Do you know how to use a seam ripper? I bet you think you do, right? We all are much more familiar with this than we would like to be. But I am pretty sure you can find some new ideas in my guide. So, bear with me. I hope this tutorial will be useful not only for beginners but for experienced sewists also.
Table of content
- Best seam ripper
2. How to remove sewing stitches
3. How to use a seam ripper for different fabrics
- Ripping seams on silk
- Ripping seams on fur
- Ripping seams on lace
4. How to use a seam ripper for hems
5. How to unpick 4 thread overlock stitching with a seam ripper
6. How to remove a coverstitch hem
7. How to use a seam ripper for cutting buttonholes
8. How to cut clothing tags
If you like to sew you need to use a seam ripper from time to time (or all the time, it depends). As for me, I may have earned a master’s degree in seam ripping. Even now, after 30 years of sewing, I still make mistakes and need to correct them. Also, if you like upcycling (making something new from old clothes, for example) you may need to rip lots of seams to be able to use old garments.
You know, there are different methods to rip seams with a seam ripper. What method to use? It depends on the weight of your fabric, how tightly seams are stitched, and the stitch settings of your sewing machine. But I would advise you to always have a proper light so you can see individual stitches of the seams.
✅ Related tutorial: Sewing room lighting ideas
Best seam ripper
I would like to show you this very interesting seam ripper, called seam-fix. It’s not a common seam ripper – it has a thread “eraser”. I never knew such a thing existed until I bought this. Let me tell you how to use it.
Hold your fabric tight and just slide the part with a red ball under the stitches you want to remove. Carefully push the seam ripper through the seam and the blade will cut the thread easily. If you are using it this way you don’t have to worry about making holes in your fabric because the red ball protects the fabric from getting ripped.
Now we are left with many tiny pieces of thread. Before I spent so much time picking those little threads. But now I have this yellow rubber tip – it’s awesome! I just rub the eraser over the fabric – and voila! No more picking cut pieces of thread!
Attention! If you like the video format, at the bottom of this post, look for a YouTube video version where there is a step-by-step tutorial on how to use a seam ripper correctly. For a more complete picture, I recommend exploring both versions.
How to remove sewing stitches using a seam ripper
This “magic eraser” seam ripper is especially useful when you have to rip long seams or decorative stitches.
Here is a stitch (check the image below) I made with my overcast foot, the needle was going to and back a few times, so there are plenty of stitches to be ripped. Not a problem – the seam ripper is a good tool to break the thread. But now you can see a million pieces of the green thread. Picking them by hand is tedious work. And with my “magic eraser” I will get rid of them in a few minutes. So, did you know about this kind of seam rippers?
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Seam rippers can be used successfully even if you already pressed seams open. It’s even faster to rip this kind of seam.
How to use a seam ripper for different fabrics
Now let me show you how to use the seam ripper for different fabrics. All available tutorials, just show you how to rip seams on medium or heavyweight cotton. But what if you need to rip 100% silk fabric? Or lace? Or velvet and fur? And how do you rip hems?
Ripping seams on silk
So, I have 100% silk fabric I used to make silk pillowcases. The fabric is very soft and slippery. I can try to use the seam ripper the regular way. Nope, it just doesn’t go.
Let’s use another way to do it. I just cut with my seam ripper every third or fourth stitch on one side of the fabric. After that, I just pull out the thread from the other side of the fabric. And after that, I brush the magic eraser tip of the seam ripper across the fabric to get rid of bits of threads.
But unfortunately not all silk fabrics can be ripped that easily. Sometimes if the sewing thread is stronger or thicker than the fabric you can break the fibers and make holes in the fabric. So I would advise you not to rip stitches if you are using silk chiffon, habotai, georgette, or organza.
✅ Related tutorial: Types of silk fabric
Ripping seams on fur
The next way of ripping is suitable for fur and velvet. These fabrics can’t be ripped the regular way with the seam ripper because we are going to cut the fabric pile. Let me show you how to rip the seam on this pink fur fabric. Count 4-5 stitches without cutting them, slide the tip of the seam ripper under the six’s stitch and cut it. Pull the thread and take the thread out of the seam. Turn the fabric and repeat the process on the other side of the seam until you remove everything.
Ripping seams on lace
Sometimes the thread if you choose it to match the fabric is getting practically invisible. It happens when you sew lace fabric for example. So, what is the good way to rip the fabric in this case? I usually try to pull the thread a little like for making gathers and cut the thread at the other end of gathers, sometimes it’s quite long so a big piece of the thread can be taken out from the seam quite easily. I turn the fabric and repeat the process on the other side of the seam.
