Does Getting Out My Seam Ripper Make Me A Failure?

Seam Ripper

I ask this question as someone who got her seam ripper out last night, and I’d like to think the answer is ‘no’!

Let’s take an analogy I understand – the life of a writer. So someone wants to write a book. That person has to have an idea. But, how do they know it’s a good idea? They don’t – they just have to start writing and hope for the best. A bit like someone choosing a sewing pattern and thinking, This fabric will be awesome! Won’t it? A person’s just gotta get stuck in.

Do you think an author writes his novel, leans back in his chair and pops the cork on a bottle of champagne at a job well done? No. It’s not like it is in the film Misery. (Thank god.) There will be a first draft, a second draft, a third… Who am I kidding? By the time most novels hit the bookshelves there will have probably been about ten drafts at least. (Though, shush. Most of those novels will only hit the bottom drawer.) And we think we can make a dress perfect first time? The creative process just isn’t like that.

The process of making is an exploratory one. Yes, there are key skills we can learn and bring to our aid. But at the start of every new project, even the most expert Sewist is on a learning curve, which means making mistakes. Which means getting the seam ripper out.

So, no, the seam ripper does not make me a failure. It might suggest I’m tired, though! What do you think?

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68 Responses to Does Getting Out My Seam Ripper Make Me A Failure?

  1. I think we have tools for a reason. Sometimes we make mistakes for whatever reason, sometimes we’re tired, sometimes we’re tense, sometimes we’re not paying as much attention to what we’re doing as we should be, sometimes we change our minds, sometimes we think, “That could be better.” I also think it would be a poor sewist who didn’t use a seam ripper now and then because that would be suggesting such a thing as perfectionism. I’m not trying to imply such a thing doesn’t exist or that there aren’t people capable of it, but it’s usually arrived at by a series of learning experiences that some might call mistakes and others might describe as ideal opportunities for a seam ripper. πŸ™‚

  2. I think the failure would be knowing its not right and carrying on regardless without using a seam ripper at all.

  3. JacqC says:

    I hope not – I’ve got 4 and they all get regular use! In fact, I last used one to take apart a charity shop find because I’m having my first proper go at refashioning – so using a stitch ripper is sometimes a really positive thing to do πŸ™‚

  4. I don’t think it signifies failure at all, but it does make me rather sad that it took me until the end of my third MMM project to realise that it didn’t fit at all – ie was far too big – and that it took me longer to unpick the whole thing than it did to put it together again. And then I had to unpick the French seams on my very next one because it was too small! Both patterns came from the British Sewing Bee book, so I’m guessing the size 14 sizing isn’t quite as accurate as it could be … Or I’m a really odd shape. Probably the latter!

  5. thornberry says:

    I have been sewing since my early teens, and I’m now mid-40s – and I ALWAYS anticipate having to unpick something in every garment that I make! It doesn’t always happen, but mistakes are part of human nature, and that is why the quick unpick was invented, I think! I don’t see it as failure at all – just part of the process of getting the garment just how you want it to be.

  6. Sheree says:

    I can’t imagine making anything without the need for my seam ripper. How I agree with your analogy. I find it pretty amazing when a project turns out well. There are so many points at which it can all go terribly wrong. Firstly the fabric has to work well with the pattern, it has to be cut out correctly, sewn neatly, no accidents with the iron, fit well and as if that is not enough I find I sometimes don’t actually like the style on me and had it been RTW would have declined at the changing room. Having said that, it’s a hobby I love and I keep buying more fabric and more patterns in the hope of a fabulous outcome.

  7. I’ve never really considered mucking up things during the sewing process as a failure, but maybe that’s because I was already used to the fact that things tend to take a few tries to get right… I don’t write books, but I make illustrations and comics, and it’s sort of crazy how much of a difference there is between the first idea and the final work. I think I’ve made five storyboards for the project I’m currently working on, and things are still changing. If those changes are for the better, they’re a good thing and definitely not a failure!

    My boyfriend calls my seam ripper my ‘sonic screwdriver’ by the way, hehe.

  8. louise says:

    Far from it. A seam ripper is your friend. Surely using one is the search for perfection in mastering our skills, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  9. Mandy Gardner says:

    Thank you for this post. I took sewing lessons last year in which the teacher constantly made me feel awkward by telling me to unpick unpick unpick. Rather loudly – in front of other student at that πŸ™ I’d like to think the experience as part of the creative process!

  10. Tamsinwp says:

    tiredness does come into it I’m sure, but having the knowledge that you need to use the seam ripper probably makes you a better sewist in the long run.

  11. I always end up having to use my seam ripper when I’m rushing through a project, so it’s a good tool to remind me to “enjoy the process” and not rush towards whatever I imagine completion will feel like!

