a handful of knitted swatches with different selvedges

Selvedges – edge stitches in knitting

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On a flat knitted piece of fabric, you have four edges: The cast-on edge, the bind-off edges, and the two selvedges (also called selvages). By repeating particular stitches at the beginning and end of every row you create edges with unique looks and characteristics. Some edge stitches have a stabilizing effect on the knitted piece, others are perfect for later picking up stitches or seaming the garment, and some are simply beautiful!

It is not difficult to add a beautiful selvedge to your project, and in particular, the ones with slipped stitches have a tendency to create neat and even edges, even if you are a new knitter still struggling with your tension. If you often experience that the final stitch of the row is a big loop that you can’t tighten, then you will be so happy you read this tutorial!

You can add selvedge stitches to your own designs, or you can add them to existing patterns. Most selvedges consist of 1 extra stitch at the beginning of the row and 1 at the end of the row, so in that case, you cast on 2 extra stitches. The edge stitches are always added to the total number of stitches in the pattern. There are also selvedges with multiple stitches – in fact, many of you will have used them without realizing it: If you ever added a garter stitch border to stockinette to prevent it from curling like crazy, then you have made a multiple stitch selvedge.

It is important to realize that every stitch is connected to the stitch above and below it, and the look of the stitch is different depending on what you do to the stitches immediately above and below. For edge stitches that means that the stitches connect like this:

When you turn the work at the end of a row, the last stitch of the previous row becomes the first stitch of the new row.

Slipping stitches

Many of the selvedges require you to slip stitches. It is a simple matter of transferring a stitch from one needle to the other without working it, but there are four different ways, you can slip a stitch. I recently wrote a tutorial that will show you the four slip stitches, teach you the abbreviations, and tell you how and when to use them. If you need a refresher, go to my Slipping Stitches knitting tutorial.

The best selvedges for knitting

I have tried out a whole bunch of different selvedges, so that you don’t have to! You can just pick the one that you like for your project, and follow the instructions.

I knitted swatches in garter stitch for my examples, but you can apply all of these selvedges to any stitch pattern. Whatever your pattern is, you simply add the edge stitches to the count when you cast on, and then you work your pattern where my instructions say dot dot dot. The instructions all have two rows, and you repeat them for however many rows you have. Let’s jump into it!

Garter and slipped garter edge

The most basic type of selvedge is probably a garter stitch border – you knit the first and last stitch of every row. The garter stitch border gives you a firm edge, and it stabilizes your knitwork. The edge will have small raised bumps running down the side.

The slipped garter border looks exactly the same, except it is a little tighter, a little neater. If you are struggling with the tension of the edge stitches, use the slipped garter border whenever you would otherwise have chosen a garter stitch border, and your edges will be much more even. For the slipped garter border you slip the first stitch of every row knitwise, and you knit the last stitch of every row.

knitted swatches with garter and slipped garter edges

Multiple stitch garter edge

It is very common to use a garter stitch border to prevent stockinette stitch fabric from curling. It is the nature of stockinette that it curls, and unless that is the look you are going for, you will need to choose a border on all four sides of the fabric. Generally, you will need a border of a minimum of 3 stitches on every side to keep the fabric flat.

Full garter stitch border on a stockinette stitch swatch
A knitted swatch of stockinette stitch fabric with a (slipped) garter stitch border. 6 rows of garter stitch, followed by stockinette stitch with a 4 stitch garter border on both sides, with the first stitch slipped knitwise. Without the border, the swatch would curl on all sides.

Seed stitch edge

An alternative to a garter stitch border is one made with the seed stitch. This requires a minimum of 4 edge stitches. It has similar properties to the garter stitch border – it lies flat, and it’s sturdy. It’s also very decorative, especially when you have a broad border of 3 or more stitches. It takes a little practice to get the tension right when you switch between knit and purl, but it’s really worth it.

Knitted swatch with a seed stitch edge

I have designed two knitting patterns for dishcloths that have a beautiful seed stitch border. They are available for free on the link above. If you prefer a print-ready PDF, or if you would simply like to support the Knit with Henni blog, you can purchase them cheaply on my Ravelry Store.

Slip stitch chain edges

Slipped stitches can create a gorgeous chain edge. The classic twisted chain edge can be achieved in several ways. I have listed the three most common ones below. The result is exactly the same, so you can use whichever of the three you can most easily remember: The English slip stitch border, the French slip stitch border, or the basic slip stitch border. Personally, I prefer the basic slip stitch border where each row is the same, but some people find it easier to remember the English border where you slip knitwise on the right side of the work and purl the edge stitches on the wrong side.

Not only is the chain edge seriously pretty, but it is also the perfect choice if you later have to pick up stitches along the edge. Note that because you slip a stitch, every slipped edge stitch stretches over two rows.

Knitted swatches with English, French and basic slip stitch edges
You can brush up on how to hold the yarn for the sl1k and the sl1p here.
Here is a video from New Stitch a Day, showing how to knit the English border.

An alternative chain edge

When I researched for this blog post I came across a selvedge called the German border. It is listed in many places, but none of them mention that it is not the same on the two edges! It is the classic chain edge above on one side, and a subtly different but also pretty chain edge on the other side. The difference is that the legs of the slipped edge stitches don’t cross over each other.

I quite like the look, so I have developed my own and improved version that has this look on both edges – I give you, the Danish border! (I am Danish, in case you didn’t realize). I am sure I have not actually invented anything new, but I haven’t been able to find this selvedge described anywhere else online, so I decided to name it. Feel free to spread the name.

Knitted swatches with Danish and German edges

Tip for borders with 2+ stitches

It is easy enough to remember to knit edge stitches when you begin a new row, but I often forget to add the proper edge stitches to the end of the row. This is particularly true when you have more than 2 edge stitches, for example, a 4 stitch garter edge on both sides. I like to use stitch markers to remind me that I have to do something different. You can either use ring stitch markers or hanging stitch markers to help you remember.

Some of my favorite stitch markers

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What’s your favorite selvedge?

Do you have a favorite selvedge? Or are they completely new to you? Please leave your comments and questions below.

6 thoughts on “Selvedges – edge stitches in knitting”

  1. This is a great post, Henni. I remember learning about selvedges for the first time. It changed my knitting forever! I had no idea how many there were!

    1. Thank you Regina! It was fun to try them all, and hopefully a lot of people will learn at least one new selvedge from this.

  2. Thank you for this post. I was born and raised in Germany and learned to knit in first grade in school at age 6.

    German patterns, unlike American patterns, never include the edge stitches, and like you say at the top, we always add two stitches for the selvedge edge that is on top of what the pattern calls for. However, the way I see the “German border” described everywhere is not how we learned it.

    Here is how I learned the “German border” in Germany:

    Every row: Knit the first stitch, and slip the last stitch purlwise with yarn in front.

    This makes both for a neat selvedge edge, but also makes it easy for seaming.

    When I like to have a super neat selvedge edge where there is no seaming, then I do it the opposite way:

    Every row: Slip first stitch as if to purl with yarn in back, and knit the last stitch.

    This causes the first stitch to twist and results in a “knotty” selvedge stitch.

  3. I’m not a very good knitter – I have a very hard time following a pattern. But now I’m wondering if that’s because in reading this, I’ve only now found out that I need to be adding 2 extra stitches when I cast on, in order to slip my selvedge edge. All this time I’ve been beating myself up and maybe it’s just because no pattern writer that I’ve ever seen has mentioned this. So thank you – I realize your post is over two years old, but I had to comment and say thank you for this. I’ve been knitting for 15 years and never knew.

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