How to use a seam ripper for hems
Now let’s rip the hem on this silk shantung fabric. I am not sure why but the regular way to rip stitches with a seam ripper doesn’t work for silk. So I rip it like this: I pick out a few centimeters of stitches without cutting. After that, I pull the thread tail like for making gathers in the fabric and cut the thread on the other end of the gathers. This thread can be easily taken out. Now I have a long piece of thread on the other side of the fabric and it’s coming out easily.
✅ Related tutorial: Narrow hem tutorial
How to unpick 4 thread overlock stitching with a seam ripper
Did you ever try to rip serged stitches? I mean overlock stitches sewn by a serger. It only seems that it would take awfully hard work to do. This is actually much easier than it seems. You don’t need to spend hours doing that if you made a mistake. But you have to make sure you don’t pull the wrong thread or you may have a big mess otherwise.
✅ Related tutorial: Serger vs. sewing machine
Here I have a four-thread overlock stitch made with two needles. You can see these loops and here there are 2 rows of needle threads. The easiest way to remove serger stitches is to cut these needle threads. So the first thing to do is to break these two needle threads between the loops with the tip of your seam ripper. Repeat this cutting every 3-4 stitches. Remove those cut threads.
Once you remove those needle threads the looper threads will just fall away.
The other way to do it – pick out a few centimeters of stitches without cutting the thread. Then pull this thread a little like for making gathers in the fabric and cut the thread at the other end of the seam. Take the thread out from the seam, sometimes it’s coming out quite easily. Do the same with the second needle thread. And the looper threads will again just fall away.
If you need to remove serger stitches from 3 thread overlock stitch you would do it the same way except you would only have one needle thread to cut.
How to remove a coverstitch hem
Now let me show you how to remove coverstitching. Do you know what is coverstitching? It’s a stretchable seam finish used mostly for knit garments – t-shirts, underwear, leggings, bathing suits, etc. On the right side of the fabric, there are usually two rows of straight stitches (sometimes 3) and on the wrong side of the fabric, there are loops. This is the coverstitch.
✅ Related tutorial: Coverstitch vs. serger
Do you have a coverstitch machine? I have a Janome coverstitch machine and I like it. I use it a lot and sometimes I make a mistake and need to unpick the stitches and redo them properly. And ripping coverstitching is quite easy and fast, it’s not a problem at all.
You can get more info and buy a coverstitch machine using this link. Some sergers have a coverstitch option and I had a Brother serger with the coverstitch but I didn’t like to switch between 2 settings so I got rid of it and bought a Janome coverstitch machine Cover Pro – it’s doing ONLY coverstitch and chain stitch and works perfectly.
So, to remove coverstitches first cut both needle threads at one point and next cut them again in about 5-6 stitches. Remove the threads. If you turn the fabric over on the other side you will see that the loops got undone. Pull the threads from the loops and identify the direction that you should be further pulling threads from to undo the whole coverstitch. You will see that the looper threads will easily go in one direction but will not go in the other direction at all.
After you pulled a few inches of looper threads easily they may get stuck at some point especially if a wooly nylon thread was used like I have (see the video clip below). In this case, just stretch the fabric a little bit and the threads will be released again so you can continue to undo the stitch. Once you have removed the looper thread, the two-needle threads can be easily pulled off the fabric also.
✅ Related tutorial: Stretch thread for sewing
How else can we use the seam ripper?
We can easily cut buttonholes with it.
How to use a seam ripper for cutting buttonholes
Before cutting insert a pin into each side of the buttonhole. This will prevent you from cutting too much through the threads at the end of the buttonhole. Pierce the fabric between stitches in the middle of the buttonhole with a seam ripper. Cut the fabric inside of the buttonhole from the center to one end and then again from the center to the other end. Trim the buttonhole with sharp scissors.
How to cut clothing tags with a seam ripper
I use my seam ripper for cutting itchy clothing labels. You have to do it very carefully so you don’t make any holes in your clothes. A small mistake – and you can ruin your garment. Slowly cut each stitch with which the tag was sewn to the garment. Sometimes the tags are sewn with very strong threads and with a few rows of stitching so removing them is not that easy.
So here is my YouTube video. Check this out if you like to see how to use a seam ripper instead of reading…
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