  12. debs2748 says:

    Tired , distracted or rushing yep these are the normal suspects. Or sometimes I find I slavishly follow the instructions when all my instincts are telling me they are wrong. Me being me I then kick myself and tell myself to follow my instincts next time, but next time you guessed I believe the instructions again. So no you are not a failure for getting the un-picker out, you are recognising your need to correct that which is wrong.

  13. StitchNSew says:

    There is nothing wrong with reverse sewing πŸ™‚

    • senjiva says:

      I love that!

      • LinB says:

        Yup. Reverse sewing, un-knitting, all are par for the course. If you DON’T spend some time using your seam ripper, you aren’t trying hard enough to challenge yourself.

      • senjiva says:

        I do a fair amount of both! Every day is a challenge, especially when it comes to polyester chiffon (shudder).

  14. tifftoffee says:

    I certainly hope not because then i’d be the failiest of the failed fails ever. A seam ripper is no different from an eraser or ctrl+z on your computer! Why expect perfection in the sewing process when you don’t expect it for anything else? Sometimes, you just end up accidentally sewing two skirt layers together. Big whoop. Mistakes are an inevitable part of life.

    On the other hand, if you’re constantly getting the seam ripper out because you’re not being careful… well… ahem. There’s always room for improvement :).

  15. Surely a seam ripper is every sewers best friend? I’ve been through a few of them lately. Broke one trying to unpick a pair of jeans, another I can’t get the lid off after using it to get self-covered buttons out of the button making tool (not recommended btw!) and the other one is just a bit too blunt.
    Things don’t always work out do they? Just like the drafts – every creation may need more than one attempt to get right. Fine tuning is learning, and couldn’t be further from failure.

  16. I just hosted a giveaway where people commented with their favourite sewing tool. The seam ripper was no.1 πŸ™‚ Even though re-doing things is part of the process, I try to minimize it. I’ve been doing this thing I call “channeling Ann”. I try not to rush, think things through before I sew a stitch. So you can get it right the first time, and won’t have to use the seam ripper. It really works! It saves frustration and time. So I think that ofcourse it doesn’t make YOU a failure, but it is a sign that you were tired or rushing.

  17. ClaireE says:

    How funny, I was thinking about this earlier when putting some piping into a cushion cover. It didn’t match up so I pulled out the seam ripper. This is my most trusty friend when I sew. Although I try to minimise the amount I have to use it for mistakes I know that at some point in everything I make it will be used. They are fabulous at removing basting! So no, it doesn’t make you a failure if you have to use it. Embrace the little tool instead!

  18. Marie says:

    Spot on Karen! I have 5 seam rippers and couldn’t live without them. I actually don’t think I’ve ever managed to complete a substantial project before without the use of one. Which is totally fine by me, I’d rather correct my mistakes rather than ending up with a sub-standard garment!

  19. Carol Webster says:

    Not a failure at all! i am at my worst when I’m near the end of the project when you get those”if I crack on with this I can wear it tomorrow feelings and almost always end up making silly mistakes which I wouldnt have done if I’d given it just one more go!

  20. Janice A. says:

    I think you are a brilliant writer – that’s what I think ! That apart – on the subject of seam rippers – it is only after reading your post that I now realise that subconsciously I have always felt a failure if I have to use a seam ripper. Your post and all the great responses above have made me see the deep flaw in my thinking. ( And too be honest I DO rush things – so what else do I expect !)
    From now on my seam ripper will be my co-worker – and not my silent critic !
    Thank you !!!!

  21. Stephanie says:

    Hey I actually posted about my favourite tools the other week and I love my seam ripper (quick unpick here in Australia)..one of my fav tools.
    Its just a tool and does not signal failure at all.
    Stephanie

  22. Philipppa says:

    The last paragraph probably pretty much says it. I make so many mistakes when I’m tired. Having said that, a new pattern is likely to bring about a bit of seam ripping action too!

  23. Liz says:

    I saw the title of this post in my rss feed and said out loud “No! Of course not! Why would you say that!”

    I agree with an above comment that said we have tools for a reason, and I liked your analogy with writing πŸ™‚

  24. Francesca says:

    As ye sew, so shall ye rip.

  25. Totally agree with you…. Van Gogh and Matisse might have used eraser when they were creating their masterpieces. How is this any different from that??

  26. Rachel says:

    I just totally stuffed up some pattern-matching – on Liberty fabric no less – so just unpicked two back pieces of a shift dress that I had put the dart in, underlined with silk-cotton AND overlocked all the edges of (was planning on pressing seams flat). So I am very glad of my trusty unpicker – I don’t think it signals failure, just a desire to get it right (if I thought it spelt failure I’d be crying right now!).

