Selvage is derived from the word self-edge and refers to the end sides of a rug. Different rug types have different selvages. For instance, oriental hand-knotted rugs have only two selvages only on the long corners, while Navajo rugs have selvages on each one.
The function of a selvage is to keep the rug fabric from unraveling. These are the wrapped edges which run perpendicular to the fringed ends.
Rugs often have a decorative overcasting of yarn covering the selvage that further protects the rug sides from wear. Complex supplemental selvage structures are used in some rug weaving traditions to provide decoration and more sustainable durability to the rug sides.
Selvages usually consist of the same material as the rug itself – they can be cotton, silk, wool, or animal hair. Rug edges are vulnerable to wear out, so are the selvages.
How Rug Weavers Work With Selvages
Not all rugs have true selvages. Rug weavers often cut off original selvages when rugs come from the loom, then wrap new selvage or apply other treatments. That is common in Indian and Pakistani rugs, but not with rugs from Iran, and it is rare in Turkish and Chinese rugs.
Rug weaver cuts the rug to straighten edges that may have come from the loom crooked. The cut edges are not structurally durable as the originally woven selvages, but this straight appearance is what is perceived to be desirable for their export markets.
Next, they wrap the rugs in the yarn along the sides, also known as selvage, to protect them from wear and raveling. As rugs receive foot-traffic, the selvage wrappings wear away, and their foundations become vulnerable to wear and damage.
Just as the rug can unravel on the ends, it can occur from the sides. Rewrapping the worn selvage yarn is a significant step to keeping them in good condition, extending the lifecycle.
How to Tell Rug Is Handmade
All elegant handmade rugs are made by knotting and twisting these threads of silk and wool. The fringe on hand-knotted rugs is a continuation of the warp rug yarns. On the hand-woven rugs, the fringe tassels are their WARPS. The fringe functions as the chassis of the rug, with kilim between its tassels and the main part.
This flat weave portion of the rug’s ends helps to lock in the knots and to decorate them. The fringe consists of wrapped yarns, but it does not necessarily have a kilim on the front side.
Things to Remember
The knots in the fringe hold help the rug together. When the kilim or fringe starts fraying or coming apart, you should have it repaired as soon as possible to prevent more costly damages from occurring.
You could consider simple repair techniques to protect or restore worn selvages. One can cover the damaged selvage with some threads of yarn. It’s much more troublesome to repair the selvage with many cords, such as Navajo rugs, but one can re-weave them if the wraps are still fine.
It is crucial to examine selvages when receiving rugs to identify worn or unstable areas to avoid further damage in cleaning and offer side repair options to your customer. The unfastened side cord on Pakistani rugs can be sewn back on with a simple repair stitch if the damage is not too severe.
Vacuum cleaning, pets, and general foot-traffic damage the fringe. Strong detergent and carpet cleaners ruin the rug in the long-term. So never try to bleach the rug with such chemicals.
Don’t stop learning about rugs here, you can take one step further and learn how to keep your rug looking at its best.