Scis-sors [siz-erz]

  1. noun

A cutting instrument for paper, cloth, etc., consisting of two blades, each having a ring-shaped handle, that are so pivoted together that their sharp edges work one against the other (often used with pair of).

Scissors consists of two blades; each called a scissor, hence, the verbiage “a pair of”. The blades’ lever action is with the pivot which acts as the fulcrum. It is not necessarily how sharp the blade is but the shearing between the blades which cuts. Material is cut when the shear stress applied at the cutting location exceeds the material’s shear strength. To increase the shear strength, the manufacturer moves the pivot closer to the end of the scissors. For example, if your hand is twice as far away from the pivot than the area being cut, then the force at the cutting location is twice that of your hand pressure.

Scissors generally have blades less than 6 inches (15 cm) with handles with finger holes of the same size. Shears are not the same thing as scissors, as their blades are usually longer than 6 inches and the handles differ with one having a small hole for the thumb and the other larger hole for two or more fingers.


Most references indicate scissors were invented around 1500 BC in ancient Egypt. These scissors were actually one piece of metal in a “U” shape where you forced the ends together. They were forged from bronze. It is thought the Romans introduced the cross-blade scissors around AD100. The next major improvement did not come until the late 1700’s when the blades were made of cast steel. Robert Hinchliffe of Sheffield, England, took advantage of the cast steel invented by Benjamin Huntsman, also of Sheffield. As techniques improved so did the creativity of the makers. Scissors began to have elaborate handles and blades. However, mechanization began to impact scissor construction and designs reflected a simpler look, much easier to produce.

Production techniques and materials changed a bit through history. Today carbon steel is used to make the individual blades. Carbon steel is a compound made up of 1% carbon and iron which allows the blade to be strong and stay sharp. However, carbon steel has a tendency to rust, so the blades are often plated with another metal. Another type of material used is stainless steel which is also manufactured from iron and 1% carbon but also contains at least 10% chromium. These blades are lighter and rustproof.

Your scissors must be properly aligned to cut correctly. The blades must meet at two points: the swivel (where the screw connects the blades) and the cutting point. The cutting point actually moves away from the swivel as the blades are closed. Scissors are tested to ensure they cut and not tear fabric. Here are some highlights about two major scissor producers: Gingher has been in business for over 54 years. Here’s what they say on their web-site about their craftsmanship: “Using a method that is centuries-old, skilled technicians hot-drop forge our scissors and shears from high carbon cutlery steel. Key grinding and polishing operations are still performed by hand to ensure a flawless appearance and sharp cutting all the way to the point of the scissor. The blades, points and tension of each scissor are then ‘tuned’ by hand to ensure the same high performance and longevity in every pair. By the time our scissors leave our factory in Greensboro, NC, they have been touched more than fifty times by our own craftspeople. It is for this reason we can truly say, ‘from our hands to yours.'” Click here for more information about the Gingher scissors company.

Fiskars was an ironwork company in Fiskars, Sweden (now Finland). In 1830 they started the first cutlery works in Finland. They have quite an interesting and diverse history which they share with stories and wonderful pictures on line.


No matter what the game Rock-Paper-Scissors says NEVER, NEVER, NEVER use your needlework scissors to cut paper! Almost everyone is in agreement we should only use scissors for the purpose they were designed for. For example, kitchen shears/scissors are specially made to withstand the hot water necessary to sanitize them. Barber scissors are made to be extremely sharp and not pull when used. (Have you ever had your hair cut by a dull pair of scissors? OUCH!) Ryan remembers her mom asking her if she would use fabric scissors to cut down a tree. If not, then don’t use them to cut paper because it is wood pulp and will dull the blades. How to choose what to use?

  • The first rule of thumb is to pick the scissors to match the project. I’m sure at some time in our crafting or needlework experience we didn’t have the right scissors and we reached for whatever we had handy. Many times our projects suffered because of that single action.
  • Lynn here at Nordic Needle says to always try your scissors out before you purchase them. If you’re using them to cut Hardanger fabric, then take a piece of fabric with you and see if it cuts the way you want it to. Make sure the scissors fit well and are comfortable. Judy at Nordic Needle says the weight of the scissors matters also. Ryan gives this advice, “When purchasing scissors, hold the blades in front of light to see how close the edges are to each other. The closer (less light you can see through them) the better. A good pair will have a prominent ‘bow’ to the blades when open, ensuring that when you close them they will be pressing together for the closest cut.”
  • Scissors range in price from very affordable to outrageously expensive. Many of you responded that price should NOT be the deciding factor. There are really great scissors available at all price ranges.

What types of scissors are available?
It appears to be endless! It was hard to decide what to talk about so we picked categories that we felt best answered your needlework needs.

