Unpicking 101

How to unpick your sewing mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes because it’s a part of life. No matter how advanced at sewing you are, everyone unpicks.

Knowing how to unpick is part and parcel of learning to sew and learning to unpick well can make a big difference to the finished look of your work.   The good old standard thread unpicker, the one you usually get when you first start sewing, can be a handy tool, but what if I showed you an easier, safer and quicker way using a different tool? Let me introduce you to the thread clipper –

thread clippers

Handsome devil isn’t he?  See how pointed his tips are – that’s what you’re going to be wanting to unpick with.

Here are a few ways to use it.

Starting from the middle of the seam can often be the easiest since the seam should only have a top and bottom thread. Gently poke the thread clippers under one of the stitches and cut. Continue slipping the thread clippers under the stitches either side of where you began and snip. Then when you turn your work over the thread on that side will be loose – cut this thread at one end and pull it back to break it off. Now when you turn the work over again, there will be another loose thread hanging – pull it back to break it and continue back and forth till you’ve undone the seam. See image below.

unpicking 1

Start at one end by unpicking the back tacking first. Slip the thread clippers under the rows of stitches and cut. Be careful not to gouge into your work or you’ll end up with a hole – you’ll need to work with good lighting and be able to see the individual stitches. Turn the work over and try that side. Continue turning the work over and cutting the treads until the back tacking is cleared away. The remainder of the seam can be undone by pulling and breaking the thread until you’ve reached where you need. See image below.

unpicking 2

Sometimes the stitches of a seam can be particularly difficult to see which means you will have to unpick from inside the seam. Hopefully your stitches aren’t too small and you’ve been working with a medium to large stitch length. But this will work regardless. Pull the two edges of fabric apart till you can see the stitches and carefully cut with the thread clippers. Because the thread clippers are so small you’ll be able to get into tight spots and cut precisely with the sharp tips. Again be careful not to cut too far and risk cutting the fabric. It’s better to cut one stitch at a time rather than have that happen! See image below.

unpicking 3

Some fabrics and seams will allow you too rip the seam open. This is another instance where using a longer stitch setting on your machine will be better. By pulling the two pieces of fabric apart the stitches will break and the seam is undone quickly. But only try this in situations where the fabric is heavier than the thread and has a reasonably tight weave.  For example denim with one row of stitching would be safe to rip but chiffon or knit fabric would not.  The other problem with this method is that you’re left with tiny bits of thread still in the fabric which will need to be removed.

Once you’ve unpicked the area, take it to the iron and press the fabric pieces flat. This is especially important if you need to take in or let out the seam.  (It’s far easier to work with flat fabric pieces than creased ones.) The sewing may have distorted the fabric so be careful to retain the original pattern shape and remove any stray threads left in the fabric.

Hopefully you’ve picked up a few new tips here. Unpicking can cause major frustrations especially when you’re in a hurry. But if it results in a better item, then it’s all worth it.

Happy unpicking.



4 thoughts on “How to unpick your sewing mistakes

  1. Di Hill

    I have the old unpicker – actually it is very old too I think. Neat little thing the unpicker that you show. I don’t do much sewing, but I could be tempted to get one. 🙂

  2. Grace Keogh

    Thread clipper is my friend 🙂
    He has gotten me out of a number of messy situations over the years, usually involved with dance costumes for my son. He also is great for just snipping the annoying little tails of the back of my cross-stitching.

    1. Debra Verrall Post author

      Yes I imagine sewing dance costumes would involve a fair few sewing mistakes. We have thread clippers living in every room of our house 🙂


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