seam ripper and fabric

What is a seam ripper (why it’s a good thing)

If you’re new to sewing, you might be wondering what is a seam ripper?

One thing is certain: if there’s one tool in the sewing room that gets a lot of hate, it’s the humble seam ripper.

In short, this little metal tool is for removing stitches. Why the hate? Because nobody likes removing stitches and usually you’re having to do that because you made a mistake. You know that tool that makes you face your own imperfection and mortality and question your life in general up to this point? Yeah, having to rip out stitches can humble you really quick.

But I’m not here to rip on the seam ripper (totally intentional). I want you to know how to use a seam ripper, how to fix common problems that happen when you’re seam ripping. We’ll also explore different tools to use instead of a seam ripper. I’ll finish up with helping you change your mindset about needing to use a seam ripper and why it’s NOT your enemy.

So grab the last wonky seam you sewed, and let’s push past the frustration of having to use a seam ripper together.

What is a seam ripper definition

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seam ripper and fabric

A seam ripper is a small handheld tool with a handle and a sharp hook that is used to cut through stitches in a seam. The tip of the hook often has a small red ball on the end which makes it easy to see as you cut stitches.

Newer styles of seam rippers like the Kai seam remover have tiny teeth on a handle. They look like eyebrow razors!

Handles of seam rippers can be made of wood, metal, or plastic.

elizabethmadethis.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.’ As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever promote products that I use and love and I think you will love too. Thanks for supporting this blog!

Nice seam rippers to try

Just like sewing scissors, the best seam ripper for you is the one that feels good in your hands and is sharp. Here’s a few to try:

  • Clover foldable seam ripper: fold it up when you’re not using it, a foldable seam ripper like this one from Clover is great for travel.
  • Tula Pink surgical seam ripper: this style more like a scalpel is wicked sharp. Be careful with this one as you use it and definitely keep it away from little hands while you enjoy Tula’s Pink’s signature colors.
  • Kai seam remover: Kai makes awesome sharp things (see How to pick the best sewing scissors for you), so when I found out they had a seam ripper, it might have jumped in my cart a little too quickly. This looks like those eyebrow razors, but it’s much sharper. This is an easy to use seam ripper that’s safe enough for kids.
  • Clover ergonomic seam ripper: if you have any kind of hand strain problems, this seam ripper from Clover is comfortable in hand.
  • Dritz seam fix seam ripper: This Dritz seam ripper is pretty cool. One end lets you rip out your seam. Once you turn it over, use the rubberized side to tease out all those annoying seam ripper threads that build up when you rip seams.
folding seam ripper

Seam rippers aren’t just for sewing mistakes (surprising!)

Seam rippers aren’t just for fixing sewing mistakes.

You can use a seam ripper to open up buttonholes. Also, if you need to check the fit of a garment, use your seam ripper to remove your basting stitches when you’re happy with your work.

Seam rippers are also invaluable tools for when you’re deconstructing pieces for refashioning or alterations.

How to use a seam ripper correctly

To use a seam ripper, flip your project to the wrong side in the area where you need to remove the seams. Place the tip of the blade into the seam and cut open a couple stitches.

Working with the red ball on top, gently cut through the stitches you need to remove. If you pull on the seam on either side a little with your hands, it’ll be easier to wiggle the seam ripper through the threads.

FYI, that little red ball is there so that you can see where you’re cutting. Pretty smart.

In some fabrics, you can rip out a few stitches, then pull apart the rest with your hands. Try this on sturdy fabrics like denim, twill, canvas, and most cottons, but skip it on more delicate fabrics like silk, rayons, and knits.

For the Kai seam remover, hold the seam ripper in your dominant hand while you pull slightly on the seam. Aim the seam ripper at the center of the stitches. What’s cool about this seam ripper is that the stitches cut easily, yet you’d have a tough time cutting yourself with this one. This is quickly becoming my favorite stitch ripping tool.

Two top tips to help you remove stitches fast

First, press open your seam before you try to remove stitches. The stitches will be much easier to remove, and you’ll be less likely to cut your fabric accidentally.

Second, when you pull slightly on either side of the seam, your cutting tool of choice will cut the stitches more efficiently.

How to seam rip buttonholes

One of the more odious things you may have to unpick in the course of your sewing life is a buttonhole.

There’s a lot of stitching in any given buttonhole, and sometimes they are jerks.

When you need to unpick a buttonhole, first slide the blade under the stitches on the bottom of your project. Slice through the stitches carefully. Pull out as many as you can with your fingers from the top side of the buttonhole.

Turn everything to the wrong side and slice through any remaining stitching from the top layer of the buttonhole.

