Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cultivating a Scissor Arsenal

Scissors are no doubt one of a sewist's most important tools. It's all well and good to start out with a cheap pair of shears, but pretty soon you'll want to amass a collection of quality cutting tools, each having its own special purpose. I've spent the last couple years figuring out what works for me, so I thought I'd share. This list may seem like overkill, but I really do use all of these quite frequently!

  1. Paper Scissors: these should be inexpensive and plentiful in your abode. I seem to have a pair in every drawer, which helps avoid temptation to cut paper patterns with my fabric shears.
  2. Dressmaker's Shears: aka the most important pair of scissors you'll own. Get a sharp, high-quality pair that feels good in your hand and cut smoothly. I'm quite partial to my new Kai 10" Shears which are lightweight and smooth as butter. 9" or 11" may work better for you, so try out several. I put a fancy fabric scrap on my handle to discourage "borrowing."
  3. Serrated Shears: these aren't a necessity, but they sure are nice. These shears look like standard shears, but they have tiny serrations along the blade, which will help you cut slippery fabrics. You know how regular shears can push a slippery fabric away while you're cutting? The serrated shears grip the fabric instead, making it easy to cut. Of course, another option for slippery fabrics is a rotary cutter.
  4. Pinking Shears: I often use these to create a vintage-y finish for seam allowances. Simply trim the two allowances together and you're done!
  5. Tailor's points: I couldn't live without these 5" Ginghers. They're perfect for notching and clipping into layers of thick fabrics, like when you're tailoring a coat collar made of heavy wool.
  6. Embroidery scissors (top photo, middle): Great for getting into small places and for ripping stitches.
  7. Applique scissors: also called duckbill scissors, these ingenius little things have a curved blade that helps you isolate one seam allowance at a time to avoid cutting things you shouldn't. Great for baby hems and grading seam allowances.
  8. Snips: I keep these by my machine for quick cutting of threads. Mine are the dollar-bin variety, not these shiny ones.
    So that's it, my nearest and dearest scissors. Any you'd like to add, readers? 


      1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      2. I have almost exclusively Gingher shears and scissors. Well worth every dime! With the arthritis I have in my hands, I can't afford to be fighting with a low quality pair of shears. My next purchase will be the tailor's points! I can't wait!

      3. I don't know what they're called exactly, but my mom recently got me a tiny pair of surgical scissors that have one blade straight and the other blade curved into a little hook. They're amazing at reaching in underneath stitching if you hate using seam rippers or have a more delicate fabric to remove stitches on. She got them from a vet supply store I think.

      4. No one who sews seriously would think that was overkill. I have nearly all those shears or scissors, a couple of other types, as well as two or three rotary cutters in different sizes. I prefer the smaller sizes (28 mm) for shirt and dress weights.

        I rarely pink seam edges,but using the rotary cutter wheel for that task results in a neater edge for me.

        Most of my tools are by Gingher, which I think is still considered to be the best brand, although I once had to return a new pair of shears. My other brands aren't as good.

        I'd love to buy a pair of "pattern" scissors some day. I believe those are used for cutting out patterns in oaktag and other firm media.

      5. Aside from my paper scissors, every other pair I use is Gingher. I absolutely love them--they are what I worked with when doing costuming for theatre companies and so I just feel comfortable with them. I Have a pair of the heavy steel shears as well as two pairs of the light-weight nylon ones, which are to die for. I'm currently saving up for some Gingher pinking shears, because the crappy pair I have now just isn't cuttin' it. (Bahaha! Punnery. :-D)

      6. funny, i was just thinking about this last night (while, er, admiring my scissor collection)! i'm starting up a scissor arsenal myself; slowly, because the good ones sure aren't cheap! right now i have 8" dressmaker shears, pinking shears, and applique shears - all gingher. i love my applique shears especially, one of those rando gifts i bought myself after reaching a small goal :) my embroidery shears are fiskers, and they are surprisingly awesome. really snippy haha. next on my list is a set of tailor's points :)

        i have a rotary cutter, but i rarely use it. maybe i just don't know how to operate it properly, but it frustrates me to no end.

      7. I have nice Gingher shears and pinking shears, but what I actually reach for the most often are my Fiskars. The spring assist just reduces hand fatigue so much. And the Fiskars "micro-tip" pair is what I keep next to my sewing machine(s) for snipping threads.

      8. Great timing. I realized there was a small/duckbill gap in my scissor collection when trying to do a bit of delicate cutting so I asked for a pair for Christmas. I get the feeling that once I have them I will wonder how I ever managed without.

      9. I find my double curve scissors (Janome) very useful, they allow me to snip threads really close to the fabric while having a comfortable hold because of the angle of the handles in relation to the blades. Good substitute for a seam ripper. I think they are designed for machine embroiderers so they can reach over the hoop and close to the fabric to snip threads without having to hold scissors in an awkward position.

        I'm planning on treating myself to some Gingher shears at some point, they are very expensive in the UK!

