Monday, April 24, 2006

Lo, the humble seam ripper

I was thinking today about quilting equipment, and for some reason my mind settled on the humble seam ripper. I bet you all recognize this basic Dritz model, right? I remember buying my first one with the required sewing supplies for 7th grade sewing class. And it was a tool I became quite familiar with in those early sewing days.

The idea that you'd need a tool for UN-sewing isn't foremost in one's mind when one sets out to learn to sew, is it? Freddy Moran tells the story of going to buy her first sewing machine, after she'd made a few hand-pieced quilt tops and decided she wanted to work faster. The saleslady assembled the supplies she would need and spread them out on the counter.

"What's that?" asked Freddy, pointing at the small sharp object before her.

"It's a seam ripper," the clerk replied, "for ripping out mistakes."

"Oh, I won't need THAT," Freddy answered.

But of course, she learned all too quickly -- like all of us -- that it is an indispensible tool.

My friend Nikki in my freshman sewing class was too impatient to pick seams out, stitch by stitch. She was proud to come up with her own speedy method.

Yep, she'd just take each side of the seam and RRRRRRRrrrrrrrip. It worked a time or two, but there was that one horrible time where she discovered that she'd simply ripped the fabric away from the seam, without disturbing the stitching at all. Mrs. Handley -- our Betty Crocker-esque sewing teacher -- was not pleased, and gathered us all around the disaster show us the folly of careless ripping. (Lacking the proper respect for fabric, Nikki giggled through the whole experience.)

It was a revelation to learn that some seam rippers were actually really sharp and easy to use. My beloved old Elna Super sewing machine (my first new machine!) came with one like this, which was a joy to use... if you call ripping out a mistake a joy...

It was so teeny that it slid right into those stitches. But it was so teeny it fell to the floor or rolled under fabric and I was always hunting for it.

I don't know when it occurred to me that I could actually BUY spare seam rippers. You know, one for the sewing box, one to keep at the machine, one extra just in case... I found this great clover one with a sharp point and a comfy handle.

And it was my favorite, until my friend Pat told me about the SCALPEL.

Doesn't that make seam-ripping sound so OFFICIAL? And serious? This thing is SHARP, but it cuts stitches like they're butter. (And yes, it's easy to cut the fabric with it. Ask me how I know.) I love my little blue scalpel. I think I need to buy a few more, just to have around, in case I need to rip a seam or perform surgery or something.

And while perusing a sewing catalog recently (as one does), I came upon these scissors specifically for seam ripping:

Who knew?! Actual new seam ripping technology? Or are these old and I'd just never seen them before? Do they work? Are they sharp? Can anything be better than a scalpel? I'm skeptical.

And besides, I won't be ripping THAT much, will I?

Will I???


  1. I love my scalpel. I have on occasion ripped seams with my rotary cutter - very carefully. Of course this is all before my graduation from the Chicago School of Fusing!!

  2. Anonymous11:16 PM

    It never occured to me that one could actually DULL a seam ripper, but I've ripped so many seams that I actually wore out my ripper. Now I have one that's a seam ripper on one end and tweezers on the other.

  3. Anonymous5:27 AM

    Nothing like a good scalpel. I like to keep a few around....for stitch cutting, removing splinters, etc.


  4. Lately I have been using a small matte knife (I think they are called box cutters in USA). When it gets dull you just break off the end and use the next section. Extra blades are quite inexpensive. It seems easier to control for some reason. I still use my trusty seam ripper a lot of the time too, esp on bias seams.

  5. Diane,

    They make a scalpel with replaceable blades!! It's metal, not plastic so there is less chance of breaking the handle.

    I loves me my scalpels.

  6. Diane, I had my 7th grade seam ripper until about a year ago! I thought I didn't need a new one until I was given a "spare." Boy do those get dull after (ahem) 16+ years! :-) The new one is mighty sharp as is the brass one my secret pal gave me last year. I'll have to try the scalpel, though, sounds great!

  7. Seam rippers are so important, LOL!!! I own maybe 3 or 4? LOL.

  8. What I want to know is, however many seam rippers I have, how come I can never find one when I want one??!!

    Enjoyed listening to the podcast you did with Annie Smith! Nice to hear you!

  9. I know I shouldn't but I use my small rotary cutter for ripping. It works great and so far I haven't hurt myself.
    Love those scalpels though.
    Mary Lou Weidman