How to knit an edge stitch – 10 neat selvage techniques for different projects and use-cases.
Do your edges look wonky? Or does your knitting pattern require you to add “selvage stitches” and you have no idea what it means? Well, don’t worry! This tutorial is all about it and I will show you altogether 10 different edge stitch knitting techniques.
Why so many? Because not every knitting pattern behaves in the same way. Some are stretchier than others. Also, there are many different use-cases, and of course, different people may find different edge stitches more beautiful than others. I would like to give you the choice.
Let’s take a look, eh?
What is an edge stitch?
The edge stitch, often called selvedge or selvage (self-finished edge), refers to the stitches on the left and right sides of a flat knitting project. A selvage can be one or more stitches wide. Typically, these stitches are added to the border a knitting stitch pattern to create a neater edge, to makes it easier to seam or pick up stitches, or to keep your knitting from curling.
The term originally comes from weaving and sewing and referred to special edges that do not unravel. A lot of knitting patterns don’t specify which edge stitch you should pick. Often, you just read something like “cast on 20 stitches + selvage”. It’s up to the knitter to decide. It is, however, important to note that these are extra stitches you need to cast on.
The 10 best selvedges
A selvedge can be that little something that turns your finished projects from looking self-made into handcrafted. Not all of the 10 edge stitches I present you in this post are perfect for every project. Besides the pictures and the knitting instructions, you will thus find additional information on the suitability below every entry.
#1 Chain Stitch selvage
This is by far the most versatile and easiest selvage stitch. You will find it in my small variations and under different names. It’s sometimes called “chain edge” or “slip stitch edge” – and sometimes with regional variations like German slip stitch selvage, French or English slip stitch selvage.
Instead of getting confused by the different names and ways to knit it, you should rather try to understand the fundamental principle: You add one extra stitch on each side of your project. And then you slip that stitch in every second row.
Here’s the most common way to knit it:
- Right side (RS): Slip the first stitch knitwise with yarn in back (sl1kwyib), … and knit the last stitch
- Wrong side (WS): Sl first st purlwise with yarn in front (sl1pwyif), … and purl last stitch
However, since a purl stitch will appear exactly like a knit stitch from the other side, you can knit it in many different ways for the exact same outcome:
- RS: Sl1kwyib, and purl the last stitch.
- WS: Sl1kwyib, and purl the last stitch.
Or you could knit:
- RS: K1….sl1kwyib
- WS: P1….sl1pwyif
Where’s the difference? Theoretically speaking there is no meaningful difference. But every knitter struggles with different stitches. For example, if you struggle with keeping your last stitch neat, then the last option might be best as you only have to slip it. But if it’s the first stitch you are having trouble with, well then pick the first option. Or knit some swatches to check which version produces the best results for you and your yarn/style of knitting.
Now, this edge will look quite charming on stockinette stitch. There is one thing you do have to know, however. The final appearance of this edge stitch is defined by the adjacent stitch. So, if you want to knit a chain stitch selvage for garter stitch, you would have to change the repeat to:
- Every row: Sl1pwyif, knit to end
What’s it good for: Creates a nice chain on both sides. Can be a bit harder to knit really consistently but otherwise quite easy to remember. Not suitable for seaming, does not prevent curling, and only limited usability for picking up stitches.
Chain stitch edge – matching edges:
There is one technical geekery I have to share, though. The instructions for the standard chain stitch selvage will create mirrored edge stitches (like, for example, in SSK and K2tog). If you want edge stitches that look identical on both sides you have to knit it like this – or any permutation of it.
- RS: Sl1pwyib….k1
- WS: Sl1wyif as if to ptbl….purl
If you scroll back a bit, then you will see how the standard chain stitch selvage from above creates edges where the left leg is longer on the left side and the right leg is longer on the right side. As a result, both edges will behave in the same way. If you want them to LOOK identically the last repeat might be better.
#2 Twisted slip stitch selvage
A simple twist (excuse the pun) of the classic chain stitch selvage is the twisted slip stitch selvage. Here, the legs of the edge stitches cross. A lot of shawl patterns seem to prefer this edge stitch.
Right leg crossing over the longer left leg:
- Every row: Sl1kwyif, and knit the last stitch
Left leg crossing over the longer right leg:
- Every row: Sl1wyib as if to p1tbl, and purl the last stitch.
What’s it good for: Ornamental edge that can look a bit firmer. Not all that suitable for picking up stitches and less than ideal for seaming. I often find that the two edges look a bit mismatched, though.
#3 Garter stitch selvage (also knotted or beaded selvage)
This is probably the most versatile edge ever. It’s super easy to remember, it works for almost all projects and it will even help a bit against the curling of stockinette stitch. For the right kind of project, garter stitch edges can be quite decorative.
- Every Row: Knit the first and last stitch of every row
What’s it good for: Decorative and slightly firm border. Can be a smart choice for seaming if you want a purl ridge (like when you join ribbing or half-brioche stitch) or you need a flat seam (here’s how to seam garter stitch in an invisible way).
For an even firmer edge you can also knit it like this:
- Every row: KTBL, …, ktbl
#4 Double or Triple Garter stitch selvage
This is the easiest selvage option if you want to keep your stockinette stitch from curling. It adds quite a decorative border that lays perfectly flat.
- Every row: Knit the first two (or three) and last two stitches (or three)
Depending on the size of your project, you may want to knit the first and last 3, 4, or even 5 of your project to get a more balanced look.
What’s it good for: Purely decorative border with quite a lot of give; not especially suitable for (invisible) seaming or picking up stitches.