      10. I'm actually hoping you scissor-lovin' ladies (and gents?) could help me.

        I was given a beautiful pair of Gingher Dressmaking scissors for Christmas last year.(These ones, except with "gold-plated" handles) They are wonderfully sharp, but they are awfully stiff for cutting. I contacted Gingher about it and they sent me a replacement pair, but the new ones are just as stiff.

        Can I oil scissors? How do you go about doing it if you can?

      11. When I was an undergrad at UT [Hook 'em Horns], majoring in Textiles, I had the opportunity to have a pair of Left-handed 8in Ginghers made for me at wholesale prices.
        Woe to the child or (ahem!) husband who attempts to cut paper, plastic or hair with my Ginghers!!!!!

      12. I have all sorts of scissors but recently got a pair of Gingher scissors given to me by my best friend. I am finding them a bit stiff, like Sewfearless. I went to the Gingher website and they suggest using some home oil at the assembly point and very lightly on the blades. Hope that helps.

      13. I don't have a "full arsenal" but I recently helped a friend clear out her late mother's sewing room and acquired a pretty good selection of scissors. Her mother had good taste: They were almost all Ginghers.

        Our paper scissors are all marked with red tape since Dad could never tell the difference. Heaven help you if Mom caught you clipping coupons with her sewing shears!

      14. What is home oil? and does it get on your fabrics?

      15. I love my old dressmaking shears, I think they are about 30 years old but made to last. I did a blog post about my scissor collection recently.


      16. Living in a household of men as I do (I have two nearly flown sons plus hubby), I had to go a step further to protect my dressmaking shears. Solution? I bought some "limited release" Ginghers that have a floral chintz patterned handle. That, plus putting cheap paper-cutting scissors in every room, has done the trick. :-)

      17. Question: my mum passed on to me two pairs of pinking shears, both horribly blunt, but nice quality makes (Fiskars, and another all metal pair, make I don't remember).

        Confessions, confessions, I know why they are horribly blunt, because I couldn't resist 'borrowing' them as a child to play with the exciting zig-zaggy patterns that they made. Cardboard was fun.... and so the sins of the child shall revisit the adult!

        BUT - does anyone know if and where you can get these things resharpened?

        I'm based in the UK but my internet searches so far are to no avail. I tried John Lewis department store in London, emailed Fiskars to no avail, and have seen recomended trying to sharpen them with foil, on the internet.

        It seems extraordinarily wasteful that something as engineered as pinking shears can't be sharpened.

      18. I have most of these, too, and I use all of them regularly. I think most sewists do. Thank goodness for Gingher's shear sharpening service!

      19. One of my favorite pair of scissors was, I think, designed for use by manicurists -- they're small and have tiny curved blades.

        The curved blades make them perfect for snipping threads as close as possible to the fabric without ever running the danger of snipping the fabric in the process.

        They're also useful if you've developed a fabric pill or two, because these can also be rather surgically removed, without cutting the fabric.

      20. My primary shears are 8" Ginghers with spring action. They are absolutely fantastic, but they are the second replacement pair. The spring action in my first 2 shears gave out after a few months, so Gingher replaced them for free. The non-springy shears are still absolutely fantastic though! They were all a little stiff to start out, but after some time they loosen up, and I've never oiled mine.

        I use my 45mm rotary for almost everything, but I've been meaning to get a smaller rotary, as well as to play with the pinking blades I've seen. I always keep a large supply of replacement blades handy so that I'm never cutting with a dull blade, but I wonder if these can be sharpened?

        I'm having all my serrated knives sharpened next week (at $2 each! Whoo!) and I think I'll bring in my Friskars pinking shears to get tuned up too.

        I always get excited when retiring sewing scissors, because then I can use them on elicit projects, like fancy paper and cutting my hair. It thrills me!

      21. I bought my 10" shers off the local equivalent of ebay for 10% of a new pair, and no idea what brand as thy must be 50 yers old and have no markings left on them. But they are incredibly good and hold a sharp edge brilliantly. I think shears are the easiest to get second hand because they are so useless for anything but what they are for, people who inherit them are happy to sell them!

      22. I totally need to work on my scissor collection...and this is great info. I currently hide my fabric scissors from the rest of the household...I don't trust them!

      23. Your list of scissors looks a lot like mine, Gertie. One exception is that I use the embroidery scissors at my machine for all of my thread clipping. I buy good ones, but I still wear them out about every 3 months!

      24. What timing! I'm on the look out for new scissors. I lost my only pair of fabric shears *que lots of swearing*. Time to invest in some Gingers?!

      25. Gracious! I do not have nearly that many, and am glad to know of all the different types I need.

        I have a recurring problem with my pinking shears getting dull. It doesn't seem to happen to any of my other scissors or shears. Is there something about the pinking blades that causes this?

      26. lladybird:

        Using rotary cutters takes practice. I usually don't cut into anything of importance without trying to cut a few lines on a sample. For straight edges, I usually use a guide, such as a quilting ruler. It often feels as if I'm cutting over the line and under the ruler in order to cut off the line. I've gotten better at cutting with shears, but a rotary cutter is always cleaner.

