The Cutting Edge: Ten Things To Know NOW About Your Scissors and Shears
Where would we seamsters be without scissors? Slicing through fabric with a hacksaw? Gnashing our teeth on ribbon and trim? This most essential of sewing tools deserves a little respect from those of us who think we can grab a pair of utility scissors from the kitchen drawer and cut into a piece of embroidered silk with abandon. As with any other craft, the tools we use have a lot to do with the look of the finished product. There are as many types of scissors as there are jobs that require cutting, from manicure scissors to gardening shears, neither of which should be used as scissors for cutting fabric.
When you find your general dressmaking shears are not cutting it, so to speak, for instance, if they are too big and unwieldy for fine sewing projects, or your household scissors that you also use to trim flowers and cut open cardboard boxes have lost their edge, it’s time to consider treating yourself to high quality scissors. But before you do, know this . . .
Tip No. 1: Budget wisely. How much should you spend? Buy the best you can afford. They will make your sewing easier, more comfortable and last for years. Cheap scissors are sharp when you first use them, but they quickly lose their edge and having them sharpened may cost more than the purchase price. If you are a constant sewer, the dollars you spend replacing them could be spent on high quality and durability at the outset.
Tip No. 2: Learn the difference between shears vs scissors. Though most home sewers refer to both as scissors with no harm done, scissors are sold as an all-purpose tool used for cutting twine, boxes, paper . . . the list is endless. Usually made of aluminum or even plastic and found in hardware and grocery stores, they are riveted together rather than joined with an adjustable screw that allows you to correct an alignment gone askew. However, some scissors have a specific use and are of higher quality than utility scissors, such as appliqué and embroidery scissors. When it comes to serious fabric construction, though, the best sewing shears mean business. Found in lengths from 7 to 10 inches, they are usually distinguished by having one handle larger than the other to accommodate several fingers and designed for a particular purpose. The more expensive dressmaking shears, for instance, are angled to cut smoothly across your fabric. In this article, we use scissors to mean a sewing tool.
Tip No. 3: Consider your anatomy. If you are left handed, use left handed scissors or you will likely ruin good fabric trying to manipulate the wrong tool. Many scissors are available in both right and left handed models, though you may have to special order the type you need. You can also find ambidextrous scissors in some styles that work with either hand.
Tip No. 4: Choose user friendly every time. The best sewing scissors will have a smooth handle that fits your hand comfortably. Avoid cheaper shears with rough spots that cut into your fingers when you apply pressure to several thicknesses of fabric. This is especially important for sewers with arthritis, repetitive stress injuries or other issues that can cause pain. Also, look for shears with spring-action handles for effortless cutting.
Tip No. 5: Sharpness counts. Even if your cutter of choice slices through paper, if it isn’t razor sharp it can damage your fabric. As with good kitchen knives, all scissors and shears lose their edge with use, but the best blades will take an edge when sharpened. While the handles and blades may be made of different materials for both appearance and comfort, when possible, buy scissors with higher quality tempered or stainless steel blades that will always take a keen edge, be light in your hands, impervious to rust and will last for years.
Tip No. 6: Safety first. Some mothers do not like to keep sharp implements on hand to tempt curious toddlers, so they work with kiddy-proof scissors. It is better to take extra care to keep your good, sharp scissors in an inaccessible place when they are not at your side than shred your fabric edges with dull blades. A dressmaker tip is to make a long loop with a piece of string or ribbon, tie it to one handle and hang it around your neck as you work. Your children will never get at the scissors when your back is turned and you will be reminded to put them away safely when you take off your “scissors necklace.” Even if you don’t have small children around, always store scissors and shears out of sight in the box or shears holster they came in, or, make one from leather scraps or heavy-duty fabric. This will ensure that they do not succumb to accidents, such as a family member using them to attack a thick cardboard packing box, or nicking themselves with an unexpectedly sharp edge.
Tip No. 7: Take them for a test drive. Many sewing stores have samples of their good quality shears that you can try out on scraps. They should feel relatively light-weight and finely balanced in your hand. The blades and handles may be made of different materials. Pay attention to the blades and choose models made of tempered or stainless steel that will take a sharp edge, be light in your hands and impervious to rust, crucial factors when working with fabric.
Tip No. 8: Give your shears some love. Most important, keep them clean. After each sewing session, run a soft, clean cloth, such as those used to clean eyeglasses, over the blades. This will remove miniscule lint from fabric, particularly synthetics, that can cause abrasions on the blades. If the shears ever feel tight, apply a small drop of light sewing machine oil to the screw to keep it moving smoothly. Wipe it thoroughly to remove all excess and allow it to rest for a day or two prevent any residue from getting on your fabric. Don’t allow moisture to come in contact with your shears and NEVER put them in the dishwasher. Unless you are proficient with a whetstone, have expensive shears sharpened professionally. How often? As often as the blades become dull and that depends on how much cutting you do.
Tip No. 9: Buy the right tool for the job. Consider the types of sewing you do and the best scissors for those projects. For example, don’t invest in appliqué scissors when you only plan to make plain, sturdy clothes for your toddler. Why would you buy appliqué scissors if you don’t need them? Well, cutlery is attractively packaged to appeal to the consumer just like any other product. Brass handles with adorable curlicues on a pair of scissors can scream take me home with you just like a colorful remnant. And we know how many yards of those we buy and never use. However, some specialty tools are worth the investment. For instance, quilters need curved quilting scissors, embroiderers need shears that fit over hoops. Pinking shears with notched blades prevent seams from unraveling and lessen the bulk of heavy fabrics. Buttonhole scissors make clean cuts without snipping open the stitches at either end of the buttonhole and allow you to adjust the precise size of the buttonhole opening. size. Quilters use rotary scissors to cut through many layers of fabric but they appeal to sewers of all stripes (and checks and plaids) who like the control they offer when cutting around curves. Recognize that they can be hard on the hands and you MUST replace the blades often.
Tip No. 10: ALWAYS test new scissors and shears on scraps before cutting into your fabric.
Photo courtesy of Uwe Hermann