How many pairs of scissors do you have in your house at this very moment? 3-4? Me? I have at least 26, not including my kids school scissors, kitchen shears or my garden shears and I know there are more that I just can’t find. Yes, 26+. What about scissors only for sewing? I guess I have a scissor habit. It’s ok though, having the right scissors for the right task is extremely important and you can never have too many scissors. Unless of course they get in the way of living your life… which mine aren’t, I can never find them when I want them! I remember when I was young, going over to friends houses and them not having copious amounts of cutting tools. So weird. They had one ‘good’ pair, maybe…. imagine cutting a thread with pinking shears? Or cutting out an entire dress pattern with a kindergarteners blunt tipped scissors. Yikes, no thank you.
This post is about using the right sewing scissors for projects and cutting fabric so we can get the best results with the least amount of effort.
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1) Don’t hurt yourself with scissors. Remember being yelled at for running with scissors when you were little? Well, pretend I’m in your ear saying the same thing. Please do not jab or stab or cut yourself on them. I’ve had friends who needed stitches after opening a birthday present with scissors. Can never be too careful.
2) Use the right kind of scissors for the job and NOTHING ELSE. You’ll see why that’s important and a major rule in our house. The kids and hubby know to ask before using the scissors. They’re well trained by now.
3) Never cut anything other than fabric or thread with the scissors listed below if you want them to stay sharp and in good shape. Never cut anything other than fabric or thread if you don’t want to get in trouble! Using a pair of fabric scissors on paper even once will dull them slightly. Paper is rough since it’s a wood product. It dulls scissors much faster than fabric.
A Special Test:
I have a special test that I do to tell if a pair of scissors is good. It’s a sound check of sorts. Take the pair of scissors, open them and then close them close to your ear – away far enough not to hurt yourself of course. The scissors should make a nice metal on metal sound going all the way down to the tips. Nerdy! But actually works. You have to get good at it, take a pair of scissors you know are good and try it. It’ll become music to your ears. Then take a pair that needs sharpening or is cheap and try to do the same thing, it won’t sound the same. It might not make any sound at all, which means the blades aren’t touching. Blades that don’t touch don’t cut.
Here are the types of scissors/shears you will likely find in a sewing room or art studio:
Dress Maker Shears:
These are the massive ones you see in old shows and ads with a woman making clothing. They are called shears because they have an angle to the handle which allows the blade to rest flat on the cutting surface. This allows the fabric to stay as close to flat as possible while being cut. You want this for accuracy and an easier, cleaner cut. They are big, they cut a lot of fabric at a time and the best pairs will clip all the way down to the tips. The older ones are made out of all metal and many sewists swear that they never need to be sharpened. These are a really good brand with amazing reviews and remind me of the ones my Mom has and ones you would recognize from TV. Sooooo nice! I like my current variety but don’t love them, I think they need to be sharpened. Here is an updated version of the ones I have. They are very easy on the hands, something I think is important if you are cutting fabric all day.
Pretty much the same as dressmaker shears but sturdier, meant for cutting through several layers of fabric at a time. I can’t help but notice the sexism here… Dressmakers were usually women and tailors were usually men. Does it ever end? These are something I do not have. I think these are a fantastic version, I’ve heard great things.
Ever wonder how people cut fabric with a cute little zig-zag edge? They used pinking shears! Again, these types of scissors usually have a bent handle, hence using the term shears. These suckers are heavy. They are used to cut the edges of woven fabric to slow down the fraying that naturally happens. This was the thing to do before the invention of the serger and coverstitch machines. If you look inside your shirt, you’ll see the seam likely has a bunch of looped stitches that go over the edge of the fabric. That is the modern way to keep fabric from raveling (or unraveling, funnily enough they both mean the same thing?!?) I have a serger but I don’t love having to pull it out when I want to do a quick seam, so I pull out the pinking shears instead! These are the ones I have, classic orange handled Fiskars.