Underneath all of that is the rectangle of tiny straight stitches which makes up the outline of the buttonhole itself. Separate the layers of fabric and seam rip through the tiny stitches to release the rest of the fabric.

Avoid having to unpick buttonholes in the first place with these awesome buttonhole sewing tips.

Problems with a seam ripper and how to fix them

Be careful whenever you’re seam ripping. These tools are sharp, and you can hurt yourself with them. Always use a seam ripper when you can pay attention to what you’re doing. Sharp tools deserve respect and sober mindedness!

Also, it’s easy to accidentally cut holes in your fabric as you’re seam ripping. Again, pay attention so this doesn’t happen to you. The more delicate the fabric, the more you should pay attention, or better yet, use one of the alternatives to a seam ripper below.

One annoying thing about using seam rippers is all the thread trash you can leave behind in a seam. It can create quite a mess. Spend some time picking out the threads with your hands. You can also use a seam ripper like this one that’ll help you clean up the threads while you’re picking them out. Pretty cool!

Alternatives to seam rippers

When you need to use a seam ripper, you don’t always need to use a seam ripper. That is to say that there’s several different tools that can do the same job. In some cases, these alternatives to seam rippers can do an even better job. Let’s explore.

Use embroidery scissors instead of seam rippers (awesome but not necessarily speedy)

Given a choice, I will always choose embroidery scissors over seam rippers. I wear my embroidery scissors on a lanyard clipped to my top, so they’re always at hand. I recently changed to a retractable clip style lanyard for my embroidery scissors which I love even more.

The nice thing about embroidery scissors especially these ones from Gingher is that the tip of the blades can slip under stitches. This makes embroidery scissors a great choice for undoing seams.

Simply pull out a few stitches, then pull on the thread to undo the seam.

The advantages of using embroidery scissors instead of seam rippers is that it’s near impossible to damage your fabric. On delicate fabrics that’ll tear if you rip stitches out pulling on them.

Embroidery scissors are also good to use in place of a seam ripper when you’re sewing with a fabric where the stitches sink into the fabric. It can be hard to get at these stitches, making it more frustrating to use than seam rippers and also easier to damage your fabric with one. Stitches on knits are often easier to get at with embroidery scissors.

Got serger stitches to undo? Seam rippers make a mess of the threads. Embroidery scissors will work better.

The downside of using embroidery scissors instead of a seam ripper is that it can take a little extra time.

Use single edged razor blades instead of a seam ripper (super fast)

I learned this trick from master tailor James McFarland (aka Gentleman Jim).

Hold a seam with both hands, pulling on it on either side slightly. Holding the razor blade with the thumb and forefinger on your dominant hand, slice through the threads.

This is a remarkably quick way to cut open a seam. It works best when you need to open up a long seam. If you do a lot of refashioning or alterations work, this is a method that is worth your time to master.

Just be careful with this method so you don’t cut yourself.

Why your seam ripper is not your enemy

You get to be upset over the fact that you have to rip out stitches that went squiffy on you. Making mistakes is no fun, especially when you have to go and fix them straight away.

But while I’m going to allow you to be upset about having to use a seam ripper, I’m not going to allow you to get down on yourself about it.

I’ve ripped out enough buttonholes, sewed on many sleeves backwards, and ripped out more zippers than I care to admit. Sometimes making mistakes is part of the process.

Your seam ripper is there to help you fix those things.

If you think about it, your seam ripper really is your least judgmental friend.

So instead of thinking, I can’t believe I sewed x wrong again, think about how needing to rip out some stitches gives you another chance to fix the mistake.

Not only that, that little bit of time it takes to unpick that wonky seam? It’ll give you time to gather your thoughts and help you troubleshoot what happened. Rush through it, and you may not give your brain the time it needs to know what you need to do when you try again.

The best time to seam rip

The best time to seam rip is when you’re not emotional about having unpick stitches.

Sometimes it’s best if you walk away from things first. If you’re tired, or have a desire to chuck your project across the room, or get mad at yourself, it’s not the best time to unpick stitches.

Distract yourself with something relaxing in the background like music or a favorite movie. Settle in and pay attention to the work in front of you. In no time, you’ll be able to get through this bit of no fun times and back to the good parts of sewing.

Conclusion

So now you know what is a seam ripper and how to use it. Now that you know how to fix common problems that happen as you seam rip, the best time to seam rip, and different tools to use instead of seam rippers, I hope the next time you need to reach for one it will be a hair less annoying for you.

At the end of the day, know that we all make mistakes and this little metal tool can be a great helper on the path to fixing those mistakes.

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