Rug Repair Part 4: Sides and Selvages

  • 1. Single overcast wool selvage on an antique Bidjar from Iran
  • 2. Multi-cord selvage. Wool over two warp bundles on an East Caucasian rug. Changes in selvage color are not uncommon in many rug types.

 Last time we discussed fringe repair, so now we move on to the second most common repair request – the sides of the rug.

Like fringe, the sides are exposed to excessive wear and tear and will need attention to keep the rug looking its best.

The term “selvage” is a combination of the words “self-edge,” which describes the finished edge of any woven textile. Oriental rugs generally have selvages on the long side, while Navajo rugs have selvages on all four edges.

The function of a selvage is to keep the fabric of a rug from unraveling. Rugs often have a decorative overcasting of yarn covering the selvage that further protects the side of the rug from wear. Complex supplemental selvage structures are used in some rug weaving traditions to provide decoration and greater durability to the rug sides.

Selvages are usually made from the same material as the rug itself - they can be cotton, silk, wool or animal hair. Edges of rugs often receive heavy wear and selvage materials can become worn or damaged. Simple repair techniques can be used to protect or restore worn selvages.

A worn selvage can be re-overcast with yarn to cover wear. Damaged multi-cord selvage are more complicated to restore but can be recovered or re-woven easily if original warps are still in place. And Navajo side cords can be re-placed when worn.

Not all rugs have true selvages. Original selvages are often cut off when rugs come from the loom, then new selvage wraps or other treatments are applied. This is common in Indian and Pakistani rugs. This is not common with rugs from Iran and it’s rare in Turkish and Chinese rugs. This cutting of the rug is done to straighten edges that may have come from the loom crooked. The cut edges are not structurally durable as the original woven selvages, but this “straight” look is what is perceived to be desirable for their export markets.

It is important 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 detached side cord on Pakistani rugs can be sewn back on with a simple repair stitch if the damage is not too severe.

Most selvage repairs require an inventory of wool yarns in colors that match the common selvage colors. Yarn can be purchased from needlework craft stores or from Oriental rug repair suppliers such as Chatalbash by Costikyan or HM Nabavian, both located in New York.

These repair techniques are simple to learn, though the best results take some practice.  Depending on the rug, simple overcasting can be done at the rate of a few feet per hour and is often bid on a “dollars per foot” basis. Small selvage damages are common in rugs with cut sides and are typically bid by the job. The attachment of replacement selvages can be done on many rugs by simply sewing on a wrapped cotton cord with wool yarn to replace the original damaged selvage.

Worn or loose selvages can quickly unravel causing more serious damages that are expensive to restore. Inspect rugs carefully with your customer to identify worn or damaged areas before cleaning. 



Part 1: An Introduction to Rug Conservation, Restoration and Repair

Part 2: Rug-End Securing

Part 3: How to Deal with Worn Fringes

Part 4: Sides and Selvages

Part 5: Curling Edges – Why Rugs Won’t Lay Flat and How to Correct it

Part 6: Torn Corners and How to Repair the Problem


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