Sew A Fine Seam Part 4 – Scissors

In the next (long awaited) instalment of the ‘Sew a Fine Seam’ series I thought we would look at one of the basic pieces of equipment we need – the humble scissor.

It is believed that scissors probably originated in ancient Egypt. Earliest examples in existence come from Mesopotamia and date from between 3 and 4,000 years ago. These were spring loaded, like early sheep shears, not pivoted scissors as we know them today. These were invented by the Romans, around 100AD. 

In the UK, William Whiteley and Sons (Sheffield) were making pivoted scissors by 1760 but the company are believed to have begun trading earlier. The first trade mark was issued in 1791 and the company is still producing beautiful scissors today.

But what scissors does the patchworker actually need? Let’s have a look at the different types and their benefits. 

Shears, also known as dressmaking or tailoring shears, are the largest of the scissors we use, 7” or longer. The long blades form a straight edge through to the handle to enable flat cutting of larger areas of fabric. These are great for cutting your backing fabrics or, as the name suggests, dressmaking.

Quilting/patchwork scissors are a smaller pair of general fabric scissors which are ideal when cutting smaller pieces of fabric. Look for a blade around 6” or slightly less, with a sharp point. 

Embroidery scissors, traditionally in the shape of a stork as they originated from the small snips midwives carried to cut the cords of babies. These have now developed into swan shapes or even unicorns and have a sharp point with thin blades to snip threads close to the fabric.

Appliqué scissors, also known as duckbill or knife edge scissors. These are a speciality tool for trimming excess fabric from your appliqué. I find these useful as they have a flat blade, in the shape fo a ducks bill, and a thin cutting blade. The flat edge sits against the base fabric allowing excess appliqué fabric to be trimmed without cutting into the background by accident. You can get a ‘close shave’ neatly. These are brilliant if you are planning on joining one of my Draw, Stitch and Trim appliqué workshops such as the Dragon workshop.

Appliqué or Duck Bill scissors

Snips are ideal for keeping close to your sewing machine for trimming threads and can be bought quite cheaply.

Pinking shears are a similar size to the flat shears described above but cut leaving a zig zag edge which helps prevent fraying. Useful in dressmaking but I don’t tend to use these in patchwork as they can lead to inaccuracy.

Scissors can come with flat or serrated blades. Why? Because the serrated blades are great for slippery or delicate fabrics. The serration helps ‘hold’ the fabric as they cut, allowing greater accuracy with difficult fabrics.

This seems a long list but you really don’t have to have all of these at once. I would recommend a pair of shears or mid-sized scissors to start with. The old adage of get the best you can afford works here as these will last you years. Add a pair of embroidery scissors to your Christmas list and, as your sewing develops, you will then know which area of fabric crafting interests you most. You may decide that dressmaking is ‘your thing’ and get a pair of pinking shears. Perhaps you will fall in love with appliqué making a pair of duck bill scissors useful. As with our ‘stash’ of fabrics, our ‘stash’ of equipment tends to grow with time….

There are many makes out there to choose from and these days you can get them in many different finishes but look after your scissors as they are a essential piece of equipment for all us crafters.

You can find the other blogs in the Sew a Fine Seam series here:

Part 1 – Why Imperial?

Part 2 – The Scant Seam

Part 3 – The Dark Side

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