  27. Faye Lewis says:

    Such a fitting post for a person like me. I just came into my sewing room to pick up a project started yesterday and the first thing I do is pick up the seam ripper. I recently had a project failure (it’s sitting in the sewing room trash basket as I type). I realize that I should have done a muslin before I cut my fashion fabric, or at least done a pattern fitting – but that’s hind site now. I can tailor a great jacket, stitch up great fitting pants, even make a gorgeous knit top or dress – alas, but not with the help of a trusty seam ripper. I thank God for them.

  28. AnotherKaren says:

    Three cheers for my humble seam rippers. All except the blue one. The blue one not only ripped through the faulty stitching line but stuck a great big hole in my fabric. It wasn’t me, honest.

  29. Oh I really hope not. My seam ripper has been VERY busy today. Had just finished my dress and it was so big I played with adjusted it all but in the end I’ve taken the whole thing apart and am recutting in a smaller size. I’m determined it will be a success in the end and therefore my seam ripper has helped me learn and achieve!
    If no one minds me adding this, I will be blogging about the results this week here http://www.bobbysangel.wordpress.com

  30. emily says:

    Here here! I was making the Grainline Moss Skirt last night and managed to attach the pockets the wrong way round twice. Twice!! I like the fact that my seam ripper enables me to sew and drink wine at the same time though, I just wish it didn’t add so much extra time! πŸ˜‰

  31. Teri says:

    Seam rippers are awesome! Using your seam ripper trumps, not starting at all!

  32. Karen says:

    I love my seam ripper! I can’t imagine life without it – it would kind of be like trying to cook without a measuring cup!

  33. Elizabeth says:

    Since I only learn from my own mistakes, my seam ripper is a valuable teacher to me. Would I take a perverse pleasure out of not needing to use a seam ripper? Yes, but I won’t feel like a failure if I have to. It’s just a learning opportunity.

  34. Jen (NY) says:

    I think that the seam ripper was the first tool I was introduced to, after the actual machine. It’s simple, but the great thing is that you *can* rip it out if it was a mistake (or if you just want to try it a different way). I used to hate it, but then I got one of the Clover ergonomic rippers (it’s sharp!) and I almost enjoy ripping stitches out. Almost.

  35. Ruth says:

    Erm, I’m PROUD of how good I am with my seam ripper. Does *everyone* know how to use one well? Do you know WHY it has one pointy end and one with a little ball on it? It’s like knowing which scissors to use and when and how. All part of mastery of the art. The failure is when you fail to see that a seam *needs* ripping, whether partially or fully.

  36. Meraj says:

    Nice analogy, and very true!

    Btw, a little while back I saw a short story writer explaining why you should make a point to rewrite during the creative process — using a sewing analogy! She was using the concept of making muslins in order to explain the importance of writing multiple drafts to prepare for the ‘final’ piece πŸ˜‰

  37. Kelly says:

    When I first started sewing had a goal to make a garment without touching my seam ripper. It never happened, and as I improved I realized that unpicking isn’t a source of shame, but rather is an opportunity to make something right. Caring enough about your work to notice a problem and then actually fix the problem (especially something that won’t affect actual wear, like seams not matching perfectly) can’t possibly be considered a fail!

  38. judyhamid says:

    The seam ripper makes you a perfectionist, somebody who’s not content to do a slapdash job, somebody who takes a pride in what they do. We only learn through making mistakes after all. Judy.

  39. Oh, the seam ripper. Right now, in the calm of a successful day’s sewing, I’d say it’s my friend. When I’ve re-ripped the same seam ten times in an hour and still not quite got it right, well, that’s a different story…

  40. Sewer From Across The Pond says:

    The analogy to writing doesn’t hold up. When we sit down to write we don’t know how something is going to look until it’s committed to paper and then we may need to try several different approaches. In sewing, there are certain practices that ALWAYS make using a seam ripper less likely, namely pinning and basting and testing the machine’s stitch on a scrap.

    Despite our best prep efforts, sometimes using a seam ripper is unavoidable. No one should feel like a failure for using one, but the more careful you are the less necessary it is.

    • Sewer From Across The Pond says:

      I own several seam rippers. But I find that it is infinitely easier to carefully set up the fabric and try to sew it the right way the first time than to unpick a machine stitch. I also like to be as kind as possible to the cloth, some fabric can’t take too much handling. It also saves time. Basting adds maybe 5 minutes, unpicking a lot longer.

  41. Sewer From Across The Pond says:

    The analogy works for muslins because there are many things that can’t be anticipated until you transfer the changes to the fabric and fit the body and even professionals focus only on one major change at a time, hence, many muslins (drafts) may be required.

    By contrast, a seam can be sewn perfectly the first time so long as you do more than slap the fabric under the needle expecting a great result with no tests.

