The Red Plastic Seam Ripper

Panels Giveaway

Today’s random winner of a Cake Fabric Envelope panel offcut is Ginger!  I’ll drop that panel in the post tomorrow, Ginger!  I have five other panel offcuts to give away each day over the next week, drop your name and measurements here and check back tomorrow!

Seam Ripper Red 2

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it countless times: “I hate unpicking/ I hate ripping seams.”  An aversion to “reverse sewing” (as some of my quilter friends call it) is understandable, as it can represent work once done and then undone.  I prefer to think of it as moving closer to completion/perfection.   The aversion is also a beginner/intermediate sewist trait- once you’ve sewn for a while, you realize that *everyone* unpicks stitches sometimes, it’s just a part of the process.

Red Seam Ripper 3

Recently Lladybird Lauren mentioned that she enjoys ripping seams because it feeds her destructive side.  I get that, I absolutely enjoy taking a seam ripper to RTW jackets and dresses.  The only seams I do not unpick are knit seams. Unless it’s a very expensive/delicious knit, I cut off my seams rather than unpick them.  Life is short, knits don’t like to be unpicked, the seams are usually narrow and the fabric is forgiving.

Seam Ripper Red Plastic

These are the “Cake-Approved” seam rippers I’m using in kits because they meet my criteria and they’re red.  I look for a few things in an unpicker- a lid, a long handle, and a sharp, sturdy blade.  It’s easy to forget the importance of a sharp blade for an unpicker, but it shouldn’t be neglected.  A sharp blade makes all the difference to “reverse sewing,” greatly speeding up the process.

How often do you replace your unpicker?  What do you call this tool in your native tongue?  What was the biggest mess of seam ripping you ever did?


62 comments

  1. My “quick unpick” is a couple of years old and my back up is even older. Need to get some new ones as they require hefty muscle work to slice through anything.

    Mum still uses a razor blade! Cripes.

    • You’ll be glad you did… :)

      I use a razor blade sometimes, too! It’s the easiest way I’ve ever seen to unpick embroidery and buttonholes. I’m not dextrous enough to use it for regular unpicking.

  2. I’m a sewing teacher and always chuckle a bit when my students have to unpick a seam. It’s so dramatic! I always encourage them that its part of sewing and maybe if I make them rip it out they’ll sew more acurately the next time! The most I’ve ever unpicked was a pair of pants where I sewed the seam allowance too big. Oops! Couldn’t get them on!

    • SOOOO dramatic. And I’m with you, it’s good to practice things like unpicking *in class*. Get used to it, get over it. :) Like changing needles! That’s another good beginner class thing to do…

  3. Speaking of unpicking knits…I had to do quite a bit of that last night. I was cursing a blue streak. But, other than that, I don’t mind unpicking that much. It’s kinda fun.

    • Yes. It’s evil. I always end up with little holes on the seamline, then have to cut off the seam anyway. So I just use narrow seams now and chop off the offending seam. It works alright…. And yeah, other than knits I think it’s pretty fun, too.

  4. Lol, I’ve never thought of seam ripping as a big deal. No one writes without needing to backspace and no one draws without needing to erase. It’s just part of the creative process.

    For me, it’s mildly annoying when I do it to unbasted seams, but for basted seams, it’s kind of cathartic.

    • that’s an interesting comparison! I never thought of that :) I don’t enjoy unpicking that much, because it usually means I made an error – but I know it happens all the time. Actually what I don’t enjoy is not the ripping in itself, it’s plucking all the little bits of thread – that’s why my seam ripper – called a “découd-vite” in French is always accompanied by tweezers!

      • A sort of funny anecdote to go with the “hating to erase” notion–these days, I am studying fashion design, and I have noticed that girls who hate to unpick and girls with not great craftsmanship can have a pretty high overlap . . . personally I have a bit of an aversion to working in “unerasable” media, I’d rather draw with pencil than ink, for example, and I’d rather embroider than screenprint. I came from the nearly infinitely undoable world of knitting to the land of sewing, so I still occasionally get a bit nervous cutting out pattern pieces or trimming seams, lol.

