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Top Tips : How to Undo Overlocking

So, if like me, you have ever accidentally overlocked something and then needed to unpick it, this one is for you...

So, step one is to identify whether the overlocker that did the stitches is a 3-thread machine or a 4-thread machine.

A 3 thread machine will have two looper threads and one needle thread. A 4-thread machine will have two looper threads, and two needle threads.

My own overlocker is a 4 thread machine.

The next step is to work out, on your fabric, which threads are your looper threads, and which are your needle threads. To make it easier for the purposes of this tutorial, I have loaded red thread into my loopers and blue thread into my needles.

The easiest way to do this is to look at the top of your stitching - as it runs through the machine :

cream cotton fabric showing the right side of overlocking stitches. looper threads in red thread, needle threads in blue thread.

The top ("right side") of your stitching, as it goes through the machine looks like this:

You can clearly see both rows of the needle threads.

cream cotton showing wrong side of overlocking.  looper threads are red, needle threads are blue.

The underneath ("wrong side") looks like this :

You can see that the needle threads are not as visible, and the looper shapes are slightly different. They have a "stalk" at the bottom.

When unpicking, we always work on the "right side" of the overlocking stitches, regardless of whether this is on the right or wrong side of your fabric.

Find a point where you want to start removing the overlocking. I usually move around 1/2" in from any raw edge / end of the fabric so that I don't inadvertently cause the unstitched fabric to fray.

cream cotton with overlocking;.  looper threads in red, needle threads in blue. seam ripper blade is inserted into needle stitch.

I slip my seam ripper into the top row of the needle threads. Give it a bit of a wiggle to loosen the stitch and then, using the outer edge (the non bladed part) of the seam ripper or scissors to gently slide that thread out of the overlocking thread tail.

You can then hold the newly released thread to gently pull that needle thread through and out of the stitching. Use your thumb nail to gently gather up the fabric - this gathering will release as soon as the thread is free of the fabric. Keep gathering, wiggling and sliding the thread, and it will soon come free.

Repeat that same step with the lower needle thread, if there is one. Make sure to catch the needle thread that hooks over the looper thread, and not the looper thread itself, otherwise, you'll end up with a tight mess that you then have to cut free. If you see the top edge of the fabric start to pull down, you have caught a looper thread, so remove your seam ripper and try to locate a needle thread a few stitches down, and try again.

If your needle thread snaps at any point during the "wiggle and slide", don't panic - simply work an extra bit free (in the same way you did when you were starting the removal) and carry on! If it snaps inside the overlocking, simply pull the thread you are "sliding" until that is free, bin it, and start the process again.

On longer lengths of fabric, this can be a helpful way of dealing with it as you are then only dealing with shorter lengths of thread to "wiggle and slide"...

With both of the needle threads free, the looper threads will then just peel away from the fabric with a gentle pull. A quick press and blast of steam will, on most fabrics, then close any holes that have been put there by the overlocker needles.

Unpick your overlocking this way, and you will save your seam allowances, and not trash your fabric, so that if you need to then overlock it again, or stitch it, you still have a stable fabric.

If a video of this would help, I have put together a quick video on my YouTube channel, which can be found here :

my hand is holding the cream cotton with all the overlocking removed. the fabric has not frayed, although some needle holes are visible.

I have also done a YouTube tutorial, if video learning is more your style, and it can be found here :

Let me know how you get on if this is something that you need to do in the not too distant future.

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