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Can you remove your embroidery stitches and start over?

Updated: May 8, 2023

One question I'm often asked by beginners to hand embroidery is, "Can I cut out these stitches and start over?" The answer, of course, is YES! (Usually, at least!)


Photo of embroidery project with floss that's been cut and is ready to be pulled out, leaving me with a blank slate.
I'm constantly cutting things out and trying something new!

Why would you want to remove your stitches from a hand embroidery project?


Here are three reasons for removing stitches from a "work in progress" (or WIP): .

  • If you're limited on supplies, you may want to preserve as many of those supplies as possible. For example, the fabric you're working with might be thrifted (and therefore difficult to find in additional quantities).

  • If you make a mistake after having already put a lot of work into the rest of the project, you may prefer to cut it it out (versus "living with it," or starting it over completely). I often find myself cutting out something that doesn't quite fit with what I had hoped the final project might look like; this can be a pain, but it helps me to feel better about that final design! If you feel like your hand embroidery doesn't look quite right, you might consider cutting something out!

  • If you're trying to be less wasteful in general, you may consider cutting something out and starting over before using too much floss toward something that isn't working out for you. Sure, there are plenty of ways to reuse those leftover bits of embroidery floss (also known as ORTs), but there's nothing wrong with wanting to have fewer ORTs in the first place!

Keep in mind there are loads of other potential reasons for doing this; I've only presented these three here to help you begin to think about why you might want to do this at some point in the future, too!


Have I ever done this, myself?


Of course!


I've removed my stitches from projects and started over because I was limited on supplies, because I made a mistake and didn't feel like starting the entire project over, and because I've got enough ORTs to fill multiple mattresses as it is.*


* This, of course, is a bit of an exaggeration -- I think! I hope!


Up close photo of green embroidery project with small holes in the fabric, indicating stitches that have been removed.
Here's an example of a project where I had to take something out and start over - it happens all the time!

Accepting that you may need to move onto something else -- and that you might need to cut out stitches to get to that next step -- is absolutely a normal part of the process of becoming a seasoned stitcher with your own personal preferences and practices.


I also often do take out my stitches and "start over" because I make a lot of tutorial videos; these could be seen as "wasteful" given that they're largely meant to be demonstrations (vs. finished pieces of work). To minimize that potential waste, I will often unpick my stitches and use the hoop for another project or tutorial video.


Cutting out your stitches and starting over: Caveats and recommendations


If you think you might need to remove your embroidery stitches and start the project over, whether the entire project or just a small portion, keep these notes in mind:

  • Make sure you're using fabric that has the ability to somewhat "heal" itself. By this, I mean that you'll be able to rub the fabric with either a pair of tweezers or the blunt side of a needle to fix the weave of the fabric where your original stitches were laid down - this way, you won't end up with a blank hoop that has a ton of visible holes where those original stitches were made. I tend to use linen and linen blends, which are super forgiving in this way. If you're using another type of fabric, the easiest way to see if it will heal itself is to... poke a hole through it before you get started and see if you can "fix" the hole.

  • When transferring a design or pattern, keep in mind that some transfer methods can be removed (e.g., heat- and water-erasable pens), whereas others may not be easily removed (e.g., pencil marks). I've written about different transfer methods in another post.

  • Get yourself a seam ripper - these are often used when sewing with a machine, but can also be incredibly useful when unpicking an embroidery design. Embroidery scissors can also be helpful, but having a super sharp tool like a seam ripper can make this process go by much more quickly.

  • Tweezers are your new best friend. They'll help you grab those itty bitty pieces of floss and pull them out of your fabric when your fingers can't quite get a grip!



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