Have you ever thought about the origins of one of your most important sewing tools…the seam ripper? Some folks call it a stitch un-picker, quick unpick, a reverse sewing tool, an un-sewer, a mistake eraser, or what one of our favorite teachers, Jan Mathews, a certified Judy Niemeyer Quiltworx instructor calls it, a “frog stitcher”, (rip it, rip it, rip it)! Well, whatever you call it, we all make mistakes when we sew and inevitably must rip out stitches. In those cases, your seam ripper is your best friend. It always comes to the rescue!
Seam rippers are designed for breaking or undoing sewing stitches. In 1883, W. Miller patented a design for a seam ripper that was a thimble with the addition of a small knife to rip threads. It was not until 1898 that John Fisher, from Canada, patented a tool designed for the sole purpose of ripping seams.
Typically, the working end of all seam rippers have the same components: a pointed end, a curve that holds the sharp “blade” for cutting the thread, and a shorter end that is topped with a ball. In recent years, some designs have incorporated some extra bells and whistles, such as a built-in light, or an ergonomic handle.
All seam ripper designs have advantages and disadvantages. For most people, the two most important design features are blade sharpness and how it feels in your hand. A seam ripper with a longer handle or a thicker ergonomic handle is often better for people with arthritis or carpal tunnel. A seam ripper with a thin and narrow blade is often easier to use because of the ease of getting under stitches.
Lone Star Quiltworks’ favorite seam ripper is manufactured by Clover (Clover 482w). We also have decorative ones for sale in the shop and online.
How to use a seam ripper?
When using seam rippers, you should first place the sharp point underneath the first stitch in the stitching you want to remove. It is important to keep the pointed end of the seam ripper parallel to the fabric.
Next, you should push forward on the seam ripper causing the “blade” in the curve to cut through that first stitch. While remaining on the same side of the fabric, you should then cut through every 4th or 5th stitch until you reach the end of the stitches you wish to remove. After you have cut every 4th or 5th stitch, you should turn the fabric over and slip only the pointed end of the seam ripper (not the blade) under any single stitch in the stitching you wish to remove. Then simply lift the seam ripper, allowing you to secure a thread which you can then pull, causing all the desired stitches to be removed. If there are any stray stitches, they can be removed by picking at them with the pointed end of the seam ripper.
Hint: Even then, you may have additional loose threads. An easy way to get rid of these is to press a piece of household tape on top of the fabric where the stitches were located, then peel the tape away to remove the loose threads or use a lint roller.