Arghhh. I'm not the biggest fan of seam ripping anyway, but knit fabrics drive me crazy sometimes. Because of the way I sew, with designing my own patterns and projects, I usually end up with “un-sewing” a lot of my seams as I make changes to designs as I work. That's all well and good with cotton and other woven fabrics, but when it comes to knits I find that unpicking them is a whole new adventure.
If you recall, for cotton and other wovens, we recently published an article about using an electric seam ripper. If you missed it, you can read all about it in our post entitled: Have you tried an electric seam ripper? More on that later though.
Now back to knits. For a start, we might use different stitches in knits. Not always of course, but perhaps we are using a zig-zag stitch, a special ‘stretch' stitch that looks like a lightning bolt, a triple stretch stitch or a triple zig-zag. For a start that can mean more stitches per inch than we might use with a woven fabric. The triple zig-zag and the triple stretch stitch are especially difficult to unpick.
Maybe we are using a serger. If that's the case then the un-sewing isn't necessarily the problem – but if seams have been serged then part of the seam allowance might already have been cut off. Not good when you want to alter that seam. (If you do want to unpick a serged seam, check out the bonus video at the bottom of this article on how to do that easily.)
Whatever stitch you are using, somehow I find that it seems to sink into the knit fabric more, seems more deeply knitted into the fabric. I suppose a knit or stretch fabric might have more loft to it than a quilting cotton for a start so the stitches don't sit on top of the fabric in the same way. For me, it always seems if I make a slip with my seam ripper in a woven, I might poke a hole that I can simply scratch away with my fingernail and move the fibers back into position and you don't even notice it. Poke a knit fabric with the seam ripper and then I make a hole that won't go away, the fibers are damaged or cut and can even ladder. Disaster.
Try to unpick black thread from a black knit fabric – I just can't. Even with my new specs I can't tell the thread from the fabric and end up with holes.
Worst of all, it just takes so darned long. I've tried to speed it along but that just ends up ruining it.
I made up a sample in this pink knit with a regular straight stitch, a lightening bolt stretch stitch and a triple stretch stitch, just to get some unpicking practice. Arggh, same result pretty much whatever I tried. I even used a white thread to make it easier but I just don't think there is a quick and easy way to unpick knit fabrics.
I tried with my regular brass seam ripper, which is very sharp and works wonders for me on everything else – I love it so much. I lay it flat along the seam and tried to cut through the threads as I usually do in one quick and easy glide. Not this time – not on knits. It cut through easily and sharply enough, but it ended up ripping holes in the fabric too.
I tried my trusty Quick Ripper electric seam ripper and that was the same. Usually it can whip through seam ripping in super-quick time and never ever damages the fabric, but try to use it to remove a triple stretch stitch in a knit fabric and it catches the fabric as much as it catches the thread and ends up making holes – big ones! Basically I ended up cutting the fabric and leaving the stitches where they were. Hopeless. To be fair, that was a pretty tough challenge for it.
So in the end I had to resort to the slow but sure, tried and tested method of unpicking knit fabrics. That means using my brass seam ripper to slide in under individual stitches and cutting the threads every few stitches. That way I can be sure that I'm only catching the thread, not making holes or cutting the fabric. Unless of course I'm unpicking black from black and then I'm doomed again!
It works, but it takes a long time if I have a long length to unpick. No damage to the fabric this way, and of course there are little bits of thread to pull out, and it can be sometimes difficult when the thread is a good match to the fabric because it can be hard to see the thread embedded down into that loftier knit fabric. But if gets the job done eventually and teaches me a lesson to try not to make so many sewing mistakes going forward.
So now I'm looking for your sewing advice. Why is it that unpicking stitches from stretch and knit fabrics is so difficult and do you have any tips for making this quicker while still not damaging the fabric? I'd love to know how you tackle this problem. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Bonus – how to unpick a serged seam – video