How to sew a Selvage Quilt Block Nancy Zieman

There are a lot of people who make Sewing With Nancy happen. From the Sewing With Nancy staff in Beaver Dam, WI to the crew at Wisconsin Public TV, around 20 people are involved. As the saying goes, many hands make light of work!

One of the engineers on the crew, Lynn DeRolf, usually concentrates her efforts on lighting the set. Recently she asked if I’d save selvages from fabrics as she and her mom were working on a selvage block quilt. I’ve never made a selvage block quilt, so I thought you’d like to learn along with me how to do so from a crew member, friend, and fellow stitcher. Thanks Lynn for documenting your quilting process! 

Guest blogger Lynn DeRolf

Making Selvage Blocks

Quilts made with the selvage edge of fabric have been gaining popularity over the past few years. The first time I heard of it, I thought, “No way!”  I was always taught that you CAN’T sew with the selvage edge because it’s denser than the rest of the fabric, and therefore it stretches differently. Keep reading to find out how it works.

Your first challenge is gathering enough selvage edges to get started. Since I don’t sew a lot, I asked my family, my local quilt guild, and sewing professionals in my area to donate their leftover selvage edges to me. Strips that are at least an inch wide are easiest to work with in selvage quilting, but you can use strips that are narrower. Many quilters (myself included) are in the habit of trimming very close to the selvage to utilize as much fabric as possible, leaving very narrow selvage strips. It takes some practice to remember to leave them wider.

Once I gathered a good stash of selvage strips, I sorted the wider strips from narrower ones, and then sorted by color. I wanted to have similar colors together in my quilt blocks, but any combination of colors can create a fun, scrappy effect.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

The key to sewing with the selvage edge is simple: a foundation fabric. This keeps the quilt as a whole from stretching and bunching in unwanted ways. Today I’m using muslin as my foundation fabric, but you can also use any cotton “uglies” in your stash. Essentially, all of the selvage strips are appliquéd onto the foundation fabric, each strip overlapping the previous one. Since the exposed edge of the selvage is woven very tightly, you don’t need to worry about it fraying. As you’ll see, all of the “raw” edges are hidden and secured inside each block.

I cut my foundation fabric to the size of the block I want. I fussy-cut the selvage so the dots are roughly centered on my foundation fabric, cutting it a little wider than the muslin.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

Then, I sew the first selvage onto the muslin, pretty close to the edge of the selvage. I purposely leave a scant 1/4″ of the muslin exposed so that when this block is joined with another block in the quilt the colored dots are not completely hidden inside the seam allowance. For this block I used contrasting thread so that you can see it easily, but typically I use matching thread.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

As you can see, I trim and place the second selvage strip on top of the first one, which is securely attached to the muslin. With these nice wide strips, I’m easily able to overlap by 1/2″, but an eighth of an inch is all you really need. The wider your overlap, the more flexibility you have if the fabric shifts a little as you’re sewing. The overlapping is important so that you only have to sew once to secure both pieces of selvage to your foundation fabric.

I continue overlapping and sewing until I cover up all the muslin. The selvage at the top extends past the muslinblock, which is fine.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

Notice that the third strip from the bottom has a fuzzy edge on it. That’s the way this particular piece of fabric is constructed, and it is secure, despite its appearance. I like the way it looks, so I accentuated it by placing the white frayed edge over a dark background.

I trimmed the block down to the original size of the foundation fabric.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

And, that’s one block done!


I had some selvages where the pattern of the fabric went all the way to the edge. To create some contrast, I alternated the “wrong” side of the selvage with the “right” side. I also put the square on-point before attaching the selvage strips.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

I ended up needing two different edges to finish the square, so I chose an edge that used the same pattern in a different color, and continued alternating the “right” and “wrong” sides.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

Here’s the reverse of the same block, where you can see the muslin.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

After a quick trim, another beautiful block is done!

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf I completed a third block with much narrower strips of selvage edge, fussy cutting to get interesting words onto the block. This one was the most challenging, as several times I missed sewing on the small overlapping area and had to rip out my stitching, reposition, and re-sew. When sewing strips with very narrow overlapping areas, I recommend checking after every seam to make sure you catch some of the previous strip in your stitching.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

All three blocks turned out great!  There are lots of options of how to incorporate blocks made from selvage into your quilting. You can sew blocks directly to each other, but be warned that you’ll have a very thick seam. To avoid this you can place a small border of cotton fabric between each block of muslin and selvage.  Alternatively, you can use selvage just in the border, or as an accent in a pieced quilt. It’s all up to you!

Nancy Zieman's Blog Selvage Quilt by Lynn DeRolf

Now that you know the basics, search the Internet for selvage quilting projects, and get inspired to start your own!

Thanks Lynn!

Bye for now,

Nancy Zieman The Blog

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