What do you do when you need to remove embroidery? Whether done by hand or machine, embroidery takes time and it's never fun when you need to remove all those stitches. But it is sometimes necessary. No matter the reason, learn how to remove some or all of the embroidery from a project and keep the fabric intact for fresh stitches or a new purpose.
There are a few situations that might require removing embroidery and a few ways to deal with taking out stitches. The first is when you no longer want an entire design on an item. This might happen when thrifting and you see a clothing item that you love—except for the embroidery. When this happens, it generally means removing a lot of stitches and perhaps finding a way to replace that embroidery with something new and give clothing a new life.
Another common reason to remove embroidery occurs when you're working on a project and something didn't go right. Maybe the stitches don't look good or you want a different color. This usually involves removing a small amount of a design so you can start again.
Whatever the reason and the method you use, it's essential to use care so that the fabric isn't damaged as you work. Ready to rip out some stitches? Grab a few tools and get started!
Equipment / Tools
- Seam Ripper
- Iron (optional)
If you're removing finished embroidery, start here. First, snip away any knots from the area you want to remove. If you don't want to preserve any of the embroidery you can also cut the back of a bunch of stitches to make it faster to remove them.
A pair of fine-tipped embroidery scissors is a good tool for this because you can be precise. You can also use a seam ripper for this, but while it's tempting to rip through the back of many stitches at once, that's not a great idea. Even with a seam ripper, you should work methodically so you don't risk ripping the fabric.
If you're removing only some of your work to fix your hand embroidery, start here. Slide the needle off the thread and use it to gently pull out the stitches.
It can be helpful to use a blunt needle, such as a cross-stitch needle, to unpick the stitches. Slide the needle under the backs of the stitches to undo them.
Flip the embroidery over and unpick some more from the front. If you've been stitching with a sharp needle, you can use the eye to unpick the stitches and avoid catching the fabric
Work back and forth between the front and back to gently pull out the embroidery. If you feel some resistance, check to see what's causing it instead of tugging more. The process can be slow, but it's better than getting large holes in your fabric!
If you cut through a bunch of stitches, the thread will come out in bits. This is definitely faster, but you still need to remove the threads carefully.
Removing Fabric Holes
After you remove the stitches, there will be holes in most types of fabric. Even materials with more open weaves show signs of where the threads used to be. To close these up, there are a few methods to try.
The simplest solution is to use your fingernail to align the fibers again. Rubbing the fabric grain in two directions fixes most of these holes left from hand embroidery. You can also use steam from your iron to help close up those holes.
When removing embroidery from felt, the holes can be quite obvious, but you can use a bit of moisture and a needle to re-felt areas on wool or wool-blend felt.
Other non-woven or very delicate materials are much harder to preserve the fabric, and in some cases, there's no way to hide the holes without covering them. Items that had solid areas of machine embroidery can also have a lot of holes that are hard to remove. This is a good opportunity to add new embroidery or a patch!