From the Three of Us: Running with Scissors (+ a Special Anniversary Giveaway)

Giveaway-GoldTechnology has changed our lives in many places,  the sewing room among them. We 21st-century stitchers are beneficiaries of so many advances: computerized sewing machines; accurate and sturdy rulers for every conceivable use;  instruction available 24/7 via the ‘net. In the cutting department, we have rotary cutters in all sizes, perfect for cleanly cutting straight or scalloped edges, and cutting systems such as AccuQuilt, capable of quickly cutting dozens of identical shapes. Yet, despite the options, sometimes nothing will do but a good, old-fashioned pair of scissors.

Darra's 3" x 5" collage, Snip-It!, with a pair of her (well-used) favorites, a gift from friend Chris Porter
Darra’s 3″ x 5″ collage, Snip-It!, with a pair of her (well-used) favorites, a gift from friend Chris Porter

No one knows for certain exactly when scissors made the scene, or even how they got their name, but there are some pretty well-acknowledged guesses. A single-bladed, scissor-like implement was evident in Egypt, circa 1500 B.C. The cross-bladed, pivoted configuration more familiar to us today likely dates to the early-2nd-century Romans. As for the name: according to Merriam-Webster, the Middle English word cisours (or sisoures) was in use by the mid-14th century, tracing its roots to the Latin caedare (“to cut”).

In honor of this venerable and versatile tool, we thought it would be fun to share a snippet or two of our own history with scissors: memories, favorites, even a tip–you’ll find it here!

Jennifer’s Ode to Her Scissors

Even as a child, when I was a novice sewer, I realized scissors were imbued with mythic power. Those shiny, big shears were strictly off limits except for cutting fabric. Honestly, I was a little afraid of them. Not so much now. What with rotary cutters and such, we’ve got scads of choices when it comes to our cutting ways. As for scissors, I favor a sporty model that Diana McClun gave me a few years ago—it was the designated giveaway for the Empty Spools sessions at Asilomar (CA) that year. I love them because they are the racy sports car version of scissors: they are sharp, corner well, snip cleanly right up to the tip of the blade, and they are also exotically international—they are Japanese by birth.

Jennifer's go tos, artfully displayed
Jennifer’s go tos, artfully displayed

Laura Checks In

I have always enjoyed having a pair of scissors in my hands. Sometimes the cuts did not produce the outcome I had hoped for; for example, at around age 4, I clearly recall cutting the beautiful, long curls from my best friend’s new bride doll . . . sorry Patty! (Perhaps this experience softened me when, at around the same age, my younger daughter gave her best friend a haircut.)

Betsy McCall first appeared in McCall's in 1951.
Betsy McCall first appeared in McCall’s in 1951.

Soon after, I was given my own pair of safety scissors. I remember patiently awaiting the arrival of the monthly McCalls Magazine  just to be able to flip to the last page and cut out the newest version of the Betsy McCall paper doll that appeared in each issue. For me, it was always about the cutting and much less about playing with the dolls.

When I started dressmaking, a pair of beautiful Gingher shears were my new treasured tool. When I want accurate cutting for large or multiple fabric shapes, these are my scissors of choice. I have a variety of small, embroidery-type scissors and use them for all my appliqué and embroidery projects. Like Jennifer, I also was gifted with a pair of Kai scissors. They have become my new favorite pair.

Some of Laura's favorites
Some of Laura’s favorites

A Tip From Darra

Funny how our memories overlap. I have similar recollections of the forbidden fabric scissors: I learned about the distinction when I was discovered trimming my bangs with Mom’s precious Wiss dressmaking shears. I also remember waiting impatiently for her to finish with McCall’s so I could get at those paper dolls. (Heavenly were the months when the reverse page contained no stories, just ads. Instant green light!)

Like Laura and Jennifer, I’ve accumulated quite a collection of sewing scissors over the years, and I have my favorites; however, I’ve got one special pair among my “essentials”
that you might find unusual: a pair of small, sharp, curved-bladed manicuring scissors. They are perfect for cutting out small (or otherwise) curvy shapes from template material. If they’re sharp enough, you can use them for cutting out curved applique shapes from fused fabric as well. I wouldn’t be without them!