  • Metallic scissors – It is very important that you do NOT use your embroidery scissors to cut metallic threads. Over time metallic threads will nick and dull the cutting surfaces of your blades. If you use metallic threads, you should invest in a pair of scissors just for that purpose. Here are some options:
  • Serrated scissors – Serrated blades have a cutting edge with many small points of contact with the material being cut making the applied force at each point of contact greater. This causes many small splits in the surface of the object being cut. Some stitchers believe a serrated scissor will cut better along the line of the blade or will hold a slick material better.
  • Hardanger/embroidery scissors – Research and informal poling leads us to believe that selecting a good pair of embroidery scissor comes down to personal preference. Many of you have asked about the Tres Claveles. These came from Spain and we have not been able to get them for several years. In general, the scissors should have clean, fine blades. It is important they be constructed so that you can see right along the blades and have a better view of what you are cutting. Dovo Solingen makes a scissors specifically for Hardanger embroidery, with very fine and sharp blades. Many of us at Nordic Needle also enjoy the Cotton Candy series for cutting Hardanger.
  • Curved blade scissors help to get the blade into tight spaces or for the user to see better what they are cutting.

What kind of scissors do people collect?
Wow did the responses vary. Several people said it was whatever caught their fancy. Others talked about specific themes or colors. Here are some ideas of some themes:

Gingher Lion’s Tail (Chris R at Nordic Needle’s favorite) have their own Designer series.

There are many animal shapes available.

Collectors are fond of one-of-a-kind or decorative scissors.

Some people prefer styles such as Victorian or Edwardian for their chatelaines or reproduction needlework accessories.

Others tend to collect scissors based on their color.

Maintenance and Storage Tips

  • Store your scissors carefully using a fitted sheath or case.
  • Point protectors will also lengthen the life of your blades.
  • Never lay your scissors down with the blades open as this is one of the fastest ways to dull your blades.
  • Periodically wipe the inside blade surfaces to keep them free of lint
  • Duane said to buy a good pair and hide them from your children
  • Chris R. says she lost 3 pairs until she attached them to a chatelaine (or fob).
  • Joy J. likes a scissors block which sits right beside her on the table.
  • Be sure to fasten pins and needles outside the cutting area to avoid encountering hard metal or plastic objects that might damage the scissors.

Strange But True

There are quite a few superstitions regarding scissors. Some people refuse to pass their scissors directly into another person’s hands for fear it will cut their friendship. Instead they place the scissors on the table and the other person picks it up. An old wives’ tale is if you place scissors under the pillow of a woman in labor or a person in terrible pain, it will cut the pain in half. The Chinese believe you should not use scissors on New Year’s Day as it will cut off your good luck for the year. Another use was to hang the scissors on a hook by one handle beside or over a door. The open position resembles a cross and the blades were a threat to any intruders to enter the house. One recurring theme concerns giving cutlery, scissors, or other sharp objects as gifts. The person who receives the item is supposed to give a coin back to the giver otherwise the gift will “cut the love” between them. One way to get around this is for the giver to attach a coin to the gift so that the receiver can take it off and give it back!!!

Inquiring Minds

Q. I’m left-handed. Why don’t scissors work for both right- and left-handed people?
A. Scissors have overlapping blades and they are not symmetrical. It doesn’t matter the shape of the handle or the direction of the blades as the blade that is on top is always on the same diagonal. Our hands are asymmetric and when we use scissors the thumb pushes out and the fingers pull inward. For right-handers the thumb blade is forced together. A left-hander using the same scissors would actually be forcing the blades apart. Scissors are also designed so that you can see what you are cutting.

Q. Can I carry my scissors on the airplane?
A. According to the US Transportation Safety administration you can check or carry on the following sharp sewing items: knitting and crochet needles, nail clipper, nail files, tweezers, scissors (plastic or metal with blunt tips), scissors (metal with pointed tips and blades SHORTER than 4 inches in length.) These rules may vary in other parts of the world. Please check with your carriers.

Q. How do I sharpen my scissors?
A. This is a job that should be left up to the professionals. If you sharpen the wrong edge of the blade it will no longer meet properly to produce the shearing action needed for cutting. If you decide to sharpen your own scissors be sure to purchase a professional kit and read the instructions.

Q. I have arthritis and large knuckles. I have trouble finding a large-holed scissors. Along the same lines, are there any decorative scissors with the large finger holes?
A. Companies are beginning to produce quality scissors with larger finger holes. Here are some of the selections we carry.

