How to Remove and Replace Sewn Stitches

How to Remove and Replace Sewing Stitches
Mollie Johanson
Overview
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Nobody likes removing sewn stitches but knowing how can save you and your fabric from damage. Use a seam ripper to remove stitches.

This handy tool comes in a variety of shapes and forms and some are safer than others. Most sewing machines come with one, but if you sew often, it's worth finding a seam ripper that you like - look for a longer handle that's comfortable in your hand, a sharp tip, and any extra features you may need. Some seam rippers have lights, magnifying glasses, or a special rubber tip to help remove loose threads.

When used with care, a seam ripper removes stitches safely, like no other sharp tool can do. One point of a seam ripper is sharp while the other has a safety tip to prevent unintentional injuries and fabric rips.

Seam Ripper
Mollie Johanson

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Seam ripper

Instructions

  1. Start Removing Stitches

    There are many reasons to remove stitching. It may be that you sewed the fabric with the wrong sides together or joined incorrect pieces together. The most common reason for removing sewn stitches is that they are not straight or even. When that happens, it is only necessary to remove the stitches that aren't straight, rather than all the sewing.

    Start at one end of the stitches you would like to remove. Insert the sharp tip of the seam ripper between the thread and the fabric.

    Gently pull the seam ripper upward away from the fabric to cut the thread. Repeat at the opposite end of the stitching you want to remove.

    Slide the Seam Ripper Under a Stitch
    Mollie Johanson
  2. Continue Removing Stitching

    Work on the same side of the fabric as you rip the stitches.

    Move the seam ripper a few stitches away from the cut thread, within the section of stitching you want to remove. Use the seam ripper to pull the end of the thread out of the fabric.

    Most of the time, the thread on the other side of the seam will stay intact. If the thread breaks, move over a few stitches and start again.

    If you sew with quality thread, many times you can pull the thread, as if you were gathering the fabric, to remove the area of stitching. Continue until you reach the end of the stitching you want to remove.

    Use the Ripper to Gently Pull the Stitches
    Mollie Johanson
  3. Removing the Other Side of the Stitching

    Turn the fabric over. If the seam still appears to be sewn, rubbing the area will usually bring the thread to the surface of the fabric. If the thread remains in the fabric, use the point of seam ripper to lift the thread out of the fabric. Some seam rippers even have a rubbery textured end to help with this step.

    Cut the thread at the beginning and ending of the stitch removal. 

    Loose Thread on the Back of the Seam
    Mollie Johanson
  4. Cut Fabric if Necessary

    Remember that a seam ripper is not designed to plow through the stitching. Sometimes the stitches are stubborn. Remain patient because pushing through those stubborn stitches can tear the fabric and make it unusable.

    While you can also remove stitches by opening the seam and using the tip of the seam ripper to cut the stitches in the seam line, this method is more likely to cut the fabric. If you use this method, pull the seam ripper away from the fabric rather than toward the remaining stitches. It takes more time than plowing the seam ripper through the stitching but it's safer for your sewing.

    If a cut in the fabric does happen and it is not in a visible area, immediately use fusible lightweight interfacing on the wrong side of the fabric with the cut closed as much as possible. Waiting to do this step can cause the edges of the cut to fray and the cut will always be visible. The cut will weaken the fabric no matter what, but in most cases, the fusible interfacing can mend the cut if it is inside the item you are sewing.

    Rip and Pull the Stitches on One Side
    Mollie Johanson
  5. Resewing the Removed Stitching

    After you remove the stitches, you'll most likely need to resew the section of stitching. Re-pin or baste the area.

    Lower the sewing machine needle into the existing stitching a few stitches back from the removed stitching area. Stitch backwards a few stitches to lock the new line of stitches, then stitch on the seamline until you reach the end of the area you're replacing. Sew over a couple of stitches and backstitch the same as where you started. 

    Typically you would use the same color thread, but the sample above uses a contrasting thread to show how the stitching overlaps.

    If you can see tiny sewing holes in your fabric from the removed stitches, run your fingernail over the fibers to help bring them together again. Trim the thread tails.

    It's never fun to undo your work, but it's worth becoming friends with your seam ripper so you can fix mistakes and be proud of your finished project.

    Updated by Mollie Johanson

    Sew the New Seam, Overlapping the Old
    Mollie Johanson