The selvedge is the woven edge of the fabric. On a loom it's the side edge of whatever you are weaving. It's the long edge of the scarf or the yards of curtain fabric. It can be the sides or the top/bottom of a napkin, placemat or kitchen towel depending on how you position your design. Its the edge that doesn't need to be hemmed because it comes off the loom finished and stable. Unfortunately, it's almost the first thing we weavers look at when we are examining anything handwoven. I say unfortunately because of all the things about a hand woven piece of fabric, the selvedge is the least interesting and the least example of a weaver's abilities.
And yet, there is something magical and unattainable about selvedges that are perfectly straight, perfectly even. I continue to try for that unattainable goal. At least it continues to be unattainable for me. I must point out that the top image is NOT my weaving. This wonderful towel was woven by Charlene Schurch and she does the most amazing selvedges I've ever seen. Over the years my selvedges have certainly improved. They have gotten more straight and even as I've become a better weaver. I have better results with firmly beaten kitchen towels than I do with softer beaten fabrics.
Firm and even selvedges give you no information about the complexity of the weaving or the combination of colors. The selvedges don't indicate how long it took to design the patterns or choose the yarn. The selvedges don't tell you how useful the handwoven towel is or how long it will last. The only thing that perfect selvedges tell you is that this item has perfect selvedges.
As a weaver on the quest for perfect selvedges, I continue to try to keep my beat consistent, to keep my tension even, to keep my shuttles adjusted properly. All these things make for a better weaver and help you lean towards nice smooth selvedges. They do not, however, guarantee anything. It probably doesn't help that I'm a pretty fast weaver. I get into a fast rhythm and don't necessarily pay enough attention to the details that might make my selvedges wonderful. Peggy always has better selvedges than I do. I think it's because she is generally more careful than I am. Not quite as fast, perhaps, but more careful.
There are several tools that help with selvedges. I love the end feed shuttles I use because they can be adjusted so the yarn flows as I weave. They are more expensive than the smaller boat shuttles but worth every penny in my book. The other tool most often used to get better selvedges along with helping to keep your weaving at it's assigned width is the temple. There are several types of temples and I hate them all. At least, I hate all the ones I've worked with. That is not to say that I don't use them when I need them. The temple has small sharp teeth to catch the outer strands of your warp and keep those outer threads at the prescribed width. They also can slice your fingers up pretty easily so temple related injuries are a potential issue. Ask me how I know.....
Wooden temples are made in Sweden by Glimakra and are easy to find at most weaving stores. I have three sizes and use them when it's necessary. They are just under two inches wide so they block the view of your most recently woven cloth. Metal temples are thinner thereby not blocking as much of the view but are designed for heavier weight fabrics like rugs and can be really hard on thinner warp threads. The third temple option is called a clip temple. They are made by Leclerc and I just opened the box with my new one this afternoon. The idea is instead of bracing from edge to edge of your weaving, they attach to either side of your loom and pull the outer edges of your weaving towards the outside. That way they don't allow your fabric to draw in and put additional pressure on warp threads. No one enjoys replacing broken warps. But they also don't block your view of your weaving.
It didn't occur to me that they must attach to my loom in some fashion. There are screw eyes involved and Texsolv cords and several weights and two different clips. I'm not quite ready to drill extra holes in my Louet loom and I'm not sure how I will feel about the weights banging on my loom as I weave. I'll have to think about this. In the meantime, I also just received the Glimakra temple that's the correct size for my kitchen towels. For now I'll use that one.