There's a lot of talk about sewing equipment—how to find the best, what makes this brand serger better than that one, and so on. But one humble tool often gets overlooked.
When is the last time you really looked at your sewing scissors?
Are they a pair of co-opted kitchen scissors that leave your edges looking a little chewed? A pair of plastic-handled shears that's seen better days? Believe it or not, the quality of your scissors can have a big impact on the quality of your finished sewing projects. Not only can you cut your patterns more accurately when you're using the right tools, but cleanly cut edges fray less, and you can cut more quickly and comfortably with a quality pair of scissors.
But what exactly does "quality" mean? And how do you know a great pair of scissors from a mediocre one? We set out to find the answers.
What kinds of scissors do I need?
This is the first question you should ask yourself, because when it comes to sewing tasks and scissors, one size most definitely does not fit all.
Knife-Edged Dressmaker's Shears
These are an absolute staple of the sewing world. 'Knife-edged' refers to the smooth blades, as opposed to pinking shears or serrated blades—not the same thing, in case you were wondering. Despite the name, dressmaker's shears are good for all kinds of sewing, because they're made to cut fabric accurately and quickly. They're sizeable (the blades are typically over six inches long), and, like all shears, have handles in which one side is intended for the thumb only, and the other for two or three fingers. This makes them easier and more comfortable to control. Some are spring-assisted, which means they gently pop back to the open position after each snip. These are perfect for people who sew a lot, or who have arthritis or weakness in their hands or wrists.
Serrated shears are also available—these are a specialty tool most commonly used with delicate, slippery fabrics since the serrated edges prevent slipped and allow a more accurate cut.
Perfect for finishing raw edges and preventing fraying, pinking shears create a characteristic peaks-and-valleys edge on the materials they cut. Whenever possible, opt for a pair that is well made and sturdy, as a loose or wiggly hinge point can make your shears very difficult to cut with. Sharpening them is a job best left to the professionals, but it isn't one you want to neglect, as dull pinking shears can chew their way through fabric and leave a very unsightly edge.
Another sewing basket staple. Thread snips are less like regular scissors and more like a pair of tiny, spring loaded blades. They look a bit like a tiny version of old fashioned sheep shears, if you've ever seen those, and they're designed to do much the same thing: neatly trim fibres as close to the base as possible. Thread snips are perfect for finishing touches on a completed garment, cutting a seam loose from the sewing machine after it's completed, snipping corners, and other tiny tasks where a small, pointed blade comes in handy. They're especially good at helping to free thread snarls from within a bobbin mechanism...not that that ever happens to us sewists, of course...
Another style of scissor designed for small, delicate work. These are great for notching and clipping, trimming appliques, and can be used in place of thread snips (though they lack the spring-action that some sewists prefer). Embroidery scissors are often highly decorative. Since they were originally made to accompany the genteel feminine past-time of fancy stitch-work (not the utilitarian everyday mending), you can often find them made in the shape of birds, and done with brass or gilded handles. Some sewists even collect them! But however pretty they may be, they must also be functional, which means lightweight but sturdy, easy to keep sharp, and just the right size for fiddly small tasks.
Brands to Try
Every sewist has their own personal favourites, and offerings vary from company to company (not everyone offers left-handed scissors, for instance). That being said, one universal truth when it comes to quality sewing scissors is that you get what you paid for. Be prepared to make a bit of an investment. It's well worth it in the long run. These three brands are the biggest names in professional-quality sewing scissors; though there are plenty more out there, these are definitely the most popular.
At the pricier end of the spectrum, Gingher has a huge range of shears, snips, and scissors. Their tools are designed just for sewists and have a classic appeal—most of their scissors are timeless, all-metal designs that make them look as if they'd have been just as at home on your great grandmother's sewing table as on yours. This design lends them extra stability and durability as well as style.
One of the most popular scissors brands the world over, Fiskars makes all kinds of tools, from the rounded-tip, child-friendly scissors you might see in a classroom to professional quality sewing shears. Their pricing also has a wide variation as well, but generally the pricier scissors are indeed better quality. Fiskars is known for their comfortable grips, which are more ergonomic than the Gingher all-metal designs. They're also generally lighter, since the handles are made from a variety of plastics.
This Japanese company produces two general lines of scissors—one geared toward the general sewist, and one geared toward professionals. The line for professionals generally has longer blades and is designed for people who really know what they're doing to get that work done fast. The more general line includes a range of styles and sizes, from delicate embroidery scissors to sizeable shears. They offer left-handed options for many styles as well. The feature that really sets Kai scissors apart is the blend of metals they use in their blades: a mix of steel and vanadium for better strength without added weight. Add in the soft comfort grips and it's no wonder these scissors are so popular!