If you have worked with machine embroidery for longer than a week, you most likely have had to "pick something out." This is the task of removing embroidery from a garment, and it's something we've all had to do. But by following a few guidelines, you will find it much easier to perform this job when the time comes.
First, always use some type of backing when you hoop garments, as this gives you a layer between the thread and the fabric. The backing also acts as a buffer that prevents you from digging into the fabric.
Use what I call the "light hands" approach. You must be patient-don't just jab at the stitches. Sometimes you have to pick out one stitch at a time; it's like taking a knot out of a shoestring or untangling a necklace.
Make sure that whatever tool you use to remove the stitches is sharp and well maintained. If you use scissors, designate a pair for this use only. Personally, I like to use cuticle scissors. All drugstores carry them, they're inexpensive and they have very sharp, small points that make it easy to get into tight places. They are also especially good for lettering. If you use some type of electric razor, make sure to keep it free from lint and dust, and keep it oiled and covered when not in use. Whatever tool you decide works best for you, always make certain it is sharp and clean.
I also like to use quilter’s pins. They have a larger head than dressmaker pins, and the pin itself is longer and easier to handle. Also, keep a pair of tweezers on hand if you don't have fingernails. They allow you to pick up one thread at a time.
Maintaining proper tensions while stitching is very important because it lets you easily see where the bobbin thread is. This way you have a path to follow, and you can simply go straight down the center of the stitching.
Using a razor
Now for the picking process. I have found that a razor can be used with the blades up or down. Work from the back of the garment, and try to cut as much of the bobbin thread as you can. Next, turn it over, and using the point of the scissors, gently rub across the top threads, pulling them out as far as you can. Cut off all remaining threads and repeat, cutting the bobbin threads on the back. Make sure before you start ripping out a design that you have a good surface to work on. A counter top or table works well, but you must get a feel for how firm you need to press to cut the thread and not the shirt. After a few minutes you'll get the hang of it, and in no time at all, thread will be flying.
Small letters are the most difficult to remove, so make sure that your tensions are correct before you start to sew. (Topping may be used for extra protection.) When removing script letters, I start with the last letter and work backwards. With block letters, I start at the end of each letter. First, clip the tie-off knot. Place the point of the scissors in the center of the letter, and clip the bobbin thread. Continue with each letter, cutting as much bobbin thread as possible. Turn the garment over, and gently rub the points of your scissors over the top thread, pulling as much out as you can easily remove.
Don't force anything. You may need to use a pin or the tip of a needle to remove very small knots. Remember, do not push or pull the fabric; pull only the threads that come easily. You can go back later and see what is causing the rest to stay. Work on each segment individually.
If you are removing one or two letters or a small part of a design, be sure to put a new piece of backing under the area before you start to stitch again. After you remove the stitching, the backing is weak, and if it is not replaced, more than likely you will get bird-nesting or a hole.
If you need to remove large fill stitch letters, it's basically the same approach. Gently guide the point of the scissors up the bobbin thread, clipping as you go. After a short while, return to the bottom of the letter, move over a bit and start again. By doing so, the top thread will release and will pull out easily.
After removing the design, you may also need to remove the needle marks. There are a number of ways to do that; steam seems to be the best way, but I have also used a soft fingernail brush to gently bring the fabric together. If you have time, you can wash the garments. Also, spray sizing will help lift and add body to the fabric before sewing again.
There are some fabrics that don't hold up well to all this picking. They include corduroy, terry cloth, satin, silk and pique knits. But, if you use backing and topping, you may get lucky and will be able to remove a design and sew another in its place.
There are many things you can use to remove stitches-nippers, seam rippers or disposable razors. Someone once told me she used a nail file and rubbed it over the back to cut the threads. It doesn't matter what you use, just be gentle and very, very, patient.
Pat on February 14, 2017:
Very good information, thanks for sharing.
Ade bordir from INDONESIA on September 06, 2014:
thanks for sharing....