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How to Rip Out a Seam

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Mistakes happen to the best of us. Anyone who sews understands that some seams just weren't meant to be. The good news: ripping out a seam and starting over is something we all do. With a little care and patience, it's an easy fix and no one but you is ever likely to know it happened. The majority of woven fabrics, such as the popular quilting cottons, are very forgiving; a ripped-out and re-done seam is rarely noticeable on the finished project. It's better to start over if your first attempt fails. You'll always be happier in the end. 

The best way to rip out a seam is with a sharp seam ripper. There are a myriad of choices in size, grip style, even options with lights. Fabric Depot carries a nice selection online

We used a Janome branded seam ripper by Seamfix. It has a special plastic end that grabs and removes excess threads without marking or sticking to the fabric.

Keep in mind that seam rippers, like any blade, eventually dull. They need to be replaced on a regular basis as they can't be sharpened. Just like a dull pair of scissors, you can damage the fabric and cause more harm than good. A dull seam ripper can jam or slip, slicing or tearing a hole in the fabric... now you have a bad seam and a hole. Seam rippers are inexpensive; replace them often!

First, a few sewing basics to help keep the seam-ripping-out to a minimum. 

Whenever possible, use some kind of a seam guide to sew straight and accurate seams. You can follow the seam lines on the machine's throat plate, use a quilt bar (shown in the photo below), or use a specialty presser foot, such as a Quarter Inch Seam foot, Edge Guide foot, Sliding Guide foot, and similar feet with guides or flanges built in. 

Always sew a test seam on a scrap of your actual project fabric to confirm your stitch settings, needle, and tension are correct and everything is stitching nicely. 

You may need to shorten your stitch length on sheer or slippery fabrics to avoid puckering in the seam. In the image below, the seam on the left is 2.4mm and the seam on the right is 1.8mm.

For thick or bulky fabrics, the stitch length usually needs to be lengthened. This allows the thread to form a better stitch to accommodate the depth of the fabric. In the image below, the seam on the left is 2.4mm and the seam on the right is 3mm.

Even with good preparation, some seams will still need to be unsewn. Here, our seam went off track in the middle. 

Remove the first few stitches at the end of the seam with the long, sharp tip of the seam ripper. This step is the same whether you're starting at the edge of the fabric as we show in the photo below, or if you have to rip out the middle of the seam. Just gently pick out a few stitches, working from both sides of the seam allowance if possible. 

Once you have a opening, place the short, ball end of the tool under the stitch. Always work with the ball end down. That "little red ball thingy" helps protect your fabric as the sharp curve of the tool slices the thread.

Hold the end of the seam ripper and gently push it along the seam from one end...

... to the other. If your seam ripper is nice and sharp, this should be a smooth, fast slice. You'll know the blade is dull and it's time to replace the tool if it jerks and hangs-up along the way. 


Use your fingers to remove the long threads. 

Then use the rubber end of the ripper to brush away any small bits of remaining thread. If you don't have a rubber end to your seam ripper, you can use the eraser end of a pencil or a lint roller.

An alternate method is to use the sharp point of the tool to cut individual threads along the seam to be removed. Gently clip every second or third stitch. Depending on the length of seam to be removed, you can go as far apart as every inch to help speed things up.

Working along just one side, insert the tool's point under the stitch, then quickly and carefully snap up to cut. This method takes extra care and patience because you are working with the sharp end of the seam ripper, which means there's an increased chance of accidentally cutting into the fabric. However, this can be a good method for short sections.

When done, turn over and gently pull away the uncut thread from the opposite side of the seam. 

Remove the smaller thread bits, as mentioned above, with the plastic end of the seam ripper, a pencil eraser, or a lint roller.

Now... try, try again.

Our thanks to Janome America Education Coordinator, Nancy Fiedler for her help with this tutorial. 


Comments (17)

ziajoaquin14 said:
ziajoaquin14's picture

I recently learned about this tool, and I love it. The fabric knife* is a handheld tool with a razor on the end. I used to use actual razor blades when I worked at a tailor shop, but this fabric knife is a lot easier to hold and use.

Diane Martin said:
Diane Martin's picture

My best friend simply uses a white eraser to remove the leftover threads  - inexpensive and effective.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Diane Martin - yes, good idea. We mentioned using an eraser above. There are lots of options for picking up those little threads.

Ghoncheh said:
Ghoncheh's picture

Very good, thanks today I completed one of your projects (a hot pad) and this method was helpful for me

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Ghoncheh - Good news~ Glad we could help you have success.

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

One of our guild members has a collection of museum quality seam rippers. She favors the two from Germany and Japan. I have a velcro hair roller that grabs those nasty bits. Just as negative space is important in modern quilting so is the seam ripper. An essential gift for beginners.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Jane Coombs - I've heard there are are some very high-end options out there. What a fun collection to have.

Petra Abington said:
Petra Abington's picture

Masking/blue painters tape is a also a good way to pick up all those little thread pieces :-D

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Petra Abington - Another good idea! Thanks!!

Jackey Nevel said:
Jackey Nevel's picture

great info. I never knew the proper method and now I know the purpose of the red ball

thank you!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Jackey Nevel - another great mystery of the universe revealed 

April Bowerman said:
April Bowerman's picture

Lord, I've been doing it wrong too since I started sewing 12 years ago!  I've been picking out one stitch at a time!!!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ April Bowerman - Every time we put together a full tutorial, we learn new things too. Isn't it great?!

Mrs Rum said:
Mrs Rum's picture

Doing it wrong my whole sewing life.  That's embarrasing.  And slow.  Very slow.  I almost want to go sew something just to rip it out...

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Mrs Rum -- Ha! You should, it's always kind of fun

mpistey said:
mpistey's picture

Great information!  A couple of months ago, I dropped mine.  When I turned in my chair to pick it up, it went into the side of my foot!  Ouch!  Be careful, they are very sharp and can hurt you!