Small Fabric Scissors for More Intricate Cuts:
So, this is the pair that is probably best for cutting out applique pieces before attaching and any kind of curved work that can’t be done with a longer blade. The ones I have my eyes on are these. The serrated blades bring the fabric in to be cut cleanly instead of pushing the fabric out and that’s when you get crappy cuts. There I said it. I have a whole in my collection. The holidays are coming up and these are going on my list!
These are the littlest scissors normally found in the store. They are sharp and very pointy for cutting tiny threads cleanly and little detailed cuts found in applique. Most pairs are slightly curved. This curve helps keep the sharp tips away from what you are cutting so you just cut the thread. Totally genius. I think this is the category of scissors I have the most of, see below. I keep them in my knitting bags and my sewing kit. Knitters are lucky, they only need one sharp thing to cut yarn with, doesn’t even need to be scissors, it can be a knife or sharp rock. There are a lot of fancy shaped pairs, no matter what just get a good pair, you won’t regret it. Threads can be tricky and not want to cut cleanly.
Double Curved Embroidery Scissors
These are exactly what they sound like. Not just curved blades, but the handles are curved as well. This is extremely useful for machine embroidery. This allows you to clip a thread without taking the hoop off of the machine. Glorified snips! These are the pair I have. I would take a photo of mine, but I can’t find them 😢
These are similar to embroidery scissors in size but their main purpose is to just snip threads and that’s it. They are usually spring loaded which means they stay open so all you have to do is close them to get them to cut. Can you see a reason why I don’t use these? The blades are open most of the time. I can just feel myself getting stabbed with them. Thankfully most brands come with a small cover. I have some but don’t use them much and don’t love them, but so many other crafters swear by them, so I wanted to include them here. I don’t find them to cut as nicely as the embroidery scissors, the blades just don’t come together as nicely as a well made pair of embroidery scissors. They are technically scissors after all… Here are a pair similar to the ones I have, they’re decent and come with a cover so I don’t accidentally sit on them while open.
Heavy Duty Shop Snips:
These can be used for when you need to cut through thick things but don’t require as much precision as Tailors shears. I originally bought a pair for clipping a rag quilt (rag quilt is made by taking your small quilt squares and sew the batting in between the front and back pieces and sew them into a quilt first, instead of making a top and bottom with a batting layer in between. When you cut the seam allowances before washing, they fray nicely for a very rustic look) but have found them super useful. The pair at this link are specifically made for rag quilts, where were they when I needed them?
They have been so used, they are literally covered with something sticky and some red fuzz at the moment. These are the ones I direct the kids to when I think they’re cutting wire or small twigs. There is even a small notch for cutting wire. I told my kids to use the notch but they didn’t, so now they don’t cut layers of fabric so well. It’s ok, we all need that junk pair that does the hard work. You can find that pair here.
These are very specialized. They also look kind of funny compared to the rest of the scissors listed here. These have an extra bit of metal on one of the blades. A stitched down applique needs to be trimmed and these these scissors cut off excess fabric as close to the stitch line as possible without cutting the base fabric. The base fabric is what the applique is sewn onto. Here is the pair I have.
These are the kind that every house has. You know, the ones that everyone uses on everything. The ones that either clunk around in the junk drawer or are out on display with pens and pencils because they are used several times a day. I think we have three such pairs, with one always missing…. They are usually about 7 -8 inches long and have handles that you can put almost all of your fingers in. Mine are all Fiskars and either have the typical orange or pink handles.
Popular Features of Scissors to Keep in Mind while Shopping:
Sharp blades of course!
Cuts all the way to the tip
Serrated blades pull fabric into the blades instead of pushing it out
Non-stick coating – useful when cutting clear plastic and oil cloth
Carry case – your scissors need protection from you just as much as you need protection from them! Or I might just be talking about myself.
Cutting Specific Materials:
Even though all scissors are meant to cut things, there are a few kinds of specific scissors for specific fabrics.
