to cut away any fabric, minimizing fabric waste and therefore cost. In a tailored garment, the line of the side seam would be dictated by a line running down the center of the front of each leg piece following the grain line, and wouldn’t necessarily fall on the edge of the cloth. The fabric outside this line would be cut away and discarded, actually costing more in material than with a self-edge side seam. The resulting cut edge would then be overcast (stitched over, as seen in the first photo) or bound (covered with a thin strip of fabric) to prevent unravelling. In fact, the first photograph could be of a more expensive manufacturing process than the second. However, for workwear, which jeans started as, the self-edge was a stronger edge, less likely to pull away under the stress of working conditions. A “fine” garment wouldn’t have had to withstand these stresses, but would have been cut to fit better, and waste more fabric, thereby costing more to make.
    The whole mania for selvedge denim seems like a rather strange fetish for something which would never have been seen in an early garment if properly hemmed. It is only because of the ‘fifties trend for turned-up cuffs that the side seam of a pair of pants ever became visible.

    • http://twitter.com/basicresponse Donut Glaze

      What you say is consistent with the trend.
      -less waste
      -Natural fades require stronger denim. Ie. weakly stiched denim would be silly for people that want to wear worn jeans.

    • Buttinski

      maybe this works on denim but on modern fabrics, the ones I see anyway, the selvedge shrinks so it has to be cut off. I find it especially true on cotton and rayon challis.

  • Yahoo

    Sorry im a denim newb.. So when you wear raw selvedge denim over and over does the color fade and the jean distressed like dry denim?

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      That’s right, raw denim and dry denim are the same.

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  • Ty Stewart

    Hey Nick,
    When I saw your denim selvedge I almost pissed my pants! I have been searching stores looking for this and lo-n-behold the internet!(Love this digital age) I am a designer genius
    and want to have produced a series of women’s fashions drawn from traditional Native American dresses and adding a contemporary touch for other styles of tops.I would like

    navy,bright and dark red denim. I have some cool ideas for “custom selvedge edges”
    I think you will dig. In all seriousness , Ty stewart (405) 361-361-4138

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  • bara

    I am still don’t get the narrowest point behind “selvedge” denim it self. Can anybody tell me what is the “proper” explanation on what makes selvedge denim so special?Is it just because they using old shuttle looms, so that makes them so precious ?or it is just preferences?I mean, whether any differences between the quality or any colour changes (fades)?I think it would be great if there is article which could explain this more narrow.

    • Erica Mathis

      It’s marking hype so they can sell them at outrageous prices.

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  • Hozaifa

    correct me if i am wrong, Selvage Denim is selvaged from both sides of the seam,
    IN Seam, and outSeam as well???

    • Ursa

      No, on the outer seams only.

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  • Jonus Hk

    a whole lot of fuss over nothing. boy the “marketeers” of popular belief truly have pulled the selvedge denim over the eyes of the masses!

  • Bunny

    If the selvedge edge is used as either the outer or inner seam it gives a very different look to the pant compared to a design cut to follow the curve of the leg with the straight of grain approximately 3-4 inches from center front as most jeans are cut. It will give the look of “dad jeans” IMO so I would suggest trying these on before investing in the fabric and sewing up a pair that does not drape as most jeans traditionally do. However, you may like that look and if so go for it. Just know it is a different cut and drape than most jeans. Think of the side seam falling directly to the ground from the fullest part of your hip. And if you have an hourglass figure, good luck.

  • just one T

    I put this is the category of cost cutting ideas for the mass produced fabric/clothing industry marketed at a trend. Included in this the the “trend” are those garments that are made from printed fabric that clearly was folded when the pattern was printed. Hate it. Likewise in this category is the off register printed patterns. I won’t wear or use them in make garments from them. Previously, they would be put in the dust bin or sold at discount fabric outlets. Now they are a “trend”.