        • Lol, I know the feeling! I dabble in watercolors and it’s so nervewracking! No do-overs! I’m in the process of transferring schools and changing my major from history to fiber arts, so it will be interesting interacting with other people who make fabric-based stuff on a regular basis. I’ve never been in any sort of real life, in person sewing/knitting/crafty class before, so this will be an interesting change of scenery.

      • Sometimes it’s from an outright error, but for the most part I think it’s part of the trial-and-error process that composes a lot of sewing. Sewing isn’t something that deals in algorithms- where if you do the same thing for every pattern and every fabric it will turn out the same every time. In sewing, we deal in heuristics- techniques and measurements that might work well for one particular sewing pattern or one kind of fabric won’t necessarily work well with other patterns and other fabrics. We have to change and adapt our construction with each project we undergo. That’s why basting is our friend! If I’m not sure a seam will be in the right place, I baste it, try the garment on, and then either rip it out or sew it properly depending on my results.

        • “No one writes without needing to backspace and no one draws without needing to erase. It’s just part of the creative process. ” Great way to put it, Mary! :)

          “girls who hate to unpick and girls with not great craftsmanship can have a pretty high overlap” Agreed, Elenor. They might also be an overlap with those who brag they never mark darts or cut notches… We know, dears, we can see that…

          ” that’s why my seam ripper – called a “découd-vite” in French is always accompanied by tweezers!” For half a second, I pictured a marvelous little tool with a seam ripper at one end and tweezers at the other. That would be marvelous. I have a funny sideways pair of tweezers a student gave me ages ago. I use them ALL the time when ripping stitches…

          Heuristic is a new word on me, but I like it. Thank you! :)

  5. Rather than replacing seam rippers, I right now own two–one is a frankly pretty terrible number that came with the sort of sewing kit that comes with an assortment of sharps, a tiny tiny pincushion, and various colors of thread for mending. Said sewing kit was a gift from my mother at a time in my life when most of my sewing *was* either mending or short seams in craft sewing, and the pincushion and seam ripper are now pretty horribly inadequate for my life as a (fashion) design student. I now mainly use a little ergonomic Clover number for seam ripping but I keep the old one around in case I leave my main sewing kit at school but find myself needing to rip a seam at home.

  6. I’ve been doing a fair bit today, working on David’s peacock shirt. I do use a “quick unpick” as we tend to call them (but we also call them seam rippers) sometimes but more likely I use the points of my snips, or a pin. Instead of spreading the seam and cutting the stitching, I tend to pick up the thread and pull it out, as much at a time as I can. I just bought a new type – bigger and with a bigger handle, and they are super sharp and good. But annoyingly, the lid doesn’t fit on the handle – how annoying!

    • A fair bit of unpicking? I get days like that, too…

      Yes! I do that too! There’s so many many ways to unpick a seam.. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to documenting them…. How annoying about the lid! I’ve been using the brown Clover unpickers for years, the lid doesn’t fit on that one which means I often lose them… But I like to have the option of a lid…

  7. I have an unpicker that is a couple of years old, but I don’t use it very often. Like Mrs C above, the lid doesn’t fit on the end so I lose it on my table regularly. I have a rather fast method of unpicking using my thread snips and fingers that is too hard to describe but works for me.

  8. We’d call it a seam ripper, I guess. I usually replace them when I lose or break them, but I recently got one of the cheap ones that has a bit of a burr on the long end, which makes it harder to use AND rough on the fabric. Ugh! Won’t be doing that again. The worst unpicking I’ve ever done is a decorative cross-stitch that I was using on lapped seams on a little sweater that was supposed to be for my niece. Ugh! It’s still a UFO because I can’t seem to get the hang of lapped seams and can’t bear the amount of unpicking.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who cuts off knit seams. :)

    • I had the same issue with some tweezers I was using to unpick stitches. I just filed down the burr with an emery board.

      • Good tip, Jen. :)

        Lapped seams, eh? I can fix you up… Pavlova has lapped seams, Hummingbird has another kind of lapped seams… Lapped seams all over the place here. :) fusible. webbing.

        :) I’m glad you also cut them off.

  9. I call mine a “quick unpick”, because that’s what my mum always called hers! Mine has a lid that you put on the other end to form a longer handle, which is great because then I can’t lose the lid!

