At some point in an embroiderer’s life something happens that requires you to remove embroidery stitches from a garment or other item:
- A birdnest messed up the embroidery and you want to start over
- The design isn’t in the right spot
- You started sewing the wrong design
- You forgot to mirror or rotate the design
- You used the wrong color
- The machine tensions are bad
The above list is by no means all inclusive. All manner of bad things can happen to good embroidery. Hopefully you caught the problem in time and don’t have a lot of stitching to remove. If not, consider whether it is worth the time and effort to remove before undertaking a time-consuming, delicate, and frustrating task.
As Ye Sew, So Shall Ye Rip
If you’ve decided on removal, here’s what you’ll need:
- Stitch cutting tools:
- Stitch Remover–Electric shaver-like tool designed specifically for removing stitches.
- Beard Trimmer–less expensive, often cordless, more readily available than the real thing, but results not as good because it is designed to trim hair, not thread
- Disposable razor–not previously used for hair removal
- Surgical steel seam ripper–these are very sharp, have a curved tip, and readily available at sewing stores
- Tweezers–the good kind that can actually grip and pull a thread
- Tape–I prefer duct tape or packing tape but other good sticky tapes that won’t leave a residue are good
- Magnifying lamp
- Plenty of patience and more time than you think
How to Do It
Removing embroidery is different than removing a seam or top stitching. There are generally more stitches and there are more often than not, layers of stitches. Except for the case of a basting stitch you may have added to stabilize the design before the actual embroidery, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to easily pull out a bobbin thread and have the rest of the design fall away.
Hopefully you used a good quality stabilizer that is still intact enough to provide somewhat of a safety net for the fabric. Cutaways will provide a better barrier than tearaways. Rule number 1: work from the back as much as possible, especially when cutting. So the basic process will be to cut the bobbin thread from the back and then pull the top stitches out from the front.
Stitch Remover Method
Using this tool is the absolute fastest way to remove embroidery. Although electric tools specifically designed to remove stitches are relatively pricey compared to beard trimmers, if you do a lot of embroidery (or “unembroidery,” as the case may be) it is well worth the extra money. Two that I recommend are:
- Peggy’s Stitch Eraser–this is the original deal and retails for $80
- WAHL Peanut Stitch Remover–about $55
I prefer using the Stitch Remover with the fabric still hooped to keep the fabric taut.
Support the area you are working on with your other hand under the hoop. Use the Stitch Remover to cut the bobbin stitches on the satins first.
When cutting the bobbin stitches, align the blade perpendicularly to the stitches. After working on a section, flip the hoop over and brush off threads with the your fingers and inspect your progress.
Do use care with electric stitch removers because they can still cut through fabric. You can watch a video demonstration on how to use the Peanut Stitch Remover.
Once again you’ll be working from the back. Unless I’m only removing a small portion of the design so that I can continue sewing, I remove the item from the hoop.
I sometimes work with the embroidery face down on a smooth hard surface when working on large areas but most often I work on small areas at a time with the embroidery rolled over my forefinger on my non-cutting hand. This exposes only a small area of the fabric to a potentially lethal weapon.
Also, you’ll be inclined to work more carefully with your finger mere millimeters away from a razor-sharp edge.
As with the more automatic method above, you’ll work on the back cutting for a bit then flip to the front to remove cut threads and inspect your progress.
1. Start with any satin stitches.
If the design is mostly satin stitches, as in lettering or monogramming, slip the tip of the surgical steel seam ripper under the bobbin stitches and slice up the middle. You may find it easier if you hold the embroidery (wrong side up) so that it rolls over the finger of your non-cutting hand.
- Tip: If you can’t see any bobbin in the center of the column, be sure to adjust your machine tensions before sewing.
Use tweezers to pull out the satin stitches from the front side of the embroidery.
2. Move on to the fills, running stitches, and underlay.
Here’s where an electric stitch removal tool will really earn its keep. With a disposable razor (like Bic, for instance) “shave” the embroidery over your finger. Shave a bit, flip to the front, remove cut threads, inspect and flip back for more shaving. Short stitches in tiny details and tie-offs can be quite troublesome so I often switch back to the seam ripper or even a needle, working carefully under a magnifying lamp. Another handy gadget to have is a pair of tweezers with an attached magnifier.
Final Thread Removal for Both Methods
Its pretty easy to brush off the bulk of the thread with just your fingers. When it gets down to the final bits, they are more resistant to this technique. To easily pull off these remaining stragglers, smooth a piece of packing tape or duct tape over the front the design area and then peal off.
- WARNING!!! Don’t try this on items like terry cloth or other napped fabrics that could be damaged.
A Word of Caution
Only work as long as you have patience. One slip can put a hole in your fabric. But there’s a fix for that too as long as long it’s not too big and I’ll cover that in a future post.
Round-Up of Useful Tools
- WAHL® PEANUT Stitch Remover – a “shaver” for quickly removing embroidery
- Peggy’s Stitch Eraser – a “shaver” for quickly removing embroidery
- Bird’s Nest Toolkit – If you have drop in bobbin, it can be really difficult to extract a project with a bird’s nest. This tool set can release those thread jams and rescue your project before it is irreparably damaged.
- Stitch Removal Rescue Set – More tools for picking out stubborn stitches