tooling around

Last time we talked about a rather large tool type – work spaces – but this week we are shifting our focus to a handheld tool. A very small handheld tool. As in only three or four inches long.

Embroidery scissors.

Via Blue Terracotta (click image for more info)

I don’t embroider; I make garters.  Before I started making garters I made things like curtains and chair pockets and occasional little-girl clothes.  It never once occurred to me to buy embroidery scissors. Because I. Don’t. Embroider.

This past fall I began taking sewing lessons. I knew I was missing out on many many wonderful sewing secrets. I was right. I was missing several types of scissors. Among them: embroidery scissors.

“I currently have 12 pairs of sewing-only scissors. Each has a distinct purpose. My 4-inchers stay right beside the machine and they are the Ginger brand. That is the brand that I have for all 12 pairs. I use the 4-inchers for general thread trimming. I hang curved 3-inchers on my machine for embroidery & applique work. I would replace either of these in a flash.” ~ Allison O’Grady, seamstress and sewing instructor extraordinaire

Yes, regular knife-edge scissors can cut thread. What they cannot (easily) do is snip thread really really close to the fabric and that is why I need embroidery scissors, also referred to as “snips” or “snippers.”

Stitched petals trimmed with 8" scissors

There is no way I could let myself sell a garter featuring this scraggly flower. I saw the light! I needed small scissors.  So I got myself to a Hancock Fabrics post haste and shelled out $2.99 (plus tax) for these babies:

Please don’t do that. I have no idea if it is the low price point, the design, the unknown brand name (which I still don’t know), or if I just bought a lemon. Whatever the reason, these scissors stink. They didn’t come with a guide so I don’t *know* how they are supposed to be held. I assumed the little loop was for my thumb, but that makes them really hard to handle.  Maybe I need to squeeze a tennis ball to increase my hand strength. I’ll add that to my to-do list. Changing my grip helped a little, but still feels really unnatural.  Either way, those scissors DO NOT CUT THREAD. Or fabric. They do okay on paper. After a two-week struggle I went back to using my “big” scissors for everything.

But I had seen two very talented seamstresses use embroidery scissors to snip the threads on their respective masterpieces.  I knew good snips were out there and I knew they could make my life easier and my own masterpieces prettier.

“Those little embroidery scissors are perfect for cutting details, and they are cute!” says Laura Jacquemond of the little gold birdie snips pictured above.

Finally, armed with a 40% off coupon, I marched into JoAnn’s to purchase a $14 pair of Fiskars No. 4 embroidery scissors .  I really wanted the Gingers, but just couldn’t part with $24. That price is high, by the way, so be sure you shop around before making a purchase. And there was that light again. I can snip threads like a pro! Just look at the difference in blade thicknesses between my scissors and my snips!

Okay, what have we learned here:

  • Do not reject a tool just because it is associated with an activity you don’t do.
  • Do get recommendations from people who use a tool you are considering, preferably for the same activity in which you want to use it.
  • Do shop around  And I’m not just talking price. You might also want to consider who has the best warranty, maintenance plan, and/or tech support.

Do you use any tools for an unintended purpose?  How did you find out about your “must-have” tools from another craftform?

16 thoughts on “tooling around

  1. Thanks so much for featuring my little bird scissors! After reading your post, I wonder if I need more pairs of different sized scissors. Another essential for me, as far as scissors go, is a sharpening stone. My brother-in-law gave me one and I can sharpen anytime.

    1. You know, I make a monthly trip to the sewing store to have my scissors sharpened. A stone might be the ticket… Then again, I’m really accident prone so maybe I should leave it to the pros.

      Don’t go out and get more scissors just because Allison has 12. Unless, that is, you already know you need more sizes and have a plan for each one. I don’t think there is a magic number. I am definitely getting a curved pair next because they are magical when it comes to snipping close to the fabric (and to the extra thread sticking out of the top of freshly wound bobbins).

  2. Thanks for the helpful post. I saw some of those bird scissors in Big W (discount/department store in Australia) & thought they were cute but didn’t think I had a use for them, but now I know I have a good excuse to buy some next time!

    1. Do it! Than come back and tell me if they also changed your crafting life. And take Jenny’s advice below – make sure they feel like good quality. You don’t want to feel like it is exercise to use your snips, but they ned to feel heavy for their size.

  3. My crafty Grandma ALWAYS had a pair of those little stork scissors around! My mom got me a pair when I started embroidering thrift store shirts (in addition to my other jewelry making crafty pursuits) and I can’t tell you how handy they are :) Sharp, great at getting into detailed spots, and beautiful. AND they’re real handy for snipping stray threads when I’m beading necklaces, too.

    Even though they’re little, you can feel the quality in their weight, not just in their fancy design.

    (Ok, done gushing now, I’ve just always had a special place for those stork scissors because of Grandma and Mom!) Thanks for the trip down memory lane!!

    1. I must be the last sewer to realize there is a need for these babies! My mom never had anything but regular knife-edge shears and pinking shears.

      Spread the word, Jenny. Sewers, embroiderers, and jewelers all NEED THESE SCISSORS.

      Also, I need to go shopping in your store – you are very talented.

  4. Scissors are so important! I just bought a pair 4″ Fiskars. They aren’t the exact ones that you bought, they are the ones with the plastic handles. I inherited a pair of small-ish fiskars while I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco and if they can make it through Peace Corps they can make it through any project that I can dream up now. I kept this in mind while shopping for the 4″ pair. I love that they are lightweight and cut so so smoothly! I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I’ve recently taken an interest in (fabric collages, fabric flower broaches, etc) without them.

  5. Want to know how I knew I was serious about having a business and not a hobby? I stopped using my big seamstress-cutting-fabric scissors for snipping threads and bought myself a $20 pair of embroidery scissors. 😀 Loved this post!

  6. Great post! Having the right tool for the job makes the job so much easier. I have used a pair of small embroidery scissors for more years than I want to admit and I make and alter clothes. I use them for so much I put a ribbon through them and hang them around my neck when I am going to be at my sewing machine for hours ~ which is most days!

  7. I went to JoAnn’s the other weekend to buy a brand new pair of serious, grown-up scissors. I splurged on the Gingers and after being rung up found out that they were 50% off of their regular price! I was thrilled and I just got a 50% coupon in my email from JoAnn’s. I can’t wait to bulk up my arsenal of grown-up tools. :)

    Many of my other tools such as stamps, hole-punches, knife, and small scissors I found at antique stores. I wouldn’t give them away for anything.

  8. I love my embroidery scissors, And my snippers.

    As far as the Snippers, the loop goes on your ring finger and then you squeeze the scissor parts with your thumb and first finger.
    I hope you give them another go!

    1. Ooooooh. Wow, I would have never figured that out. Thank you so much, Amanda! I will give them another shot – I have to resharpen them, though because I had demoted them to paper cutters. What do you use the snippers for that you don’t use the embroidery scissors for?

  9. Janice, thank you for including my quote and fondness for my scissors! You know the old saying, ” right tool for the right job”! That is so clear in this instance!
    I am glad that you are pleased with your new scissors… do you have a nice wooden box for them? They deserve a special place all their own!
    Sew Bee It!

    1. Haha. No Alison, I don’t have a box. I’m planning to mount a pegboard in my closet and have a separate hook for each pair of scissors and a jar to put the scissors that need sharpening. Do I need a box instead?

      I don’t know where I’d be without you and Susan to tell me about things like tracing yardage and embroidery scissors. You guys are the best “tools” for my job!

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