Ahhh, Mr Seam Ripper. Ye olde unpickerer. Fixer of mistakes. Pointy-ended devil of the late night sewing boo boo. Life-saving best bud, or dreaded implement of doom? Regardless of how you view your seam ripper, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that it’s a must-have tool for any sewist  – from day-one beginners to seasoned pros alike. But are you using your seam ripper correctly? Do you know what that little red ball is actually for? And how on earth do you unpick overlocking without making an absolute meal of your seam?

The Anatomy of a Seam Ripper

  1. Point for picking up stitches –  slip this sharp point under stitches  to lift the thread and pull it out or  snip the stitch.
  2. Blade for cutting through  stitches. This dulls over time  and cannot be sharpened so  remember to replace your seam  ripper if it struggles to easily cut  through your stitches.
  3. Ball-tipped point for protection  – when you’re speed ripping your  seam à la Method 2, by inserting  the ball under the stitches you  protect your fabric from poking  holes through it with the sharp  pointy end.
  4. Handle.

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How to use a seam ripper - method 1

  1. Lay out your fabric on a flat surface so that you can see the needle thread stitches (as opposed to the bobbin thread stitches).
  2. Cut the backstitched ends.
  3. Use the blade to cut the thread every four-five stitches, or every two-three stitches if you’ve used a stitch length shorter than the average 2.5mm.
  4. Turn your work over so that you can now access the bobbin thread.
  5. Use the sharp point to pick up the bobbin thread and gently ease it away from the seam. The bobbin thread should come away totally intact, leaving some of the cut stitches behind. Take these out by hand, or use a lint roller to lift them out swiftly in one go. Masking tape works just as well, but take heed: the stickier the tape, the more likely it is to distort or damage delicate fabrics, or those with a very open weave!

How to use a seam ripper - method 2

  1. Open up your seam allowance so you can see the stitches between the two layers of fabric.
  2. Use the sharp point of the seam ripper to pick up and cut a few stitches so that you have created an opening of about ¼”.
  3. Now insert the ball tipped end and carefully and with control, slide the blade along the stitches to fully open up the seam.

How to quickly unpick overlocking

  1. Identify the needle threads - these are the two rows of straight stitches that lie parallel to the fabric’s raw edge.
  2. Start by cutting the top needle thread (the one closest to the fabric edge).
  3. Move a few inches down the seam and pick out the top needle thread again - it should actually just slide right out without you having to cut it, but if it doesn’t, then use the seam ripper’s blade to cut the stitches and then pull them out as you go along.
  4. Continue all along the seam removing the top needle thread.
  5. Now move onto the bottom needle thread - cut it between one of the V-shaped sections of looper thread, and continue removing the bottom needle thread just like you did for the top threads.
  6. Once you’ve removed the needle threads the looper threads will just fall away!

What to do if you lose your seam ripper

Don’t panic! If you’ve lost your seam ripper and you have a sewing emergency, you can use a pin and a pair of snips to undo your stitches instead. Use the pin to lift the stitch and the snips to cut it. Alternatively, if you have a pair of fine tipped embroidery scissors, you probably won’t need the pin; simply slide one scissor blade under the stitch and snip away!

Did you know....?

...that you can use a seam ripper to open buttonholes? I don’t own a single fancy buttonhole cutter because I find it much easier - and more economical! - to use my seam ripper. Pop a pin at one end of the buttonhole so as to protect the bartack stitches and prevent the seam ripper going all the way through the buttonhole. Insert the point of the seam ripper in at the opposite end of the buttonhole and carefully glide the blade through the centre in between the stitches until you get to the pin. Now how easy was that??

Looking for more expert tips PLUS five free dressmaking patterns? Download the Simple Sew Guide to Dressmaking.