When I started sewing, a “while” ago, I remember mom (and dad too) unpicking seams with nail scissors: their curved and pointy blades were easily reaching threads between fabrics layers. It always was a creepy moment, when we had to unpick a seam, because often it was ending with a hole in the fabric we had to somehow disguise.
I have to admit that I’ve seen my first seam ripper (without recognising it) a lot of time later: it was a gift, packed into a sewing magazine, and it was labeled as “buttonhole opener”… wait? what? Never heard of a sewing tool like this! So I’ve put it aside and forgot about it.
… years later…
I started sewing again, after a too-long break, and I started google-ing anything sewing related and then… bam! Here’s the seam ripper, that weird tool I had, somewhere.
This is, more or less, how I met my Seam Ripper. It goes without saying that, after that first date, we had a lot more… now “he” is my BFF.
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Types of seam rippers/anatomies!
Ripping off a seam is an unavoidable evil, the trick is doing it in the less stressful way for both the fabric and yourself. Choose the best model for your needs, keeping in mind the seam you’re ripping and the fabric you are sewing.
Conventional seam ripper
It is formed by a handle and a shaft that ends in a forked head: one point is longer than the other which in turn has a red safety ball on top.
The red ball helps your fingers (and the fabric in the surroundings) to stay rip-free.
In between the two pointy ends, there’s a Seam Ripper’s heart: its bladed inner curve.
Almost every brands has its own basic conventional seam ripper: they differ by the dimension of the handle and by the material they’re built in: I prefer the basic short one, but you can find useful to have a bigger one for heavier projects or maybe one that has an enhanced grip and an ergonomic shape if you are afraid it can slip in your hands.
Surgical seam ripper
Its blade is perfect for removing zig-zags or overlock stitches: slip it in between the two layers of the fabric and pull it to cut the overlock.
Use it with caution: it’s like a surgical blade (hence the name) and it can open your fingertips in no time.
This one pictured above has a titanium bonded blade and comes with a lifetime warranty
Electric seam ripper
When I stumbled upon this battery operated tool I couldn’t believe my eyes: why should anyone buy an electrical device instead of a regular one? Then I started reading buyers’ reviews: unbelievable (and it works also to remove machine embroideries!
How to use a seam ripper to unpick a seam… two ways
I know of two different methods for un-doing a seam with a seam ripper and I use them both.
Which one is your favorite? I’d love to know about it in the comments section below!
Cut one stitch every 1/4″ or so in one side of the seam
Turn the fabric…
… and pull off the long thread (the one you didn’t cut every 1/4″)
Open the seam nd remove thread bits with a lint roller, pet’s hair roller brush or even regular masking tape.
Slide the blade between the two fabric layers with the red ball underneath and cut the threads in between.
To rip off a seam with ends backstitched, I usually start in the middle, clipping one or more threads (1), then gently open the seam by pulling the fabric (2), rip using method #2 above (3) and, when I reach the backstitched ends I patiently clip threads one by one, in between the two snugs layers of fabrics (4)
How to remove a rolled hem
Unpicking a serged rolled hem is not for the faint of heart.
The edges of the fabrics will most likely fray and, due to the limited amount of fabric involved, is often more advisable to simply cut out the rolled hem and re-do, either if it’s sewn by serger or by machine!
Bonus tip: remember to leave your protective cap on, to save your seam ripper’s blades if (when) it will fall down from your sewing table and to avoid accidental injuries.
To prevent your blades to get ruined too soon, better periodically clean them with some alcohol (just in case you use it with sticky products like fusible interfacings).
When the blade isn’t cutting too much, it’s time to replace it; surgical seam rippers usually comes with spare blades you can substitute when they become dull.
Other uses for a Seam Ripper
- As I said in the beginning, it’s perfect to open buttonholes: just be sure you put a pin at the opposite end of the buttonhole or in a fraction of a second your almost-completed project will be ruined.
- Another way to proficiently use your seam ripper is in bag-making: when it’s time to add bag feet or magnetic fastener, the best way to create a net and straight hole, without ruining the fabric, is inserting the long blade in the fabric, and slide it gently for 1/8″ (put a pin at the end, to avoid ripping the whole bag!).
- Do you add hammer-on snaps to everything? So you may need to poke a hole in your project before you attach the snap, especially with a heavyweight fabric: use your seam ripper pointy head and you’re all set to go
- What about appliques? A seam ripper is useful when you need to open a slit into the applique fabric (but not in the main fabric underneath): think to the A’s, B’s, D’s, O’s, P’s, Q’s… (well, I think you got it!) inside holes!
- Do you ever use it to deconstruct umbrellas? If not, you should! You can create so many funny things from them (like a shopping bag, for instance!)
- Do you (or your relatives) have sensitive skin? Un-pick those itchy labels that Ready-To-Wear manufacturers keep on stitching on the T-shirts necklines!
Bonus section: for the sewer that already has got everything (but can’t stop needing something **NEW**:
- Kit for creating a seam ripper necklace:
- For the MacGyver who lives inside you: a Mighty Bright Lighted Seam Ripper
- Are you sewing with conductive threads (maybe you live in a cold climate and want to use your smartphone without pulling out your gloves…)? Create your own seam ripper with built-in continuity-meter