Curved manicuring scissors--perfect for cutting small curved templates and pieces, like the pockets and such in April Showers for Sunbonnet Sue by Chris Porter
Curved manicuring scissors–perfect for cutting small curved templates and pieces, like the pockets and such in April Showers for Sunbonnet Sue by Chris Porter

Leave a comment telling us about your favorite scissors by noon Thursday, April 4, and you’ll be eligible to win a pair of shiny new 8″ Gingher knife-edge dressmaking shears . . . and a secret bonus that we’ll reveal when we announce the winner in our Friday, April 5 post. It’s a special, double giveaway to mark a very special milestone: the 2nd anniversary of See How We Sew!


We hope your week includes some time for stitching.



Group Post II–Favorite Tips: Practical, Technical & Inspirational!

Our first group post was so well received–and so much fun to do–that we decided it was time to do it again. So here, in no particular order, we each weigh in on a favorite tip. Watch for future group posts; we’ve got some really fun things planned for the next few months!

Laura: I can’t think of many (any?) stitchers who enjoy “reverse sewing,” but if you must, this little trick makes the task so much easier. For years I used a sharp seam ripper (love the one by Clover btw!) to carefully and painstakingly cut through each and every unwanted stitch. While teaching a class one day, I saw a student cut through every fifth stitch or so on one side of the joined fabric pieces.

Next she turned the fabric to the opposite side and used the seam ripper to gently pull “up” on the thread.

Like magic, the thread pulled away, removing all unwanted stitches. I still use this technique, and get lots of  “ah-ha!” moments when I share it in classes.

Christie: Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, documents her successful philosophy for fostering and maintaining creativity.

In one of my favorite sections, Twyla talks about facing fears. While teaching classes and working in a fabric shop, I’ve heard numerous comments on this topic. Here are a few of the most common, along with Twyla’s response (the third one is my favorite):

I’m not sure how to do it.  If it doesn’t work, try a different way next time. Doing is better than not doing.

It will cost money.  Are your creative efforts worth it to you and is it something you really want to do? If so, money is there to be used and who better to invest in than yourself?

It’s self-indulgent. So what? You won’t be of much value to others if you don’t learn to value yourself and your creative efforts.

Make sense? I love how Twyla thinks and have tried to incorporate these tips into my own creative life. Therefore, I won’t hesitate to buy those fabulous new fabrics, or to take the time to create something wonderful. And I might just eat a cupcake too!

Take the time to enjoy the creative process – you’re worth it!

Cupcakes stimulate creativity!

Jennifer: Ah, thread balls. As I recall, no sewing teacher I had as a child ever mentioned how to vanquish those pesky tangled threads that clogged up the underside of the fabric I was trying to feed through the sewing machine. It took adulthood and many years of experience with sewing and quilting before I found the answer to this age-old problem. Thanks to Alex Anderson, from whom I was taking a class on making Star blocks (from her classic book, Simply Stars), I finally learned how to stop the madness.

So unbelievably simple: Grasp the top and bobbin threads, then depress the foot pedal to feed the fabric through the machine. Holding the threads blocks that sucking action that causes the threads to snarl. Alex also demonstrated feeding a “starter scrap” of fabric into the sewing machine as a prelude to factory-sewing mode (aka chain piecing) to keep thread balls at bay. Ever humble, she attributed the technique to Jean Wells.  So, whoever it was . . . many thanks!

Grasping both the top and bottom threads as you start, feed a folded scrap of fabric through the machine to vanquish thread balls and to limit thread waste.

Darra: I’ll keep this short and sweet. Have you ever returned from a workshop with someone else’s scissors? Try this creative solution that I’ve shared with many quilting friends and students over the years. Simply I.D. your precious shears with a “ribbon” of a favorite fabric. You’ll recognize them quickly every time!

Photo courtesy Alden Lane Nursery

Finally, one last tip from all of us: If you’re going to be in the SF Bay Area this weekend (September 24 – 25), and would like to spend a few pleasant hours viewing quilts outdoors in a beautiful setting, be sure to stop by Quilting in the Garden, the quilt show at Alden Lane Nursery, in Livermore, CA. Admission to the show is FREE; there are fees for optional lectures and workshops. Guest artists this year are Verna Mosquera and Rob Appell. Click here for more info.

Do you have a favorite tip you’d like to share? We–and our readers–would love to hear about it! Please leave us a comment below.

Until next time, happy stitching!