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From (Selv)edge to (Selv)edge

Fabric is essential to fashion, whether its shape or dimension, it often delimits the material area in which designers and tailors can experiment to resolve their ideas. In this way, the boundaries of fabric are translated into the boundaries of fashion itself, whose definition is then from selvedge to selvedge.

Checkered fabric in linen, 1950-1970. Courtesy MoMu - ModeMuseum Provincie Antwerpen, all rights reserved.

Checkered fabric in linen, 1950-1970. Courtesy MoMu - ModeMuseum Provincie Antwerpen, all rights reserved.

While the length of a fabric can virtually be extended to the wish of its producer, its width is subdued to the width of the loom used to produce it. Although the world’s widest loom ever made – created by Jürgens GmbH & Co. of Emsdetten in May 2005 – measures 33,15 m (108.75 ft), the usual width of fabrics revolves around 0,70 and 3 meters.

Selvedge is the name used to indicate its extremes. selvedges run parallel to warp of the fabric and are usually created by the looping back of the weft thread with the main function to prevent the fabric to fray or unravel, finishing the fabric as it exits from the loom. To do this, the weft threads turn and go back on themselves while they are whirled around the warp. Since they are created along with the fabric, their style and size depends on the way the fabric is produced and on the type of loom involved.

Dress fabric of glazed brocaded worsted, probably made in Norwich, 1760-1770. Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, CC BY.

Dress fabric of glazed brocaded worsted, probably made in Norwich, 1760-1770. Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, CC BY.

Stiff and sound, they can come plain or similar to the rest of the fabric, but otherwise they can be customised using thread in fancy colours. Sometimes instead, when jacquard looms or prints are involved, it is use to write on the selvedge the information of the fabric, as its commercial name, composition, or the name of its producer.

Dress designed by Dries van Noten, s/s 2010. Photo Stephen Matteus for MoMu. Courtesy MoMu - ModeMuseum Provincie Antwerpen, all rights reserved.

Being stiffer and differing the texture of the rest of the fabric, they are usually discarded. Sometimes however, because of their peculiarities, they are used in design as embellishment or as structural resolutions. As they are made to prevent the fabric to fray, they don’t need any finishing, and their colours variations are intelligently used in other designs as hems decorations. Indeed, even if they limit the fabric, they don’t limit creativity.

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