  42. Sufiya says:

    Humph. Sewing without a seam ripper would be like writing without expecting to rewrite…I can’t think of a single writer so talented that every page they wrote needed no revision! It would be a truly exceptional sewist who never, ever needed to rip a seam at some point! Even Balenciaga had to rip, I’ll bet! But it is well to pay attention if you are constantly reaching for the ripper: it’s clearly time to take a break/go to bed!

  43. Ernestine says:

    Whenever I teach a sewing or quilting class, I always tell my students that there are very few mistakes in sewing that can’t be fixed. If you have a seam ripper, you can fix the mistake.

  44. rdejam says:

    Well, this post made me chuckle. I’ve been sewing for more than 40 years and have been doing it professionally for the past 4 years. Whenever I’m asked what my favorite sewing tool is, without thinking, I always say my seam ripper. I can’t imagine anyone who makes quality garments never using one. No one is that perfect unless you’re striving for mediocrity. πŸ™‚ Apparently, you are striving for perfection. This will keep you creative. Love your blog.

  45. Sewing without using the seam ripper is a fantasy which has nothing to do with real life. I use mine all the time!!!

  46. Kato says:

    Using a seam ripper certainly does not make you a failure. If you never used your seam ripper, wouldn’t that mean that you never tried to do anything you couldn’t already do? If we never challenge ourselves we never learn anything new.

    At school we have a struggle to teach the children that making a mistake or getting something wrong is far from being a bad thing – it means you attempted something new, you had a go. And that is a much more valuable skill than the ability to analyse each task and only attempt the ones you already know you can accomplish. It’s too easy to give praise (or feel satisfaction) for perfect results when an imperfect attempt at something difficult can be much more rewarding.

    I think I need to learn to value my mistakes a bit more πŸ™‚

  47. Tiffany says:

    I don’t believe in mistakes but I do believe in learning opportunities. When something isn’t right that is just an opportunity to learn how to do it better.

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/CurvyTiffy

  48. Here, here! its all part of the process. And at the end of the project, who knows you got the seam ripper out?

  49. We may only need them occasionally, but they sure are handy when you have to undo something. I’d certainly rather rip out a seam and resew than accept a less than stellar result.

  50. kristonlion says:

    O lawd, if I complete a project without using a seam ripper I will probably have to get it out anyway and tear something up. I love the destruction!

  51. Colleen says:

    I love my seam ripper and I often think of going to joann fabrics and buying 5 more so i always have one in reach. last night I totally took a cambie bodice apart. I could have done a cheap fit fix but I decided to rip it and do it right. The fabric is extremely delicate voile so it took forever which was heaven. I love a good clean slow rip.

  52. Taja says:

    Think of using a seam ripper as “reverse” sewing. Sometimes it’s necessary to reverse to move forward again. πŸ™‚

  53. Ashley says:

    My seam ripper is definitely my friend. To me, there’s nothing 100% permanent about sewing. I can always alter something if it doesn’t fit just right, or shorten a hem if it’s too long. My seam ripper can turn an apparent mistake into something wonderful! Without my dear seam ripper, where would I be?

  54. Wendyp says:

    We all learn from our mistakes, so getting out the seamripper means that we are learning something… So using a seamripper doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you someone who is not satisfied with a first draft, but someone who is looking to improve their project and their skill…

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  56. Happy to see all these responses to this post, as it has been on my mind since you posted it Karen. I think one should be able to wield a seam ripper with the same skill as the sewing machine and iron. I am working on 2 projects that the seam ripper was of great importance to: removing the lining from 2 existing bags I’d made to put them into newly constructed bags (custom order) and wanted to preserve the outer shells for future use, and deconstructing a men’s suit jacket to obtain a working pattern to make myself a striped down version (sans lining, facings sewn through, Γ  la jean jacket construction). My seam ripper is always at the side of my sewing machine. Very important tool. Love that you made this a topic of discussion. : )

  57. photosarah says:

    I couldn’t imagine completing a whole project without at least a little seam ripping! Sometimes I am loathe to know I have to seam rip, but I always am glad I did because that means my project is a little better than it would have been had I left the wonky stitching.

  58. Janine says:

    I learnt to sew very early as my mum was a home economics teacher. I remember spending hours unpicking stitches. Were those wasted hours? I learnt patience, thrift, mindfulness, visualisation skills to do it right the next time, not to make the same mistake again, and mostly, because my love language is quality time, I learnt that I was loved. Not bad lessons for a six year old or any age really. Pulling out the seam ripper is part of the process of sewing.
    Oh, and my grandmother was known to stare at a piece of fabric for a while, pull out some scissors and cut out by eye, exact fitting pattern pieces for all her dresses, any style. I draw up or use a pattern. Fail? No. Its just part of the process.

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