Our series, For the Love of Tools, looks at the history, uses, and types of tools for design, sewing, and making. Next up in the series, we are highlighting scissors. This cutting tool has a long history that has developed over the millennia, and a well-made pair of scissors will aid you in cutting the perfect pattern piece. We use a variety of types of scissors in our studio, which receive A LOT of everyday wear cutting fabric yardage and bundles, garment pattern pieces, and DIY kits. Learn more below about the history of scissors and explore the various types of shears. Find all of our scissor offerings from The School of Making here.
It is thought that scissors were first used around 1500 BC in ancient Egypt; but the earliest known use of scissors was found in Mesopotamia approximately 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. These first scissors consisted of two bronze blades connected at the handles by a thin, flexible strip of curved bronze, which held the blades in alignment to allow them to be squeezed together, and to pull them apart when released. These spring scissors continued to be used in Europe until the 16th century and you can still find variations on this type of scissor construction on the market today.
There is a lovely urban legend that suggests the pivot scissor was invented by Leonardo da Vinci, but there is no evidence to support the case. It is thought that these scissors, where the blades pivot at a point between the blade and the handles, were invented by the Romans around AD100. Shortly thereafter, they are documented in use around the globe and the pivot design remains the most commonly used method for creating scissors and represent the most commonly used scissor style internationally.
Even within the pivot style, there is a wide range of styles and, just like the thimble, the scissor has been an object of great decoration and obsession for people across the ages. There are scissors in all varieties of straight and curved edges and each of these has a specific use.
Types of Fabric Scissors and Shears
Shears typically have one straight and one bent-angle blade, a round thumb hole, and an oblong finger hole. The bent angle allows you to rest the bottom blade of the scissor on the table while you are working. The bend helps prevent you from lifting the fabric off the table as you cut, reducing fabric slippage and ensuring a more accurate cut, but also helping to reduce fatigue when you are doing a lot of cutting. Shears are available in lengths from 6” to 12” (or greater). I have a pair of shears with 9” blades that have been my favorite for over two decades. When looking for the perfect pair of shears for you, it is important to note that the feel of the shear in your hand. They should fit your hands’ length and have the right amount of tension. You may also find that you prefer one size of shear for a particular type of fabric. At The School of Making, we use Gold-Handled Knife-Edge Dressmaker Shears.
Spring-Loaded Garment Shears
These shears use a spring-loaded mechanism, which you squeeze down on to perform the cutting action. After each cut, the scissors force themselves back open, creating less hand fatigue. Our production team, who use a repetitive cutting motion throughout much of the day, prefers this type of shear. You should note that over time, the blades become dull and don’t sharpen as well as some of the more traditional shears we’ve used. I like having a pair of Spring Loaded and a pair of traditional Tailor’s Shears available and I alternate cutting between the two pairs to avoid hand fatigue. At The School of Making, we use two types: Fiskars Spring-Loaded and Spring-Action Knife-Edge Dressmaker Shears.
Embroidery scissors have thin sharp matching blades that range in size from 3” to 4″ and are used for cutting small areas of fabric where great precision is needed. The two sharply pointed tips are perfect for small and/or delicate cutting and trimming threads. There are embroidery scissors with two finger holes—like a normal scissor—and also with flat, spring-loaded handles like pliers. You may also love the small stork shaped version that has a curved neck that helps get into hard-to-reach areas for trimming. At The School of Making, we use: 3.5″ gold-handled Epaulette, Stork, and Lion’s Head, and 4″ stainless steel.
The knife-edge scissor has one pointed tip on the bottom and one bent tip blade on the top. Also used for cutting small areas of fabric where great precision is required, the knife-edge most commonly comes in 4” and 5” versions. At The School of Making, we use the stainless steel 5″ knife-edge scissors.
These shears have saw-tooth blades that create a zig-zag edge, which reduces fraying in cut woven fabric. Some projects call for the zig-zag cut as a decorative element.
The appliqué scissor has two distinct blades: one pointed tip and one paddle-shaped. The paddle-shaped blade pushes away the bottom layer of fabric for cutting close to a stitched edge.
These scissors are used for trimming threads in embroidery. The double curve allows comfortable hand positioning above work in the embroidery hoop (or at the sewing machine).
Designed for cutting bandages off of patients’ limbs, these feature a guard on one side that can be useful in some textile situations.
I’ve recently fallen in love with the range of scissors available for surgeons. From the small curved Wagner scissor to the blunt-tipped Skylar scissor, these will change your sewing life forever. Once you deep dive into the world of surgical scissors, you may never come back.
Snips are small scissors—similar to embroidery scissors—with a spring-loaded handle. They are great for traveling or when you are working in a small, contained area. They can also be used when you need to make lots of smaller cuts.
Look for more tool highlights on the Journal as we continue our series.