The Chain Selvedge

The chain selvedge forms a tidy decorative edge. It’s perfect for knitted accessories, such as scarves or shawls, that will have a visible edge (instead of an edge that’s hidden in a seam). Each stitch of the chain selvedge spans two rows, making it a great option when stitches have to be picked up along the edge for working a garter-stitch band because the pick-up rate in that case is usually one stitch for every two rows. However, the chain selvedge isn’t the best choice for seamed edges because the stitches tend to be loose and open, resulting in sloppy seams.

The chain selvedge is sometimes referred to as a “slip-stitch” selvedge because it involves slipping edge stitches without working them. There is often some confusion among knitters about how the edge stitches should be slipped when working a chain selvedge because there are so many variations. The stitches can be slipped knitwise or purlwise, with the yarn held in front or in back of the work. In addition, the stitches can be placed at either the beginning or the end of the row. Each of these variations will have a slightly different effect on the appearance of the selvedge. The selvedge will also be affected by the stitches that are worked directly before or after the edge stitch on the same row or in the row above it. In this article, we’ll look at a few different stitch combinations to see how each affects the appearance of the chain selvedge.

The Chain Selvedge on Garter Stitch

chain selvedge

For this selvedge, the first stitch of every row is slipped purlwise with yarn in front (wyf). After the stitch is slipped, the yarn is moved between the needles to the back of the work so the yarn is in position to knit the next stitch. In the process of moving the yarn to the back, the purl bump from the row below also moves so that it is no longer visible. If instead the yarn is moved to the back of the work around the outer edge and then the first stitch is slipped with yarn in back (wyb), the purl bump will be visible on the outside edge.

Row 1 Sl 1 pwise wyf, knit to end.
Rep Row 1 every row for patt.

Chain Selvedge on Stockinette Stitch (Method 1)

The appearance of the chain selvedge is influenced by neighboring stitches, so a selvedge that is used for garter stitch may have a different appearance when used for stockinette stitch.

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 pwise wyf, knit to end.
Row 2 (WS) Sl 1 pwise wyf, purl to last st, k1.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

With this method, the chain on the left edge often tends to be a little looser than the chain on the right edge because on wrong-side rows, after slipping the first stitch, the yarn stays in front so the next stitch can be purled. Bringing the yarn to the back to knit the next stitch on right-side rows snugs the selvedge stitch up a bit more.

With the chain selvedge, one leg of the stitch will be longer because it is attached to the row below the other leg of the stitch (Figure A).

chain selvedge

With the previous method, the right leg is longer on both the right and left edges, but other methods will result in a longer left leg (Figure B).

The differences are subtle, but you may find that you prefer one effect over the other. You can even use one type of selvedge on the right edge and the opposite selvedge on the left edge. In the following method, the right leg of the selvedge is longer on the right edge, and the left leg is longer on the left edge.

Chain Selvedge on Stockinette Stitch (Method 2)

chain selvedge

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 kwise wyb, knit to last st, k1tbl.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 pwise wyf, purl to end.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

You can achieve the same chain selvedge a number of ways. Various combinations of knitting and slipping the edge stitch will produce one of the four chain-selvedge stitches to be described. Use the instructions for each to explore the many ways to work a chain selvedge. Make swatches to identify which chain types you prefer and which methods feel the most natural. After you become familiar with each selvedge stitch, mix and match them, working the right edge one way and the left edge another way.

Methods to produce a chain with the right leg longer than the left (Figure A):

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 pwise wyf, knit to end.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 pwise wyf, purl to last st, k1.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 kwise wyb, knit to last st, p1.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 kwise wyb, purl to end.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 kwise wyf, knit to last st, k1tbl.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 kwise wyf, purl to last st, k1tbl.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) P1, knit to last st, sl 1 kwise wyb.
Row 2
(WS) Purl to last st, sl 1 kwise wyb.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Knit to last st, sl 1 pwise wyf.
Row 2
(WS) K1, purl to last st, sl 1 pwise wyf.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) K1tbl, knit to last st, sl 1 kwise wyf.
Row 2
(WS) K1tbl, purl to last st, sl 1 kwise wyf.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Methods to produce a chain with the left leg longer than the right (Figure B):

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyf, knit to end.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyf, purl to last st, k1.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 pwise wyb, knit to last st, p1.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 pwise wyb, purl to end.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 pwise wyf, knit to last st, k1tbl.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 pwise wyf, purl to last st, k1tbl.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 kwise wyb, knit to last st, p1tbl.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 kwise wyb, purl to last st, p1tbl.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) K1tbl, knit to last st, sl 1 pwise wyf.
Row 2
(WS) K1tbl, purl to last st, sl 1 pwise wyf.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) P1, knit to last st, sl 1 pwise wyb.
Row 2
(WS) Purl to last st, sl 1 pwise wyb.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) P1tbl, knit to last st, sl 1 kwise wyb.
Row 2
(WS) P1tbl, purl to last st, sl 1 kwise wyb.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Knit to last st, sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyf.
Row 2
(WS) K1, purl to last st, sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyf.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

If you find that the chain selvedge is still a little too loose, you might prefer one of the following methods, which give the stitch a slight twist. The edge will be a little firmer and less elastic, but these methods can add some stability when the other methods gape.

chain selvedge

These methods produce a twisted chain with the left leg crossing over the longer right leg (Figure C):

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyb, knit to last st, p1.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyb, purl to end.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyf, knit to last st, k1tbl.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyf, purl to last st, k1tbl.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 pwise wyb, knit to last st, p1tbl.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 pwise wyb, purl to last st, p1tbl.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) P1tbl, knit to last st, sl 1 pwise wyb.
Row 2
(WS) P1tbl, purl to last st, sl 1 pwise wyb.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) P1, knit to last st, sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyb.
Row 2
(WS) Purl to last st, sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyb.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) K1tbl, knit to last st, sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyf.
Row 2
(WS) K1tbl, purl to last st, sl 1 as if to p1tbl wyf.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

These methods produce a twisted chain with the right leg crossing over the longer left leg (Figure D):

Row 1 (RS) Sl 1 kwise wyf, knit to end.
Row 2
(WS) Sl 1 kwise wyf, purl to last st, k1.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Row 1 (RS) Knit to last st, sl 1 kwise wyf.
Row 2
(WS) K1, purl to last st, sl 1 kwise wyf.
Rep Rows 1 and 2 for patt.

Making swatches to identify the chain types that you prefer creates a small “library” of selvedges for you to draw on so you’ll be prepared to handle that next visible edge with aplomb.


Find more than just projects in our pages! Our work includes helping you with tips and tricks to make your knitting sing. This piece was originally published in knit.wear Spring/Summer 2017. The header image features the Northampton Cardigan by Amanda Bell, part of the “Athleisure” design collection, featuring nine designs that reflect relaxed elegance.


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