The War Ensues
Good scissors for sewing are a thing to not be trifled with.
A long time ago…1995 to be exact…
in a marriage far, far away…
a husband recklessly chose his wife’s good scissors reserved for sewing to strip conduit.
12 stitches later…
Married a smarter man who respects the good sewing scissors. Good man.
A simple tool
And they are; but look closer and you’ll marvel at their design. Let’s take a look at this “cutting edge” technology and learn why if you sew, good scissors matter.
“A murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless.”
A little history
No one has better immortalized scissors than Edward Scissorhands. Leonardo Da Vinci has even been credited as the inventor. In reality, scissors go back nearly 4000 years to the Middle East. They used spring action. Spring action scissors are still being used today. Over the centuries, scissors have been tasked with everything from hair to candle wicks. Inventors have even created “scissor” knives with a knife blade and miniature cutting board fabricated to fit in the hand like scissors. Scissors have even taken on artistic shapes such as birds and various animals. In all shapes and sizes, from bronze to gold, scissors have shaped the world. Literally.
Amazing. As for the knife scissors though, hard pass. That’s a missing appendage just waiting for me!
Knives just wanna have fun
Many people think scissors are just knives. They are, and they aren’t, which is why the right kind of scissors for the job is so important. Knives have an edge. Scissors have an edge as well, but the edges are curved slightly causing them to contact each other and tear cleanly through whatever is being cut. There is a screw which creates a pivot point connecting both blades that tightens in such a way that they are pushed in to each other when closed. How does someone even come up with that?
Every home most likely has a pair of scissors that are used for everything from tin foil to conduit. We’ll get to the tin foil in a bit. And that’s a good thing. All-purpose or utility scissors serve a need in the household, or in our case, on the farm. Our utility scissors clip wings, cut burs out of dog fur, trim bangs in an emergency, and sometimes have to strip some conduit when the wire strippers go AWOL.
Let’s take a look at some different types of scissors (and shears as we’ll discover).
NOT for sewing. Utility scissors come in all shapes and sizes, from kitchen sheers with bone crackers and serrated edges, to the cast iron hand forged variety pictured. They are designed to be work horses and are not suited for fine cutting. You might get by on heavy burlap, but that’s as far as I’d push the boundary. Because of the way utility scissors are milled, their edges do not provide a clean enough cut, and may actually snag or otherwise damage your fabric. Save them for the kitchen.
Arguably the best invention in scissors…EVER. Whether rotary wheel or traditional scissors, the invention of pinking sheers revolutionized textiles for the both the retail and home tailor. Although the origin of the name is suspect, the original milled design, patented in 1893 by Louise Austin, was similar to craft scissors today used for paper, and provided multiple cutting designs such as saw-tooth and scalloped. It was used primarily to create an ornamental edge on a garment. Today’s pinking sheers, patented later in 1931 by Samuel Brinkman, were designed to make cuts that minimized loose threads that resulted in fraying.
Tomato…tomatoe – Shears vs. Scissors, what’s the different?
First, there is a difference, and both belong in your magic bag of cutting tricks.
The difference is simply the length of the blade and the shape of the handle. Scissor blades are about 6 inches long. Shears are longer, typically about 7 inches, but can be upwards of 12-13 inches. Shears have a smaller thumb handle whereas scissors have equal sized and shaped handled. The uneven shape allows for more control and greater comfort with bent handles to facilitate cutting on a flat surface. On that topic, comfort is important. The last thing you want while cutting out that vintage Vogue pattern on heavy wool crepe is for your hands to cramp. Soft grips help, but using the right blades makes all the difference. Personally, heavier metal shears are my go-to as the weight and size does half the work for me.
What’s in your wallet? Toolbox, rather
Like a good craftsman, your toolbox should offer alternatives and options where cutting tools are concerned. Your toolkit should at a bare minimum include:
- Dressmaker Shears (not scissors, look for the handle shape)
- Snipping tool or trimming scissors (small scissors used to clip threads close and open up seams)
- Stitch ripper or nipper (not scissors, but a bare necessity)
- Pinking Shears
In a perfect world…
A goal, not an immediate need, work to build up you cutting toolbox like a budding chef builds on her knife selection. In the kitchen, each cutting job is best facilitated by using the proper knife. You wouldn’t filet a fish with a butcher knife. Why would you cut fine silk with kitchen shears?
So work toward a well stocked toolbox. Good tools aren’t cheap. Look to add these over time:
- Applique scissors for fine cutwork
- Serrated edge for cutting very fine or slippery fabrics
- Dressmaker Sheers in a shorter and longer length (longer shears make cutting easier with heavy fabrics)
- Straight Scissors
- Snipping tool or trimming scissors
- Spring action scissors for cutting heavy weight utility fabrics
A note about rotary cutters…
I won’t lie, I love rotary cutters, but they take some practice to use correctly. When I discovered rotary pinking shears, OMG…my life changed! I quickly learned, however, that rotary cutters cannot go where scissors/shears dare to tread. But they do have a purpose. They are best suited for crisp fabrics and vinyl. Use with a mat. Be advised that they do wear out quickly.