  10. We tend to call it a quick unpick in schools. Having dealt with a classroom of them, I would have to say your criteria for an unpicker is spot on. I do however love my Clover quick unpick that has a slightly larger handle, even though it has no lid. It is easier to manage as it requires less grip than the smaller models.

    As for the worst unpicking job – Year 10 skirts in 2012 – I had some girls who made a real mess!

    • Do you mean the brown or the white Clover ones? They’re apparently discontinuing the brown ones, which used to be my favorite, but what’s the point of having a favorite unattainable thing, right? :) The red seems to do the job quite well, I’m surprized I haven’t seen them around more…

      I bet they did. Sometimes those teenage girls just wander off mentally, not even looking at their hands! Got to keep a sharp eye on them, bless their scattered teenage brains.. ;)

        • I don’t care for the brown ones anymore, I realized they were molded plastic. I’m sourcing bamboo handled ones right now, will let you know if I get a lead… :)

    • Very nice. :) I have something similar I use sometimes, they’re great. Hehehe, I couldn’t imagine giving those to my beginners though, I think they’d be a little intimidated… Have you seen the Gingher seam ripper? It’s beautiful and very very expensive, basically a curved razor blade on a scalpel handle…

      • I use a suture cutter on a no3 scalpel handle. Basically a Gingher on the cheap and slightly less blade edge to slice myself with than the no12 blades that Mrs Mole uses! The handle, 100 blades and a safe removal and storage system for the ones I’ve used cost me less than £20 including shipping. Ridiculously satisfying to use! Not so great for travelling with though.
        Out of curiosity, how long do your ripper’s last? Mine used to get dull after around 6 months (although I never spent more than about £4 on one) and I’m wondering if I’m harsh on them or do above average reverse sewing!

  11. Seam ripper. I think I still have the one that I had to buy for home ec in grade 7. It’s just the generic type from the fabric store. I don’t use it because the lid is clear brittle plastic that has cracked around the opening. (Type 6, polystyrene is my guess.) The seam ripper I use is the one that came with my sewing machine. It has an opaque plastic lid that is the same plastic as the body of it – no cracking. I imagine that it’s probably fairly dull by now, but I’ve been thinking about pulling out my husband’s fine round files to see if I can put a bit of an edge back on it.

    • Oh wow, a keepsake ripper. :) And very thrifty, filing the little blade. I always rather thought I’d break the blade if I did that, but I’m not always very delicate with my tools… Let me know how that goes, I’m curious.

  12. my worst unpick involved a jacket that I’d mistaken the sleeves for scrap fabric (yes, it was a *tiny* jacket for the Bit) and literally couldn’t unpick it. The feed dogs on my machine had worked their way loose and that made the machine tie knots through the fabric. I’ve also had to unpick things because of in exhaustion, I’ve sewn the right side to the wrong side! (Oh, and Steph, I figured out the whole walking foot thing. It’s literally built into my machine. There’s a black ‘arm” behind the sewing foot that engages as the walking foot.)

    • Oh no!!! That sounds like a nightmare… I’ve had similar things happen too… And I have a “tired” rule that applies to sewing and really everything. If I make three mistakes on a given task, then it is time to rest. Even in the middle of the day, a triple mistake buys me a short nap. :)

      Oh good to hear you got that sorted! Is it working well for you?

  13. In Spanish it’s called “descosedor”. The one that came with my sewing machine, 12 years ago, fell in the line of duty a couple of years after. Since then, I like to replace it every 2 years or so, depending on the use it gets. I need it to be really sharp and prefer it with a long handle because it makes ripping easier.

  14. I spent a good hour last night unpicking buttonholes on a corduroy shirtdress. I forgot to put my machine on the straight-stitch setting before making them, uggh. The buttonholes looked relatively okay on the front, but the back was a loopy mess. At first I just unpicked the buttonholes that would “show,” but then I knew that it would drive me crazy to leave the others. Everytime I wore the dress I would remember that some of the buttonholes were ugly on the inside. So, I picked them all out with a very sharp Clover seam ripper (an excellent ripper, but no cap unfortunately). Sharpness is key. I don’t mind the task, but only the stupid mistake itself…
    ~Jen

    • Oh no!