For example, thick fabric will need large/sturdy scissors like Tailors Shears while delicate, thin fabrics will do best with shorter, serrated blades. The serrated blades pull the fabric into the blades instead of shove them away from the blades. This fabric is actually hard to cut, it doesn’t want to play nice.
Scissor Construction Materials:
Cushion handled scissors can be made with a metal blade and plastic handles or they can be all metal with a thin covering of plastic/rubber on the handle part. While cushioned handles are great, the plastic or rubber handles may give the scissors a less stabile feeling and may affect performance on the pairs that the blade metal does not go the entire length of the scissors. I love cushioned handles, yes they are more comfortable but the real reason is they don’t feel cold in your hands! I hate being cold, I am already working in the basement that is cold year round so if I’m working on a project, I do not want to pick up cold scissors! Call me crazy, but it’s a little thing that bothers me when I’m trying to make a bunch of things at the same time.
Blade size is important depending on your project. Long dress maker shears are ideal for cutting patterns out in fabric. The blades are so long, it requires fewer ‘chomps’ from the scissors. Every time you chomp down, you want it to be as smooth as possible and with long blades, less chomps equals a smoother cut. Compare that to embroidery scissors… Embroidery scissors have super short and usually curved blades they are made to not cut the fabric of your project, only the thread. Imagine cutting a thread really close to the fabric with dress maker shears? And imagine trying to cut a smooth line from a pattern with tiny curved blades. Nope, not going to turn out well…
Scissor Handle Size:
Too large and they’re harder to control, you’ll lose accuracy. Too small and they’re uncomfortable. Remember those little safety, blunt tipped scissors in school? Think about cutting fabric all day with those!
Heavier scissors feel sturdier and can help with a more precise cut due to the leverage they provide. The weight reminds you to keep them down on the cutting surface which helps you cut a smoother line. Lighter weight scissors are easier on the hands and are better for travel. I usually have a pair of scissors in my knitting bag. Since all you need to do is snip yarn while knitting, I bring the smallest scissors I have. Plus there are always the two pairs I keep in my glove box in my car. I’m a total nerd.
Left/Right Handed Scissor Handles:
You’re an adult now, buy the best scissors you can afford and make sure they are not universal, make sure they are for your dominant hand and only your dominant hand. Many young kids have trouble cutting using the wrong handed scissors. The way the blades cross over determines which hand to use them in. You need to see the blade working from your point of view. I’m a righty so I look at what I’m cutting from the left side of the scissors, pointing my view down and to the right.
The most important thing to keep your scissors in good shape is to only cut fabric or thread with them. Do not allow someone to take your new, fabric scissors to a piece of wire. OH MY GOODNESS. That gives me the chills.
Other than that, keep them clean, store them in a dry place and keep them dry. If you need to cut something wet with any kind of scissors, just dry them immediately after. Except those handy kitchen shears – which I love BTW. Cutting pizza is a breeze using them, our pizza cutters are always crappy after use on pizza stones.
I know that many people who cut hair use oil on their scissors to keep them in tip top shape. I have never heard to do that with fabric scissors and I wouldn’t anyway. I do not want any kind of oil on my scissors to transfer to my fabric. EVER.
If your scissors are slowly dulling, you can cut into sandpaper or aluminum foil to help hone them for a quick fix. Otherwise, take them to a professional near by. Some JoAnn Fabrics stores have folks who sharpen scissors visit the store, set up an appointment to take advantage!
Don’t Forget When Buying New Scissors:
Each of these types of scissors do come in various sizes. Keep in mind your storage situation, don’t go buying hedge trimmer sized shears when all you can fit in your sewing kit is a pair of embroidery scissors 🤪
Brands to keep in mind:
Fiskars are the popular and usually well made pairs available in the US – they also have a ton of other cutting implements in other areas of interest. I have read amazing things about the Kai brand and the Gingher brand has been the go to for generations.
How many pairs of scissors do you own?