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What are Pinking Shears?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pinking shears are specialized scissors which are designed for use in cutting fabric. The blades have a distinctive sawtoothed edge which creates a zigzag pattern when fabric is cut. While these scissors were developed for the dressmaking trade, they are also sometimes utilized in art and craft projects where the scalloped edge look is desired.

The origins of the term “pink” or “pinking” in reference to a scalloped cut are a bit obscure. Some etymologists have suggested that the term may be a reference to the ruffled edges of carnations, sometimes known as pinks. Whatever the origins, pinking shears have been around since the late 1800s, and they have proved extremely useful to dressmakers and other people who work with fabric.

When fabric is pinked, the scalloped edge is less likely to unravel, and if it does, the lengths of thread will typically be short. This can be a useful trait for projects which need to be finished quickly, and for cuts which will be hidden, but critical to the integrity of the finished piece; for example, pinking shears can be used to cut fabric which will be sewn together, ensuring that the fabric does not start to ravel at the seams once the finished piece has been assembled.

Pinking shears may also be used decoratively. Some people like the scalloped look, and it is also possible to find pinking shears which cut in other patterns, including curved scallops. In the case of garments with cut edges which will show, the shears can add an extra dimension of visual interest. These sewing tools can also be useful for cutting fabrics used in applique and other fabric crafts, and for making decorative trim in a hurry.

Like other scissors designed for use with fabric, pinking shears should only be used on fabric, to prevent the dulling of the blades. They should also be periodically oiled and sharpened to ensure that the edges stay crisp so that the shears will cut fabric neatly. If the shears start to mangle and crush fabric, rather than cutting, they are definitely due for a sharpening. It is also not a good idea to cut through too many layers of fabric at once with pinking shears, as the cuts may become uneven and irregular, and the layers may dull the shears.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By John57 — On Jul 16, 2011

There are several brands of pinking shears available. The one I am most familiar with are Gingher pinking shears. Sometimes it seems like you are spending quite a bit of money for a pair of scissors, but if you use them correctly, they should last you for many years.

I seem to have the best results when I cut through more than one layer of fabric at a time. This only works if the fabric is not too thick to start with. You also want to make sure and hold your shears in a straight line. If you are not used to working with them, it can be easy to work at an angle, but this is not the way you want to do it.

I also remember being told to never open and close the blades without having fabric between them. For some reason this will dull your blades more quickly. If you treat them with care, your investment should be something you will have for many years to come.

By andee — On Jul 15, 2011

I have a pair of Wiss pinking shears that were very old and the blades were much too dull to cut through anything. A friend of mine who is an excellent seamstress gave me a tip to try.

She told me to take my pinking shears and cut through pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil several times. I figured I didn't have anything to lose because they weren't doing me any good the way they were.

I kept thinking about all the times I was told to only use them on fabric and wondered if I was doing the right thing. This did help sharpen the blades quite a bit though. They weren't as sharp as a new pair of shears were, but I was able to cut through pieces of fabric again. I didn't have to buy a new pair of scissors or spend money to have them sharpened.

By LisaLou — On Jul 15, 2011

As a young girl I remember my Mom using pinking shears and I was always fascinated by the jagged blades. I learned to sew at a young age, and when I discovered that using fabric scissors like these could help keep material from unraveling, I used them quite often.

I remember how insistent my Mom was that I never use them on anything but fabric. If they were ever used on paper, the blades would become too dull and they would not cut the fabric. We had one pair of pinking shears that lasted for many years and were used for many items of clothing that my sister and I wore.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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