If you’re going to make anything, it’s fairly certain that you’ll have to un-make and re-make part of it at some point. It’s not bad, it’s just part of the process. In sewing, this involves seam ripping. It’s an essential skill for makers, and especially those who are interested in refashioning, repairing, upcycling, etc.
Although some folks rip stitches fast and furious with razor blades, I have always stuck to my trusty seam ripper. Recently I’ve been using it in a slightly different way on straight and zig-zag seams, with really good results.
The photo at left shows classic seam-ripper technique. Slide the seam ripper into the seam, use the pointed part to pick up a stitch or two, and slide them into the blade in the middle of the ripper to cut. Once you have a couple of stitches cut, pull the seam open and you will be able to see and cut more without harming the fabric.
For this technique though, everything stays flat, which is especially nice if you have a delicate fabric or it’s hard to see the stitches in the seam. Use the ripper to cut a stitch, and then another one 1 -2 inches away, creating a small thread section with cut ends. Then use the long prong of the ripper to pull a few stitches up and out of the back thread without cutting them. You may need to do this one by one if the stitches are small. The object is to get a little tail that’s long enough to hang onto with your fingers.
Once you get a tail, grab it with one hand, hold the fabric with the other, and pull the the thread section out in one go! Pulling close to the plane of the fabric, instead of straight up, will make it easier.
If you flip the fabric to the back you’ll see that the stitches on the other side, which were held in place by the ones you just pulled out, are now free. All you have to do is cut a stitch a little way down the seam and you can use the free thread to pull out another section. Every time you pull out a section, flip the fabric over and you’ll find a tail ready to pull out the next section. I find this quite fast, and it also creates fewer tiny thread ends that you’ll have to clean up.
If you are ripping out a specific part of a seam, such as between the pins here, you may want to have a longer thread to work with when you get to your stopping point, so you can tie a knot to hold it in place. In this case, pull up the last inch or two of stitches without cutting either side. It may help to turn the seam ripper so the stitches don’t slide into the cutting part. Once a stitch is loosened, you can also use your fingers, the whole handle of the seam ripper, or another tool to pull the stitches up without cutting them.
When you get to the new end of the seam, pull on the thread to get the last stitch from the back side to pop through onto your side. Slide the point of the seam ripper into this new stitch and pull it up so that both ends are on the same side.
Tie a knot or use backstitch, and bury the ends if they’ll show.
Again, this last part is only necessary if the end of the old seam won’t be crossed by or stitched over with a new seam, and so you need to secure the end.
This way of seam ripping works great on zig-zag seams, too, although it won’t work with seams where the thread crosses back over itself. Sometimes I’ll get lucky and pull the right thread on serged seams, but I don’t have a sure-fire formula for those yet. Maybe you do?
I’m sure that others use this technique, I just discovered it recently and I’ve been using it all the time …