Sewing Scissors - How Many Pairs Do you Really Need?
Two pairs of sewing scissors – that’s how many you should have, according to most basic sewing instructors. But if you ask most sewers, they will tell you they own a lot more pairs than that! And most sewers will have a “favorite” pair.
What makes scissors different?
For sewing scissors, you do need at least two pair – one with long blades to cut fabric, and another, smaller pair to cut threads and do trimming.
But there are also specialty scissors for specific use, such as serrated (for sheer slippery fabric), left-handed (so you can see where you are cutting if you are left handed), spring loaded (for ergonomic ease), snips (for cutting threads), pinking (which makes a zigzag cut to edges), embroidery (small,with sharp points), appliqué (with a “duckbill” blade so you won’t gouge), and electric.
Depending on what type of sewing you do, you may want to purchase a third kind, just to make your sewing projects go easier.
Sewing Scissors or Shears?
There is a difference between scissors and shears. Scissors usually refer to cutters that have 2-6” blades. Shears have longer blades – anywhere from 7-14”.
There is also a difference in handles – shears have two different sized/shaped holes for fingers, whereas scissors usually have two identically shaped handle holes designed to hold one finger each.
Don’t worry too much about the terminology though - most sewers refer to scissors and shears interchangeably, just out of habit.
Most sewing scissors are made from steel and then have added finishes to enhance their durability. Many have knife blade edges, although there are some which have serrated blades, advertised to make cutting lightweight fabrics such as silk and chiffon easier.
The length of the blade depends upon the fabric thicknesses that you usually cut, and what feels comfortable to you. When you cut fabric, you use the entire blade, so obviously 14” blades will need extra leverage, but are very useful on heavy fabrics, or when cutting through many layers.
Most sewers choose 8-9” shears, just for the comfort and ease of handling an average size.
Your fabric cutting sewing scissors should have handles that are bent on an angle. With dressmaking bent handle shears, the bottom blade will slide along the cutting table while keeping the fashion fabric flat, making it easier for you to cut accurately. If you're cutting knits, here's an article on
how to use sewing scissors to cut knit fabrics.
Cutting should be easy – you should never have to strain or use pressure to cut through layers of fabric. Using the well sharpened blades all the way to their tips should be done in one long, smooth movement. It should feel like “cutting through butter”, as the saying goes.
For arthritis sufferers,or if your hands get tired cutting fabric, several manufacturers have made spring-loaded scissors, which allows the blades to open with no effort.
Left handed scissors are made so that left-handers can see where they are cutting. As a leftie, you may be used to using right-handed scissors, or maybe you have purchased a pair of scissors which have handles for left handed people, but still block your view of the cutting because the cutting blades are for right handed people. So look for scissors that have cutting blades with the upper blade on your left and see if they work better.
Brands of Sewing Scissors
Purchasing a brand recommended by your sewing instructor or sewing guru works. Personally, I own many pair, but I always have several pair of Gingher shears and trimmers. I have my students try the generic kind, then the Ginghers. They are amazed at the difference in the cutting ease and ability to cut through many layers with the Gingher scissors!
I also own a pair of Kai scissors, but the company only sells at sewing shows, and so are difficult to find.
Both Gingher and Kai have been highly rated in tests by sewers and popular sewing magazines - and they are right. They may cost more than the brands you can buy at your local generic stores, but the cutting and serviceability of the top brands is worth the price.
Does cost matter?
Perhaps what really matters is how they feel in your hands. All scissors begin sharp, but if they are awkward in your hand, they will never be your “go-to” pair. Cost sometimes equates to quality though - because the manufacturing process is more detailed and the quality of the steel is more controlled.
Buying scissors that are worth sharpening is recommended. But, if you are on a limited budget, get what you can, while you judge what will work best for the long-term.
Sewing Scissor Care
Once you have a new pair of scissors, label them for fabric use only. Hide them from your family members. And when you use them, make sure you don’t cut over any pins or drop them.
Wipe dust and lint off the blades frequently. Keep the scissors closed, and store them in their package or a holder to keep them dust free.
Occasionally, put one drop of sewing machine oil (which is lighter than other kinds of oil) where the scissor blades meet, and another on the screw that holds the blades together. Open and close the blades a few times, then let sit for a few minutes before wiping away any excess. Before using the scissors to cut, make sure you’ve cut on a scrap of fabric – you don’t need any oil stains on fabric you’re going to use!
Sharpening Sewing Scissors
It’s time to sharpen scissors when they don’t work effortlessly anymore. Any “catching”, rough spots or dullness that you can feel should be dealt with immediately.
If you’ve paid a lot for a good pair of scissors, trying to sharpen them yourself is kind of pointless economics. Fiskars has a sharpening tool – go ahead and use it on their brand, but never use it for your expensive shears.
Many sewing sites give directions on how to sharpen scissors using a sharpening stone from the hardware store. But I would never do this.
The anatomy of scissors is such that it is the angle of the edge bevel, and the contour of the blades as they meet that makes for sharpness. Every brand is different. Are you willing to try and duplicate the fine tuning of a great pair of scissors just to save a few dollars?
Gingher will sharpen any pair of their own brand of scissors for $7.50 – that pays for an expert that will do it right, and the postage to send your scissors back to you.
Using experts to sharpen your most used sewing tool is truly the right way to go.
Your local generic fabric store probably advertises a scissor sharpening “service”. With so many scissor brands and styles out there, what are the chances that the “expert” is going to know how to sharpen yours? Make sure that the person is qualified – not just some part time money-maker. Sharpening tools usually consist of more than a hand-held grinding stone!