      Which Clover seam ripper do you love? The brown or the white? I like both, myself…

      Have you ever used a razor to shave off the buttonhole stitches? Works a treat…

      • A regular ‘safety’ razor? That’s an interesting idea. I have the white ergonomic Clover, a revelation when I bought it. Frighteningly pointy and sharp, but very comfortable to use and almost fun. Before that I had one of those awful ones (brand name omitted). Have to say, I find it hard to resist the Clover products. I don’t have any of the bamboo line, but some day…

        • Yes, and then just “shave” the buttonhole away from the fabric. It works even for very delicate fabrics, and you can remove the stitches without distorting the fabric. :) I like Clover, too, and if I could find a wholesaler who carried the bamboo handled ones I’d be *all* over it.

  15. I actually don’t mind seam ripping, either (although of course I’d rather not have made a mistake). I have four of them, I think, sort of scattered around where I might need them– one by the machine, one on my ironing board, one on the end table by my TV chair, and one backup just in case I can’t find one of the other three. :) Love the red ones, though– super cool!

  16. I find that I need to replace my seam ripper when the tip breaks.
    Now wait. I do use my SR a lot, sometime more than I care to admit. But, it’s not my excessive use that is the cause of the broken tip. I have knocked it off my cutting table onto the concrete floor of my sewing room.
    And when I have taught sewing lessons to beginners, I always introduce the seam ripper as “my best friend, because we spend lots of time together. And we have learned to trust each other”.

    • Yes, absolutely. :) Sometimes I engineer a “seam ripping” situation in a beginner’s class so we can unpick together… To make it less scary or terrifying or whatnot later.

  17. I have several seam rippers, partly because different blades are better for different purposes, but mostly because I like to collect gadgets.
    I have a couple of these: http://www.amazon.com/Allary-Combi-Cut-Ripper-Tweezers-Various/dp/B00555I79G which are really handy because they have a tweezer end as well as a nice sharp seam cutting end,
    one of these surgical bladed ones: http://www.nordicneedle.com/7255.html which are really nice for unzipping serged (overlocked) seams , the brown wood-handled Clover ripper, and several different types of plastic handled ones. Some came with my sewing machines, others with sewing kits, and some I just picked up along the way because you never know when you might need one handy.

    • I agree. :) I have a handful of various ones, this one is my “all purpose” pick. My favorite favorite is a scary looking little shiv of a seam ripper with a razor blade and sheath and tiny handle… It is wonderful.

      Is Clover still making the brown handles from wood? The last several I’ve bought were plastic molded to look like wood and I thought- well, if I’m going to be using plastic anyway it might as well be a pretty color…

      I like gadgets, too. Good gadgets. I have zero patience for gimmicky ones.

  18. I used to avoid seam ripping at all costs. When I was in high school I made a harlequin costume for halloween. It turns out I sewed one of the sleeves on inside out. I figured no one would notice and I was too lazy to take it out. But then, every time I wore the outfit, I always felt on edge because I thought someone might notice that one of the sleeves was different. I’m older and wiser now and realize that seam ripping is part of the process. After all, if I’m going to spend hours of my precious free time sewing myself something, it better be as good as I can make it! I’m still using the seam ripper that came with my sewing machine. Looking forward to a new red one with my cake roll. :)

  19. When I get tired I become more prone to making mistakes, sometimes really stupid ones, and that’s how I know it’s time to stop for the day, and of course when I’m already tired, it’s particularly annoying to unstitch a seam. I suppose it’s time to learn my own limits before that happens. When I’m trying out new patterns, unstitching is part of the process.
    I have a white clover seam ripper and it didn’t even come with a proper lid, just a soft plastic case that I threw away because it was too annoying to use. I don’t mind that there’s no lid because when I reach for it, it’s always ready.
    I struggled for a long time with mess that I create on the table when I draft and sew, so I implemented a plastic basket from the dollar store where I put all the tools I typically use, pencil, eraser, seam ripper, scissors, corner inverting thingamajig, etc. It sounds messy but it works really well. What I need is always at hand and the cleanup is faster.

