Learn how to use a seam ripper and how to remove straight sewing stitches in 2 different ways as well as how to unpick serged seams. Sewers of all levels (not just beginners) need to unpick. We all make mistakes or sometimes just have a day where we are totally distracted by our family or work life. I've been sewing since I was 5, and even now, I have days where things just don't go right. So what is the best way to unpick stitches? Keep reading to find out!
How to Use a Seam Ripper Tutorial
What is a Seam Ripper?
A seam ripper is a sewing tool designed to undo stitches and cut thread. They have a sharp point and then a U-shaped blade to cut unwanted stitches. A seam ripper also has a red ball on the shorter prong to prevent it from cutting the fabric by mistake. The seam ripper pictured above is fairly typical of how they look - just a simple plastic handle and metal tip.
OTHER NAMES: Seams rippers are also known as stitch rippers, unpickers, and stitch pullers. I've always called them by the generic term unpicker.
Uses of a Seam Ripper (Stitch Ripper)
The main uses of a seam ripper are cutting thread, and undoing seams and stitches where there is a mistake. Using a seam ripper makes it less likely (although not impossible) for the fabric to get damaged by removing the stitches. Use a seam ripper any time you need to remove stitches where they have become crooked or if you have made a mistake.
BEGINNER TIP: Never pull or rip stitches out, as it can damage the fabric.
Do Seam Rippers Get Dull?
Yes, they certainly do! Before unpicking, make sure your seam ripper is sharp. Once it gets dull you risk stabbing yourself or making a hole in the fabric, as you will need more force to get it to cut the threads. You will be surprised just how quickly they get blunt. Seam rippers are one of your cheapest sewing tools, so always have a few on hand.
How to Use a Seam Ripper For Straight Stitches
You can use a seam ripper from the inside of the seam or on the outside. Here are 2 methods for you to try.
Method 1 - How to Use a Seam Ripper on the Fabric Wrong Side
- Start by unpicking every few stitches on the bobbin side of the seam.
- Flip the fabric and pull the top thread. It will come away in one piece.
- Remove the stray tail threads from your fabric, and you are done.
Method 2 - Rip Seams on the Fabric Right Side
- Unpick a couple of threads on the outside of the seam.
- Then open up the seam to be unpicked and start cutting a few threads at a time. The ball of the seam ripper should be pointing down.
- Don’t try and cut too many at once, as you risk putting a hole in your fabric.
PRO TIP – Use a sticky lint remover to remove the last of the threads. This saves so much time compared to picking each loose thread out by hand.
How to Use a Seam Ripper for Serged Stitches
Whether you have used a 3 or a 4 thread serger, at some point, you will need to unpick a serged seam that has gone wrong. This might seem like a lot of threads to unpick, but with some practice, you will have the job done in no time. Like many sewing tasks, it looks much more difficult than it really is.
Step 1 - Cut Needle Threads
With your fabric facing with the right side of the serger stitch facing up, cut both the needle threads every few stitches.
This is the red and black stitching in the photo. If you are doing a 3 thread serged seam you will only have one of these.
It helps if your seam ripper is really sharp. A dull seam ripper tends to drag the threads making it harder to remove the stitches in the long run.
Step 2 - Remove Looper Threads
Now my favorite part - Grab the looper threads (the green threads) firmly and the rest of the stitches will unravel.
If you have to resew the seam you have unpicked, don’t forget that the seam allowance will have been cut down by the serger knife.
PRO TIP – Use a sticky lint roller to remove the last of the threads.
How to Use a Seam Ripper FAQs
Other Uses of a Seam Ripper
The other main use for seam rippers for opening buttonholes after they are sewn. Learn how to sew buttonholes with your sewing machine.
What to Use Instead of a Seam Ripper
If you don't have a seam ripper, you can use a pair of embroidery scissors. These small scissors have a fine sharp point, so can be used to unpick seams.
What is the Red Ball for on a Seam Ripper?
The end with the red ball goes down into the fabric so that you don't make holes. It protects the fabric from being accidentally cut.
How to Sharpen a Seam Ripper
If you need to sharpen a seam ripper, try gently rubbing the point with some steel wool. Ideally, buy a new tool as they are quite cheap, and you won't get the best results once it goes dull.
How to Use a Seam Ripper - In Conclusion
What is your preferred method for unpicking and using a seam ripper? Please share. This method works on straight stitching and most simple decorative stitching. If you are needing to remove serged stitches it can take a little more time but is still possible with the easy steps above.
How to Use a Seam Ripper
- Seam Ripper (Unpicker, seam puller)
- ON STITCH LINES - Start by unpicking every few stitches on the bobbin side of the seam. Flip the fabric and pull the top thread. It will come away in one piece.Remove the stray tail threads from your fabric, and you are done.
- ON SEAMS - Unpick a couple of threads on the outside of the seam. Then open up the seam to be unpicked and start cutting a few threads at a time. The ball of the seam ripper should be pointing down. Don’t try and cut too many at once, as you risk putting a hole in your fabric
- ON SERGED SEAMS - With your fabric facing with the right side of the serger stitch facing up, cut both the needle threads every few stitches. Grab the looper threads (the green threads) firmly and the rest of the stitches will unravel.
- ON BUTTONHOLES - Make a small snip in the center and use the tip of the seam ripper to gently open the slit. Do not push too hard. A pin at the ends will stop you from going too far.