History of Scissors
Scissors are defined as “an instrument used for cutting cloth, paper, and other thin material, consisting of two blades laid one on top of the other and fastened in the middle so as to allow them to be opened and closed by a thumb and finger inserted through rings on the end of their handles.”
Although we will never know who the actual inventor of scissors was, it’s interesting to see the evolution of the scissor.
EARLIEST KNOWN SCISSORS
Although many credit Leonardo da Vinci for inventing the scissors in the 15th Century, the history of scissors dates back to Mesopotamia around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. It is believed that “spring scissors” were invented around 1,500 BC in Egypt. These early scissors were comprised of two bronze blades connected at the handle with a thin, flexible piece of bowed bronze. To use these spring blades you would squeeze them together and pull them apart. The scissor was redesigned by the Romans around 100 AD. They created the “pivoted scissors” (or cross-blade scissors) made of bronze or iron. The pivoted scissors are what we traditional think of today, made up of opposing blades pivoted at a point between the tip and handle that cut when the blades are brought together (see image). These early scissors needed to be sharpened often.
The early scissors were made by heating, then flattening steel into blades on an anvil. The curved bar for the spring scissors was formed by heating and bending. It was then cooled and reheated to make the steel flexible.
The Hangzhou Zhang Xiaoquan Company in Hangzhou, China, has been manufacturing scissors since 1663, and still makes them by hand today (watch a video on the process here). William Whiteley & Sons (Sheffield, UK) Ltd. started producing scissors in 1760, and was later granted a patent in 1791. Robert Hinchliffe is credited for mass-producing modern scissors in 1761, made of steel.
While Samuel Briskman of J. Wiss & Sons Co. is credited for inventing pinking shears in 1931 (awarded patents in 1934), Louise Austin of Whatcom, Washington received the first patent in 1893 stating that her invention is a “means for pinking cloth, silk, oiled fabrics, paper, leather, and other materials; and its object is to provide a hand implement wherewith the pinking can be done very rapidly by a continuous cutting operation, similar to that of cutting fabrics with ordinary scissors or shears.”
SCISSORS IN QUILTING
Today, the selection of scissors is endless. Specialty scissors continue to be introduced into the market, making simple cutting tasks easier. Rag Quilting Snips are spring loaded, without handle holes, allowing for blister-free clipping of rag quilts. Fiskars offers numerous types of scissors and rotary cutters, including ergonomic designs that promote hand comfort. I knew I was a “real” quilter when I purchased my first pair of Gingher scissors. I feel their craftsmanship and quality are the best, and I now own several styles.
For those of us who grew up with in sewing households, we knew to never touch the fabric scissors without dire consequences. Never use fabric scissors for cutting anything but fabric, or the blades will get dull very quickly, resulting in ragged cuts to your fabric.