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Knitting Tutorial: Choosing the Right Selvage Edge
The selvage edge of your knitting is, quite simply, the first and last stitches of your knitted piece. When it comes to selvage edges, there can be a little bit of confusion when it comes down to choosing the right one; but this handy little lesson will make that choice a little easier.
Usually (not always, but usually), the pattern you are working will include the selvage stitch in the pattern. You can usually tell it's there because the first and last stitches will most likely not be like the rest of the pattern. It may look like: "K1, *pattern stitch instructions; rep from * to last st, k1" or "sl 1, work pattern to last st, p1." Check the notes to see how the designer recommends working it, but don't feel that you are tied to using that specific method. Feel free to change it based on your own preferences. If the pattern does not include a selvage stitch, you'll need to decide whether to add one. If you are seaming or picking up stitches, then definitely, yes, add one. If it is a visible edge, you might not need one, or you can check out Option 3 below.
Option 1: The Slipped-Stitch Selvage
This method is ideal for pieces that will have visible edges, like scarves, shawls, necklines, etc. It takes a little practice in order to make the edges even (meaning, if you work it too loosely, it gets sloppy looking), but when it's done right, your edges have a very smooth, refined "chained edge." Each chain, or the elongated "V," represents two rows. There are a variety of ways to work the slipped-stitch selvage, but here's how to work my personal favorite:
Row 1 (RS): Slip the first stitch purlwise, work in pattern until 1 stitch remains, knit the stitch through the back loop (tbl).
Row 2 (WS): Slip the first stitch knitwise, work in pattern until 1 stitch remains, knit the last stitch. The only place you definitely do not want to use this method is when you have to pick up stitches in anything other than garter stitch (when picking up stitches, in order to maintain a good gauge and reduce puckering at the edges, you want to pick up at a rate of two stitches for every three rows or three stitches for every five rows, and this slipped-stitch selvage kind of restricts you to one stitch for every two rows).
Option 2: The Garter-Stitch Selvage
This is my favorite selvage edge for just about everything other than visible edges (although, I do often use it for shawl edges). The garter-stitch selvage makes seaming SO much easier, as well as picking up stitches. The edge can look a little bumpy, but behind each of those bumps is a world of "easy-to-work" bars that you use for seaming and picking up. Not to mention, the technique is SUPER, SUPER easy! All you do is knit the first and last stitch of every row.
Option 3: In-Pattern Selvage
I admit that I very rarely use this method, but some knitter friends of mine love it for their visible seams. It is also completely OK to use when you don't care what the edge looks like because it won't be visible in seaming. I don't really recommend it when picking up stitches, though. The method is pretty simple in that you simply work the first and last stitches in the pattern you are already working.
So, there you have it -- three options for your selvage edges.