#5 Double twist selvage
If you are seeking a firm edge that creates one stitch for every two rows, then look no further. The double twist selvage is probably your best choice in these cases
- Every Row: Sl1kwib, …, ktbl
What’s it good for: Super tight edge. Very difficult to pick up stitches. Can be quite hard to knit uniformly on both sides.
#6 Double seed stitch selvage
The classic seed stitch is a very pleasing knitting stitch pattern that can add a lot of structure to your edges. It will also help against curling in stockinette stitch and I personally feel it’s a bit prettier than the garter stitch option from above, yet behaves – in many ways – the same.
- Every row: K1, p1,…. p1, k1
Of course, you can multiply the repeat as many times as you want. You could also do k1, p1, k1, p1…p1, k1, p1, k1 (and so on) for a much wider edge. In fact, I think this is where this edge truly shines – especially when you are knitting a blanket and similar projects.
What’s it good for: Purely decorative border for larger projects (like blankets, etc). Not suitable for seaming or picking up stitches.
#7 Double stockinette stitch selvage
One of my personal favorite edge stitches uses the double stockinette stitch pattern. It may be a bit more difficult to knit but it does have so many interesting and smart use cases. Plus, it creates just such a beautiful round edge.
- RS: K1, Sl1pwif, k1, …, k1, Sl1pwif, k1
- WS: Sl1pwif, k1, sl1wif, …, Sl1pwif, k1, sl1pwif
Of course, you can also knit the edge as wide as you like. You do have to be careful, though that double stockinette stitch has a slightly different gauge. So, I wouldn’t go too wide.
What’s it good for: Highly decorative border that may be used to prevent curling or even add drawstrings (as it creates a pocket); perfect also for smooth edges in brioche stitches. Not suitable for seaming or picking up stitches.
#8 I-cord edge
If you ever knit a shawl, then you know how popular i-cords are. The basic knitting technique can be transferred to your edges as well. You’ll end up with a super round border that has a nice grip.
- RS: Sl1pwyib, sl1pwyif, k1, …, k1, sl1pwyif, p1
- WS: Sl1pwyib, k1, sl1wyif, …, sl1pwyif, k1, p1
What’s it good for: Highly decorative border that will mirror the look and feel of your i-cord bind-off and cast-on edges. Not really suitable for seaming or picking up stitches. Will curl a bit.
#9 Seam edge
This should be your preferred method when you want to join two pieces together using mattress stitch. When done right, you will be able to create utterly invisible seams.
- RS: K2, …, k2
- WS: P2, …, p2
Depending on your knitting stitch pattern, you may consider knitting the first and last two or three stitches. This will give you a smoother transition towards your seam.
What’s it good for: Perfect base for standard vertical seams or when you need to pick up stitches. Otherwise rather unspectacular edge that may curl.
#10 Brioche Stitch Selvage
This selvage is inspired by a reader who commented on one of my last posts. I couldn’t find any reference for this edge, though I heard a version of it is popular in Russian knitting. I call it brioche stitch selvage because it’s a very similar technique.
- Row 1 (setup): Sl1pwyif, yo…
- Row 2: Sl1pwyif, yo, …, p2tog
- Row 3: Sl1pwyif, yo, …, k2tog
- Repeat rows 2+3
What’s it good for: It creates a very balanced edge that is quite fluffy. Not for seaming, but I feel it can look perfect for a scarf.
How to find the perfect selvage for your project – things to consider
With all these alternatives, you are probably wondering which edge stitch will be the right one for your project? While looks are important, I really urge you to consider a couple of further tips:
The best edges for seaming
There’s a fundamental difference between an ornamental edge and an edge for seaming. The former only needs to be pretty, and maybe stretchy enough so you don’t mess up your gauge. But if you want to do any serious seaming, you want an edge that is firm enough to support your stitches, but not so bulky you are creating any big ridges on the wrong side.
In my opinion, the garter stitch edge and a stockinette stitch selvage are your best option here. Both can be joined quite effortlessly with mattress stitch.
Not every object you knit will be rectangular (like a scarf, etc). Sometimes you end up with sloped shapes and curves. And while some selvages might be ideal to add a little bit of extra structure to a seam, those might be too tight for – say – the armpits of a sweater. Another example could be a triangular shawl, where you might need a little bit of extra stretchiness.
The reason? The distance between two stitches that are on top of each other is shorter than a diagonal (It’s simple geometry: Think of it as a square – the sides are shorter than the diagonal)
Edges for picking up stitches
When you want to pick up stitches from an edge, you should consider that your row gauge will probably differ from your stitch gauge. What do I mean? If you count the stitches you need to cover a 2×2 inch (5×5 cm) piece of fabric, the numbers won’t match. So, maybe it will be something like 20 stitches and 25 rows (just one example).
As a result, you would have to pick up three stitches for every 4 rows – at least if you don’t want your edges to flare (or pucker). And this means you often cannot use a selvage where you end up with only 1 edge stitch for every two rows. The only exception is the gusset of a sock, where the fabric will get narrower anyway. Here a slipped stitch selvage can be a great choice.
The best selvage for Lace Shawls, etc
When you block your knitting, you usually don’t overstretch it. But when you are knitting lace, you often want those eyelets to pop wide open, those picots to turn into nice little spikes, and so on. And in these cases, your edge stitches might end up constricting your shawl because they are not stretchy enough.
There’s an easy way to avoid that. Just add a yarn over before the edge stitch and drop it in the next round, or pull out the (slipped) stitch quite a bit after you knit the second stitch (don’t do it right after slipping). Normally, you wouldn’t do this as it will result in somewhat frilly edges. But in these cases, it will get you the extra bit of stretchiness that will look quite neat once you blocked things to perfection.