    • Yes, that’s a wise policy… Stop when mistakes start happening…

      The white one is good and sharp, nice handle. Thumbs up. :)

      I do that too! Boxes and etc to keep things tidy and easily organized and you’re right, it is very workable and convenient.

  20. I call my seam-ripper “sprättare” in Swedish. I actually don’t know if it’s the right word, but that’s what I and people around me say. I have three “sprättare” two of them are from the 60′s I think. One of them came with my old sewing machine (from the 60′s), a used one I got from an old boyfriend’s mother. I don’t know why I have another one just like it, but I do. The third is one I got when I bought my overlocker last summer. I haven’t used it yet, I keep using the rather crappy old ones for some reason… :)

    • Oooh thank you! :) I tend to believe if people call a thing a certain word, then that’s the word for the thing…

      Maybe use the new one and marvel at how sharp and quick it is? :D

  21. “Seam ripper.” They are so cheap that it makes no sense to try to sharpen them (which would likely be an unsuccessful endeavor anyway, as the steel of which they are made is like cheap stainless-steel knives, and thus unsharpenable. You need carbon steel blades to re-sharpen.) Seam rippers are like needles: they are wear parts. You just have to reconcile yourself that you’ll need to replace them to get good service from the rest of your sewing equipment. Other examples of wear parts in our lives: automobile tires, underpanties, batteries.

    • Ah ha. Unsharpenable. Good to know. I don’t mind replacing them, either, like you said it’s not like they cost a fortune.. But- I have a little “Make Do and Mend” lady who lives in my head and always wants to know if I can possibly prolong the life of something before replacing it. But yes, perspective, and seam rippers are both small and cheap…

  22. Seam ripper. I have a favorite brass one that seems to last forever, with a small barrel handle and matching cap, and a ring on the cap for hanging on your chatelaine (housekeeper’s belt of tools, I think). I haven’t found many that are smooth and fine and the right size for my hand. The worst/most challenging ripping job is still in progress, a marvelous Japanese yukata (casual cotton kimono) that turns out to have been meticulously assembled in ways I never would have imagined, after I decided I would get to wear it more in the form of a summer blouse. The ripping is taking so long I think I’ve lost the pattern I intended to use with it… Long ago I was taught to use adhesive tape to pull the little threads out–it works very well and leaves a cleaner seam. Just make a loop of tape with the sticky side out and blot all along the ripped seam.

  23. I love unpicking seams myself. It’s the sewing it again part that I do not like…
    I had a seam ripper that’d been in my family for years, if not decades, until father broke it unpicking something. (Was it a jeans seam? Something.) Now I have a new one and father has his own. :D
    I never thought of replacing them after some time – I hardly use the blade part, I prefer “picking” the stitches – maybe more work, but more rewarding in the end. And I find it soothing.
    Oh, and I call it “párátko”, though the official Czech term seems to be “páráček”. Because “párátko” is normally a toothpick. But I like “párátko” more. “Párat” is to rip (seams, or if a stitch in a stocking drops, or such contexts). So yes, I’m not quite sure why toothpick is called párátko. Maybe seamstresses used to use toothpicks for ripping seams? :o

    • Though if you say “párat se s tím”, it means something like “put a lot of work into it, make a lot of fuss about it”; “ten se s tím nepáře” is “that guy doesn’t bother much about (doing) it”, so…
      You know, I love language.

  24. Pingback: Reverse Sewing | VickikateMakes

  25. I dislike seam ripping more now than when I was a beginner. Back then I’d just rip them (and occasionally the fabric) because I wasn’t too worried about what I was making. These days I have to be much more careful especially when I’m sewing delicate or fray-able fabric, especially if it’s a commissioned piece and I don’t have excess fabric. It takes forever and I end up with a sore neck from bending over it. I also dislike it when I’m using flat felled seams and I’ve already cut the inner seam – it’s rather awkward to then match the pieces of fabric together! In all, it’s not because it’s a reminder that I’ve made a mistake, nor do I find it scary, it’s just one of the tasks I dislike in sewing because it’s tedious and sometimes physically painful. A bit like cutting out really.


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