        I wouldn't say it's quicker than using shears, merely cleaner.

        BTW, you still need a small pair of scissor for tight corners; the risk of miscalculating with a rotary cutter is too great.


        My understanding is that the blades can't be sharpened, no more than you could sharpen an ordinary disposable razor blade. They are essentially circular razor blades.

      27. Maybe I should add that I seldom cut around paper pieces that have been pinned to fabric. I trace the outline of the pattern piece (if it's a pattern I've used before I've transferred it to oaktag, which is easy to trace against) onto the paper with chalk and cut it out.

        It's a very accurate method.

      28. I adore my 11" Kai Shears. Worth every cent.

        I make a hash of trying to use rotary cutters...cannot seem to cut through fabric consistently, even thin, single layers... Drives me nuts and I end up using my divine shears!

      29. I can't live without my rotary cutters! I switch between a 45mm and a 28mm pretty frequently. I got a pinking blade for the big one too and it has been super useful.

      30. I have some of those. I especially love my Ginghers that my grandma gave me. Another pair I have that you don't have listed that I find useful are the buttonhole scissors she gave me. While I don't always use them for buttonholes the set cutting length has come in handy during other projects. :)

      31. Oh, I so want a pair of duckbill scissors. My dear shining expert sewist aunt is a quilting teacher, and she gets me Gingher scissors with her teacher discount!

        Thanks Gertie, for sharing your equipment thoughts--I've been hoping for that for ages. I love hearing what tools other sewists find handy!

        p.s. Been working on the Burda pleated skirt sew-along--so far, fun! But man, taping together the pattern was FUSSY! I'm rethinking how many of those Burda patterns I want to buy in the future!

      32. I have the usual set of purpose made sewing scissors but my favorites were given to me by my mother who is a nurse, all of these are used in surgery or wound care: angled and offset scissors with super sharp pointed tips perfect for clipping the tiniest stitches (e.g. removing a badly sewn buttonhole), tiny blade snips for making faster work of clipping loose threads, angled bandage scissors with super short blades and rounded points just right for grading seams (much better than an applique scissor because it's easier to control) And don't forget about hemostats! They are useful for doing everything from doing a burn test, acting as a third hand for holding tiny fabric together while I get it under the pressure foot to turning a beautiful collar point.

      33. Hi Everyone,
        Came across the Singer 160 year anniversary website and thought you all would find it interesting to read.


        Best Regards,

      34. I do a lot of sewing, so I have a large arsenal too. I have a regular 8" Ginghers and a serated blade variety, an 8" and 9" pair of Kai (I love both) and embroidery, curved, duckbill, snips, and two surgical steel seam rippers. I keep paper scissors in two or three sizes everywhere, as my whole family knows what would happen if they touched my 'real scissors'. Except the four year old, who used the duck-bill scissors to cut her hair...

      35. Nothing to add, exept thank you for introducing me to duckbill scissors! I'd never heard of them until you mentioned them, and although I don't use them every time I sew, they sure come in handy from time to time =)

      36. I went into Joann's yesterday and they had all their scissors at 50% off. Needless to say, I bought the Gingher 8" dressmaking shears - the lightweight ones. I also looked for some duckbill but they didn't have any.

        I am also amassing quite a selection of scissors. I just got thread snips last week.

      37. OMG I have e same scissors as GERTIE! I feel like a celebrity! LOL. I fell for the Kai ones while trying out nearly every single pair at the shop... I even waited while they ordered a smaller pair as the ones they had in stock were huge. MMM they are dreamy...

      38. I saw buttonhole scissors on the Gingher website. They are adjustable. Has anyone used these scissors?

      39. I know everyone is mentioning Gingher, but I want to give a shout-out to Kai - best scissors evah! Like butter!

      40. Shears are sooo important! My kids soon learned growing up in our household that if they wanted to cut paper/cardboard (or anything else besides fabric for that matter...)They had better find one of the many cheap pairs of scissors that I had for those purposes. My Gingher's were off limits! A lesson they all learned the hard way!!! So after our son was gone for 2 years on a mission for our Church, I find him trying to cut cardboard with my Gingher's..... he's lucky he lived!
        When he got married his wife was saying how she would love to own a nice pair of shear's... So for Christmas she we got her a pair of Gingher's to sew with, a pair of kitchen shear's to use (where else but the kitchen) and then a cheap pair of scissors for cutting paper. And as a joke.... our son got a pair of little safety scissors so he wouldn't feel left out! Although
        I'm sure he uses the kitchen shears tons cause he's always finding something great to cook!

      41. Yes: If you're left-handed, get left-handed scissors! It may sound basic, but I totally forgot to ask and bought the "regular" (right-handed) kind. It makes a world of a difference.

      42. They're amazing at reaching in underneath stitching if you hate using seam rippers


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      Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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