embroidery on a machine

The art of embroidery has a long history. While first embroidery machines were invented in the 19th century, hand embroidery goes back to ancient history. Embroidery was practiced in ancient Greece, Egypt, and China. The art and craft that we love have a long tradition. While it is well worth preserving and pursuing, sometimes you have to get rid of some embroidery. You can discover that you made a mistake and you have to remove everything to start all over again. Or, you just want to remove the logo or whatever and replace it with a new design. The problem is how to remove embroidery without damaging the garment.

It is a tricky operation, but it is possible.

Be Careful and Meticulous

Removing the embroidery is not rocket science. However, you need to do it very gently and slowly to avoid damaging the fabric. If you get anxious and hurry up, you may ruin it for good. So, removing embroidery is difficult because you have to be very patient and pay attention to detail.

Before you start make sure that you have all of the tools at your disposal. You will need a seam ripper, magnifying glass, tweezers, lint brush, and duct tape. You can also use an electric stitch eraser or embroidery eraser. It is useful for machine embroidery removal, but I wouldn’t recommend it for hand embroidery designs. Removing hand embroidery is more tedious, but there are fewer layers of stitches to remove.

Removing Hand Embroidery

Firstly, you need to turn your fabric inside-out. Working from the back helps you to avoid damage. Even if you make a small nick, it won’t be visible and it might not ruin the whole process. If you would do it from the front it would’ve been game over. It is the best to put the fabric into the embroidery hoop if you have one.

Say a prayer or whatever works for you and start cutting the stitches. A seam ripper is the best tool for this. You can use embroidery scissors, too, but it makes the process even slower and more delicate. Slide the seam ripper under the stitches and gently push it forward and upward to cut the stitches. You should take on just a couple of stitches at a time. 4 to 5 stitches is the right measure. If it is a multi-layered embroidery, work on one layer at a time.

scissors and needles on a table

Turn the garment right-side out and use a pair of tweezers to pull each thread out. Do this very slowly because it is possible that you didn’t cut through the stitch all the way. If you feel resistance – stop. Return to the back of the fabric and repeat the process.

If you work on a multi-layered piece of embroidery, there is a predefined course of action. First, remove satin stitches, if any. Then, remove running stitches, decorative stitches and finally main stitches.

Once, you have removed all of the stitches use a lint brush to pick up the threads that are left behind. You can also use duct tape to pick up any pieces left behind, but don’t use it on fluffy fabrics such as velvet or terry cloth.

Removing Machine Embroidery

Machine embroidery designs usually have more layers of stitches. Fortunately, they are more precise so you can work on more stitches at a time. You can use a seam ripper for removal of the machine embroidery, but it is better if you have an electric stitch remover. The process is the same either way, stitch remover only makes it faster.

Once again, turn your fabric over to expose the back. The process is the same as with the hand embroidery. The only difference is that you can cut through 30 to 40 stitches or about one inch. Cut on the back side and pull out the threads from the front side. Repeat the process until you remove all of the stitches. The sequence is the same. Remove satin stitches, running stitches, decorative stitches, and main stitches respectively. Use a lint brush for leftovers.

Fading Stitch Marks

Once you have removed stitches there may be some small holes left behind. Don’t worry, there’s a way to take care of it. Iron the front side of your fabric. Then, scrape your fingernails gently across the stitch marks. Do this horizontally from side to side. It is enough to go back and forth a couple of times. Then repeat the process, only this time do it vertically, from top to bottom and back. Iron the fabric again and it should be good.

If the holes are still visible, repeat the procedure once or twice. It should do the trick. Most of the times this will be enough. If there are any holes left, turn your fabric over and do the same process on the back side.


Removing the embroidery is a slow and painstaking process. However, if you really love the piece of garment that you want to restyle, it is worth it. Just make sure that you do it slowly and carefully. Sometimes, you can just stitch over the existing piece of embroidery and cover it up with the new design. Anyhow, now you know that you have options. While it is not a joyful work, saving your design or reinventing the old piece of clothing will bring you satisfaction.

If you are interested in buying an embroidery machine you can check out our Buyer’s Guide.