How to Rip Out Quilting

You never want to have to rip out quilting. In fact, its something that should be avoiding at almost all costs. Its time consuming, it leaves permanent marks in your quilt, and most of the time, if you just keep sewing the quilting all comes together in the end.


But there are times when you need to do it. Say, you turn your quilt over and see there are a bunch of  folds or lumps in the backing fabric. Or maybe you realize that there were tensions problems with your bobbin thread. Or maybe, just maybe, your quilting is that bad.


That was me on my most recent quilt. You can see how well the “I should try this cool quilting design without practicing or planning” worked out below. Salvageable? Maybe, but this was for Instagram. And, more importantly, this was for my business.


I tried to make it work. I got nearly a foot of quilt-width of quilting done. But I just wasn’t feeling it, and I had come up with a better quilting design. I knew tearing out all those stitches would not only take forever but also leave lots of little holes in the fabric. But I had to try.


How to rip out quilting: the waves


It took me a while to find my seam ripping groove. But soon enough, I was flying through the stitches. It only took two nights (maybe 6 hours total) to rip out all of the quilting. This was about how long it took to sew it all in there in the first place. And the method I used didn’t create tons and tons of small threads that I will forever find in my couch. Here what I did to rip out quilting.


Ripping out quilting all starts with proper sewing

First off, if you want to have any chance to rip out quilting in a quick, neat fashion, you have to have good stitches. I get it, it’s hard to maintain a good stitch length when quilting on a domestic machine. The weight of a quilt tugs and pulls which makes it hard for the feed dogs to do their job.


Improper sewing leads to teeny tiny stitches and stitches that go a bit out of line when you start and stop your machine. These issues not only cause an inconsistent quilting look, but also means you’ll likely have to pick out nearly every individual stitch if you want to remove the quilting. Dreadful.


To avoid improper sewing, set a good stitch length (I use about 3). Using a walking foot can help get a more consistent stitch length, because the walking foot adds another set of feed dogs on top of the quilt. This gives your sewing machine extra power to get the quilt through the machine.


But the most important thing you can do is support the weight of your quilt. Making sure all the quilt is up on your table and over your should help take pressure off the sewing machine so it can do its job without added stress.


Pick out ~20 top thread stitches

Now, on to why you are here. To rip out your quilting, you first need to pick out ~20 stitches or enough to get a good grip on the thread. Do NOT touch the bobbin thread. We’ll deal with that at the end. If you start messing with the bobbin thread, things will get messy.


To pick out the top thread, I like to go in 4-5 stitches from my starting point. I’ll slip my seam ripper under a stitch and tug those 5 stitches out. Don’t rip the thread.


How to rip out quilting: the quilting
The starting quilting.
How to rip out quilting: picking out a few stitches
Slip your seam ripper under the stitch.

Repeat this (picking out 4-5 stitches) until you get enough of a thread tail to get a good grip on. This is about 20 stitches.


How to rip out quilting: creating the pulling tail
Keep pulling out stitches until you have a thread tail long enough to tug

Cut a stitch and pull the top thread out

Here’s where things start going fast. About a hand’s length up from your tail (I have very small hands, so maybe 30 stitches), slip your seam ripper into a stitch and cut a a stitch.


How to rip out quilting: cut a stitch
~30 stitch up from your tail, cut a stitch with your seam ripper.

The grab your top thread tail and pull. The threads should slide out with a little tug.


How to rip out quilting: the great tug
Grab your top thread tail and pull! (sorry for the potato quality)

Now, keep picking, cutting, and tugging until all your quilting is out!


Ripping out the bobbin quilting

This is the easy part! On the back of your quilt, all the bobbin quilting is loose. Simply grab a piece and tug and it will all come out in one big piece.


How to rip out quilting: the bobbin thread


The result of ripping out quilting

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, it’s never ideal to rip out quilting. But sometimes you have to. Just know you’ll have to deal with this:


How to rip out quilting: the after effect
My quilt after ripping out the quilting.

I’m hoping the fabric will relax a bit with time or that maybe a good wash will reset the fibers. I’ll let you know. But let’s not let imperfect get in the way of progress!

Sew on!

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