Use Your Seam Ripper Like A Pro!

If you sew you rip. Period. 

 Are you a zen ripper or more like this..? 

Last week I practiced in the art of making and correcting mistakes and I gathered some material on seam ripping.. or unpicking because they aren’t always seams, the sewing mistakes I make. Taking out stitches is an unavoidable evil. 

There are no right or wrong ways to take out those stitches, but there are different approaches. I’ve seen and used less efficient ways and more risky ways and depending on the fabric and the stitches, I use different methods. I want to show you the options and give you a couple of tips for ‘unpicking’. 

First, it’s important to know your tool: The seam ripper: Helping mistake-makers of all kinds 🙂 

Some use special shears or razors but I just use a good old seam ripper. I’ve come across a whole range of different seam rippers, with nice big handles, in wood, gold, you name it. I’m still managing with the basic tool and I have 4 of them, a little set I like to have more than one because I hate it when I have to start a search quest for my tool when I make a mistake. Always having one at hand, makes it less frustrating. Some sewists even wear one around their neck. Do you? 

A seam ripper is designed to do the job safely. One point of a seam ripper is sharp while the other has a ballpoint tip which prevents unintentional injuries and prevents ripping the fabric. The cutting edge of the ripper is the curved pit between the point and the ballpoint. With the sharp point, you can go underneath the stitches. The ballpoint can slide against the fabric without damaging it. 

Seams & Hems 

Start at one end of the stitches you would like to remove. Work from the bobbin side. Insert the sharp tip of the seam ripper between the thread and the fabric, sliding the seam ripper in sideways. Gently pull the seam ripper upward away from the fabric to cut the thread. Those are the basics. 

Step 1 is the same for all ripping: undo the backstitches one by one, if you have any backstitches to unpick of course. If you’re unpicking in the middle, just mark the start and the ending by unpicking the ends first. 

And don’t forget, always slide the ripper in sideways 

One By One 

You can continue to unpick one by one like you have to do for removing backstitching. This way you can remove every stitch. It is very time consuming and you’ll end up with a lot of small threads on the top if you cut every stitch. You can also cut the first stitches and then pull out every stitch with the point without cutting them. Most of the time the thread will stay intact but it may break. This way you’ll end up with less small threads to clean up afterward. The tugging is not ideal for very frail fabrics, very tight or small stitches. 

Every 4th Stitch 

For seams, hems, decorative stitches and stitches that are not on the edge.. Start on the bobbin side. Cut a stitch, skip 3 or 4 stitches and cut again, continue like this. Turn the fabric over to the top thread side. Place ripper under the thread and simply lift the thread of the fabric. 

Between The Fabrics 

This technique only works when you’re undoing a seam or a hem. 

Open up the fabric and slice the stitches, you gently pull the fabric apart and thug a little, the thread will loosen, and you just need to cut every 4-5 stitches. Use the tip of the seam ripper to pick up the stitches in the seam line and cut them. Pull the seam-ripper away from the fabric rather than toward the remaining stitches. It takes more time than plowing the seam ripper through the stitching but it is much less likely to cut the fabric. 

Be careful with thin fabrics because they can stretch, if the fabric is very frail, you can’t pull your fabric too much or you’ll ruin it. 

Ripping the fibers of your fabric is always a risk when you’re unpicking, some say the risk is bigger when you’re doing it flat. 

Quick Rip, Plowing 

This technique only for undoing seams or a hems. You put the ripper between the fabrics, ballpoint down and you cut all the stitches by pushing the ripper along the crease. \

If you want the fastest way, you’re confident and not afraid of taking risks, you can do it this way. For me this is a great way to tear your fabric, as I did.. maybe it’s because I’m not experienced enough… so this is not the way for me, although it’s always tempting to use this method.. And with some practice, it might be perfect for you. 

Some hold the stitching vertically and let gravity help them. To be in complete control, you need 3 hands for this technique (1 to hold the ripper, 1 to move the fabric and 1 to keep the fabric taut). By securing your fabric underneath the presser foot of your sewing machine or pinning it down on your iron board, you won’t need that third hand anymore. 

Here you see the same technique, with the fabric pinned to my iron board. 

You will have some more cleaning up to do because all the stitches are cut. 

Other Stitches 

I’m not trying to be complete and show you how to unpick every specific stitch. Most of the time you can use the methods I explained above. I’ll go into serger stitches and 3 kinds of industrial stitches, because unpicking those requires a specific technique. 

Serger Stitches

1. Start on the right side. Release the thread in the middle if you have a four thread overlock stitch. This is the stay stitch or the 4th thread. Pull that out. If you start on the wrong side, you will pull the threads together in a knot. 

2. Then, grab hold of the stitch between the V. The white thread in the four thread picture on the right, the green one in the three thread picture on the left. Give those threads a pull, grab them and then pull them all the way through. 

3. And then the serger loops will come off easily. 

Industrial Stitches

Interesting for those that want to alter clothing bought in a store. Chain stitches Unpicking chain stitches are really easy. On one side it looks like a normal stitch, on the other it is rather thick. Start on the thick side. 

Always unpick first the start and the end, like a mark, to make the unraveling stop at a certain point. Always go from left to right, thick side facing.

Blind Stitches 

To undo blind stitches, you go to the bobbin side, you cut the thread, grab hold of it and pull it. You have to find the loop where the thread is been caught in, once it’s released from the loop, it unravels. And when the thread is stuck again, you just flick it out of the loop again and pull. 

Cover Stitches 

The key to removing these stitches is figuring out the correct direction you will start unpicking. You will want to start unpicking on the side where you stopped stitching/sewing. I can tell this is where I ended my stitches because the tail threads are pulled to the back/wrong side of my garment. The tail threads on the right side are still on top of the sleeve, thus this is where I started sewing and NOT where I want to start unpicking. 

Cut a stitch and pull those tail threads to the front. Once the tail threads are on the right side of the fabric, you then carefully release a few stitches, don’t cut any of them. Turn your fabric over to the wrong side and you will see the looper thread will be the only one on this side. Grasp this tail and give a gentle tug/pull.

Always first make a cut in the threads at the start and the end, like a mark. You don’t want to unpick too much, do you? 

Extra Tips 

Little holes from the needle, rub it with your fingernail to erase those needle points or gently move the fabric around, pulling on the bias a little bit and the holes will disappear. 

Cleaning up: Use scotch or duck tape to clean up the little threads really fast.

If a cut in the fabric does happen and it is not in an area that is visible, immediately use fusible lightweight interfacing on the wrong side of the fabric with the cut closed as closely as possible. Waiting to do this step can cause the edges of the cut to fray and the cut will always be visible. The cut will weaken the fabric no matter what, but in most cases, the fusible interfacing can mend the cut if it is inside the item you are sewing. 

Rolled hems: I don’t undo a thin rolled hem, I just cut a little strip off. 

Seam rippers are not ‘forever tools’. They should be replaced regularly, you will feel it when your ripper isn’t sharp anymore, especially with the plowing technique. 

With these techniques and tips, you can take a step towards zen seam ripping, if that exists :-)

The most frustrating is unpicking stitches from knit fabrics or free motion embroidery stitches, especially when they are really tiny. That is so difficult and time-consuming. 

The only good advice I can give you for this stays cool, make yourself comfortable, take a glass of wine, some chocolate, put your favorite music on and forget the world around you :-) 



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