Q. Sometimes the description says something is gold-plated. What does that mean?
A. Gold-plating deposits a very thin layer of gold onto the surface of another metal, usually copper or silver. This may be done by a chemical or electrochemical process. Silver is a precious metal used for plating also. Silver is a little harder than gold, but tarnishes when exposed to the impurities in air. Silver-plating has three finishes: matte, semi-bright, and bright. Thanks to Mexico, Peru and the United States for mining this metal. A third metal used in plating is nickel. Nickel is a hard metal capable of taking a high polish. Swedish chemist Baron Cronstedt isolated the metal and it was recognized as an element in 1751. (Symbol Ni) Canada mines the majority of the world’s nickel.

Q. Do you have a recommendation for a way to cut one thread at a time?
A. We have a couple of options such as the Boo-Boo Snip which has a fine, sharp angled tip. Several of you recommended the Curved Tip Lift and Snip scissors which has a little “C” cut out at the end where you can lift, capture, and cut one thread at a time. Marlys T. said she uses a fine bladed cuticle scissor to cut one thread at a time.

Q. Are there other options for cutting threads than scissors? I get tired of picking them up and putting them down, wasting stitching time!
A. There are some other products such as:

Thread cutters can be worn as a pendant or used on your chatelaine. They have a sharp circular blade inside that will cut at any of the grooves.

Another unique product is the Thread Cutter Ring, which is pretty much exactly as it sounds! It’s fairly lightweight and very convenient.

Your Stories

Nancy T from Cockeysville, MD, wrote “For several years I have collected embroidery scissors and have made matching needlepoint scissor cases and adding matching fobs. I want everything to be of a theme. I have 49 pairs of scissors in needlepoint cases and 29 pairs waiting for me to make cases. I display the finished ones in a glass enclosed table stand in my living room.” One of Nancy’s favorites is an Amanda Lawford needlepoint case of a mermaid (which won a blue ribbon at the Maryland State Fair) with blue fish scissors and a peyote beaded mermaid scissor fob by Fern Ridge.

Debby B says she has a collection, but they are displayed in various “in progress” project bags. When she wants to pick something up then there is everything there including the scissors-no running around trying to find your scissors!

Kathie from England keeps a pair in each project folder. She has a pair with large finger holes when her hands swell (but it doesn’t stop her from stitching!). She has a small one with a fine point for cutting out Hardanger, a more rounded end for normal snipping of threads and one with a longer blade to cut fabric pieces. Kathie told us “I have a Support Dog; I think you call them service dogs over there. As each of my scissors has a different fob ‘Mazey’ knows which pair I need to be brought to me just by asking her.” How awesome!!

Beth from Indiana gave us a good chuckle! “Years ago, I couldn’t figure out why my embroidery scissors kept getting dull so quickly. I decided if I invested in a pair of high-quality scissors, they wouldn’t become dull so fast. Shortly after, I walked in on my husband getting ready to cut his toenails with my brand new pewter Gingher embroidery scissors! Mystery solved. Almost twenty years later I am still using my sharp Gingher’s. And, yes, my husband is still living.”

Martha S. has 54 pairs at last count. She’s been collecting them since 1980 when she first learned to do Hardanger. Some of them are antiques. Her favorite pair is the Tres Claveles from Spain. She displays her collection on Hardanger pieces and she does use them occasionally.

Margaret from Australia teaches classes in patchwork, embroidery, etc., and does Hardanger, smocking, cross stitch and lots more! She has 17 pairs (not including the ones with plastic handles which she calls her ‘ordinary ones’.) Margaret loves her two pair of Gingher scissors, and she is saving up to get the Eiffel tower pair from Sajou. Margaret has this advice “In my mind, a stitcher can never have too many pair of scissors :o))) “

Judi R. loves scissors of all shapes and all sizes, but most importantly she keeps one in each “nest” where she stitches. I like that tem “nest”!

Nancy C. says “I have too many pairs of scissors to remember the number! I should be embarrassed by this riches of scissors, but I love them, the old and the new. They seem to collect around me, even when I don’t go looking for them. One treasured pair began life trimming my dad’s mustache. Another pair was a gift before my (now-38-year-old) son was born that went everywhere with me. They disappeared one day, and more than a year later I found them under the seat of the little Triumph Spitfire I used to own. They had rusted (of course it leaked; Triumphs were supposed to do that), and my dad rescued them for me by a lot of elbow grease and gentle sharpening. They are stork scissors, and I used to wonder what stories they might tell if they could only talk … Another pair lived at my weaving loom for many years, but has moved in with the other embroidery scissors now because I do not weave at present. And I have a miniature pair that I keep by my chair in the living room to snip threads when I embroider or crochet. They are too small for a man’s hand, so they seem to stay sharpened for long periods. Another pair (purchased at the Nordic Needle Retreat in ’06) takes care of threads in my bedroom. And then there are the just plain, no-story-yet pairs in my downstairs studio. Eventually, they’ll have a story, too.”

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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