PM/GC Quilts Skill Builder Series: Seam Ripping

A couple of people commented on the last Skill Building post about the “correct” way to rip seams, so here’s a quick little extra skill builder. I don’t think there’s only one correct way, so I’m showing several options. Keep in mind that I’m left handed, so the pictures may look backward to you.

My mom taught me to rip seams by separating the two layers of fabric and cutting the thread between them, then pulling the two pieces apart until they wouldn’t go any further, cutting again, pulling, etc. This would probably work well with the curved blade seam ripper as well, although I’d be concerned about maintaining control of it. I imagine you could do the same thing very easily with scissors.

When I took a quilting class, the instructor told us to use the seam ripper to cut every third stitch on one side of the fabric, then pull the pieces apart. This works well with traditional seam rippers as well as the curved blade type. You can also use a very sharply pointed pair of scissors to snip the stitches.

You can also flip it over to the back and pull the long thread.

This leaves a lot of little pieces of thread that I find really annoying to deal with. The way I usually rip seams takes a little longer, but is easier to clean up because the thread pieces are larger. I pick out the seams on one side, sliding the dull edge of the seam ripper into the stitch and pushing it away from me. I pick six or seven stitches so I have a tail that I can grasp, then cut the seam several stitches back. I pull on the tail, sliding the thread out, and repeat.

Sometimes it’s easier for me to start in the middle and work backward.

So how do you rip your seams?



  1. I think I use all of those types and techniques. I spend many hours riping things apart. What I do is sew, rip, sew, rip then hopefully I have it correct.

    I bought one of those curved razor type and find I have to be very careful not to cut the fabric.

    Sask, Canada

  2. Haha. . this is what I’ve been dealing with. I was taught just as you were. I just bought myself a clover seem ripper as the fancy curved blade one is just not my style. Now that I’m sewing more I need to rip more out. 🙂

  3. My best tool is patience (that took practice) and your last technique using the back of the seam ripper. I detest those itsy-bitsy pieces because you never seem to get them all out.

  4. My mother was a home ec teacher and she was very particular about ripping seams. She used your method. She would not let me use the first method which is what I wanted to do. She also finished the inside of every garment she made. She hemmed raw seams and always hemmed facings. You could turn her clothes inside out and find them just as neat as the outside.

  5. I read somewhere that one of the seam rippers has a rubber end that you rub over those lose threads and it pulls them out for you. I don’t have that one, but it sounds good.

  6. How I rip sometimes depends on what kind of fabric I’m working with, the length of the seam, and my patience level. Most often, I used the first method described where I pull the seam apart and clip threads. For very tight stitches, I hold the two layers together and use a seam ripper, sometimes a quilting pin or sewing awl, to lift the stitches up one by one before clipping. To clean it up, I’ve used the eraser end of a pencil to push away loose threads with some success; again depends on the fabric.

  7. In dressmaking where edges are often on the bias, I use one or more of your methods.

    For quilting, where the edges are most often on the straight or crosswise of the grain, I cut the threads for about 3″ then grab each side of the quilt fabric and rip them apart. If you are fast enough with your tugs, it doesn’t distort. Of course, you are using good quality fabric, right? It doesn’t matter if you use poly or cotton thread–you can rip it apart quickly.

    I hear gasps. Don’t worry, I’ve been doing this for years. I also use the rotary cutter–expose the blade and quickly slice the threads, being careful not to slice your fabric.

    More gasps. Really, it works. Just be careful.

  8. I learned the “cut one side, pull the thread on the other side” method in the very first quilt class I took some 11 years ago, and I use it all the time. But every three stitches is kind of extreme, to me. I start out doing every five stitches and sometimes eight or ten. Lots fewer threads to clean up on the other side.

    I’ve seen people do it with a rotary blade through the middle of the two fabrics and I only shake my head. Not only is it more work to pull out alllll those cut threads, I’d never chance a slip and cutting my fabric like that.

  9. I rip stitches using all your ways, depends on what has to be unstitiched, how clear my mind is and which tool I grab first. I have gotten to the point where I will not pull the fabric or stitches, just lift them. I do not what to strech anything.

  10. My mom taught me to use the first method, but she never mentioned cutting the thread after a certain number. Usually it was just pull until the thread breaks, gets too long, or gets tangled. Now I tend to use the first method and cut/pull between the fabric.

    When my mom taught me to sew she knew that there would be a lot of undoing so rather than call it ripping she always referred to it as “reverse sewing.” That way my sister and I were still doing some form of sewing. The other term I love for seam ripping I learned from my cross-stitch circles who call it “frogging” (because you rip-it.) Somehow when the task has a fun name I find it slightly more tolerable.

  11. I think this is a terrific set of posts – I’ve been sewing/teaching for a long time and I’ve learned a few things from you. Thanks!

    Just wanted to share a little tip: when ripping a seam I do the cut every 3 (or so) stitches thing, pull out the unbroken thread, and then for the little annoying bits that are stuck in the fabric – I use masking tape, either one long strip or I wrap it around three or four fingers – sticky side out – and use it like a lint brush. (Think of it as giving your fabric a bikini wax, only less painful!)

  12. I love these posts – thank you for putting so much effort into them – it shows in the comprehensive way you are covering each topic.

    I was going to let you know the masking tape trick which I now see Kristyne has given – I can recommend it and it is a great tip for general thread cleaning up too. Yet another great use for masking tape!

    I look forward to the next in the series.

Comments are closed.