Which brand is best?
I don’t propose to give you an endorsement. My rule of thumb is always, you get what you pay for. If I were a knight, I wouldn’t dream of cheaping out on my sword or dagger. I might lose a fight and lose my life! So too, as a someone who sews a lot, personally and professionally, I wouldn’t dream of letting price be my guide. Look for good hardened steel. The quality of the metal will determine how well it will hold an edge. Same with good knives.
There are lots of resources online to help you review the myriad of choices. I encourage you to do independent research. But, if you’re asking, and if I had to choose, money not a factor, my top choices would be:
- Fiskars Amplify RazorEdge Scissors 24cm
- Gingher 8” Knife Edge Dressmaker Shears (Good balance between weight and length with blades that properly maintained, will last a lifetime!)
- Kai Tailor’s Sheers (Good bang for your buck)
- Wilkinson EXO Black
- Fiskars Classic Universal Shears 25cm (always a good choice, great for budget minded sewists, and they hold their edge fairly well.
- Griffin Dressmaker Sheers (I have a pair that belonged to my grandmother. I had them sharpened and they are a great comfort as well as wonderful to use. I love coming full circle!)
All of these are great choices. I feel strongly that your craft deserves the best. I would never endorse spending more for the sake of spending more. There are good mid-range choice. Scissors/shears are a crafted tool. Good craftsmanship comes with a price. The better you scissors/shears, the smarter not HARDER you’ll work. You’ll have less hand fatigue, and your edges will be neat without snags in the project. In this one area alone is where you’ll discover that quality matters. One final thought on brand, like every other branded product, be wary of knock-offs. If the deal is ridiculous, it probably isn’t legit.
How to choose
Scissors/shears are like bikes or shoes. One size doesn’t fit all. You have to try them on.
- If you can, purchase a few and return what you don’t like. I know that’s common sense, but a lot of people don’t think they can buy and return. Unless it’s posted (and please read, don’t take my word for it), you can certainly return them, especially if you didn’t purchase online. Here too, most online resellers offer returns.
- Do they feel balanced?
- Do they fatigue you just holding them?
- Do they hang on the fabric or snag?
- Do you feel like you are working hard to not only cut through two layers, but even to open the blades?
- How easy is it to take them apart for sharpening? Like a bike, try them on different surfaces. Except for some differences here and there, such as with very heavy fabric, you should have a similar experience.
- Choose according to the type of work you normally do. You might not need heavy duty dressmaker shears if all you do is baby clothes, or lightweight projects.
Sometimes, you just have to marvel at ingenuity.
Over the years, scissors have morphed into a myriad of strange uses and shapes. Here are a few of my favorites, complements of Now That’s Nifty
It’s not enough to just look sharp. You gotta work at it!
You have to work to look sharp. If you don’t, stop reading and go away. Everybody has to do something to maintain a healthy, fit appearance. You cutting tools require some attention too. Just like your knives, you have to keep the edge sharp. Certain surfaces, like certain fabrics, wear down the edge quicker than others. I don’t recommend sharpening for regular maintenance. Sharpening is a tune up. If you hone your tools before starting a new project, then hone after, your blade edges will stay reasonably maintained. Once a year, take your tools to a professional and have them sharpened. For daily maintenance, a hand honer that you simply “cut” to hone is sufficient. Pinking shears on the other hand, have to be professionally sharpened.
Hack…schmack. Forget the foil thing
A note about tin-foil sharpening. There is a popular hack circulating that suggests using tin foil to sharpen your scissors. To an extent, “iron” sharpens “iron”. I get all weeby-jeeby just touching tin-foil. So I don’t even want to go there. And whatever you do, DO NOT use tin-foil on your pinking shears. Pinking shears are sharpened on the flat, not in the valleys. You will ruin your pinking shears that way. As for everyday, a little hand held ceramic or steel desktop scissor sharpener is great for quick honing on your regular shears and scissors.
Remember, it can’t replace professional sharpening. And just like a great selfie, angles are everything, so pay attention so you don’t ruin your blades. Lastly, put a drop of lightweight oil, the kind you use in your machine or WD-40 on the screw to keep everything loosey-goosey. Stiff shears will kill your hands faster than you can say 5 layers of burlap!
One more thing…
So back to the scissor incident of ’95, keep your tools safe and out of reach of both small children and lazy spouses who can’t take the time to look for a proper tool. You are an artist. Treat your tools as such and they will reward you with beautiful creations for years to come.
Sew ‘n piece my friends.