Another Quilting Tips and Tricks information post – this week from creative contributor Paige from Quilting Wemple. She’s sharing lots of detailed information on how pinking shears can help with your quilt and sewing projects.
Hi all! My name is Paige Lisowski and over at my blog Quilting Wemple, I like to share tons of different quilting tips, tutorials, free quilt patterns, and even show a bit of my geekier side with specialty quilting calculators!
Today I’m giving you all the information you ever wanted to know, and all the information you never knew you needed on a more elusive notion: Pinking Shears!
What are pinking shears, how they can help you in your sewing and quilting adventures, and are pinking shears even worth investing in as a quilter to begin with?
So let’s get started! We have a lot of ground to cover!
What are pinking shears?
Pinking shears are a pair of scissors with a zig zag edge to the blades. When you cut with them, they will actually cut a sawtooth line instead of a normal straight cut.
Before pinking shears existed, dressmakers and other seamstresses would actually use a die cut and mallet to cut this zig zag line into the edges of their fabrics.
The invention of pinking shears was certainly a convenient upgrade from keeping a mallet in the sewing room!
What’s the difference between scissors and pinking shears?
You might be reading this and saying ‘Why would I need specialty shears when I have six pairs of regular ones? What’s the difference?”
The only difference between the two is the pattern that is produced by the blades. All else considered, they are simply a pair of scissors that cut a specialty pattern as you use them.
So why couldn’t I just cut a zig zag pattern with my normal scissors? Why bother spending money on a pair specifically for a zig zag.
The zig zag pattern that the pinking shears cut is less than ⅛” deep to make sure the pattern does not go beyond any seam allowance you might be sewing the fabric into.
By cutting the zig zag by hand with a pair of regular scissors, you risk a few things:
- Cutting a zig zag pattern so deep that it shows as a raw edge in your final project
- Cutting a zig zag pattern off the original cut line causing it to not be square
- Getting carpal tunnel from the amount of time it would take to make all those little snips
Cutting little zig zags by hand sounds like a nightmare, what does it even do for me? Why do I need to pink a fabric edge any way?
I’m glad you asked 🙂
What are pinking shears used for?
The zig zag pattern that pinking shears produce is used along the edges of fabric in order to drastically minimize the damage caused by fabric fraying.
When you cut a piece of fabric along the grain, the fabric is more likely to fray because there is nothing stopping the fibers from falling out of the weave along the edges.
By using pinking shears, you are taking that “on grain” cut and making dozens of smaller bias cuts where the fabric can no longer fray along the full length of the fabric. If it will fray, it will only fray along the tiny little point and stop at the next valley.
Using pinking shears will not necessarily prevent fraying all together, but it will help significantly in making sure fraying does not spread across your project.
This is why in the quilting world of small precut fabrics, the mini charms, charm packs, jelly rolls, etc. will often be manufactured to come with the zig zag edge to them instead of a straight edge.
When you have your own small precuts or scraps at home, using pinking shears for the edges will help ensure the fabrics stay at that original dimension as much as possible instead of fraying beyond use before they can be sewn into a project.
Why are they called pinking shears? – A quick detour through history
The technique has been around so long that the true origin of the name “pinking shears” isn’t definitively known, however most people credit the name pinking shears to have been taken from a garden carnation called the “garden pink” that has a sawtooth edge to its petals.
The pattern that the scissors cut mimics the edge of the petals of the garden carnation so it eventually made its way into the name of the technique: To “pink” the edges of fabric.
Different sizes of pinking shears
When it comes to the depth of the teeth on true pinking shears, you can find them in three different sizes, 3mm, 5mm, and 7mm.
Rule of thumb for choosing a size is to match up the teeth depth with the thickness of your fabric. The thicker the fabric, the larger teeth you’ll want to have.
If you are looking for a general use, mostly-going-to-use-on-cotton kind of pinking shears, the 5mm size will be the best to keep on hand. Either of the other two sizes would be for drastic changes in fabric thickness such as flannel or chiffon.
You will also likely find pinking shears with patterns other than a zig zag. Scalloped edges or other more decorative patterns for example.
These types of pinking shears are typically made for cutting paper and scrapbooking where it is actually intended for you to see the decorative pattern, not necessarily for cutting fabric.
If preventing fraying is what you are after, sticking to the regular zig zag pattern is your best bet.
Drawbacks to pinking shears – Why are pinking shears so stiff?
Pinking shears are stiff because of the specialty blade pattern on them. To get a clean perfect zig zag cut, the blades have to interlock and pass perfectly in two different directions where regular scissors have a smooth pass and do not need to interlock to make a cut.
Since pinking shears have to interlock, all of the edges of the peaks and valleys have to have a tight fit which means there are a few more places where the blades can get hung up.
As your scissors get older and more dull, it is more common for the rougher dull blades to get hung up more often, requiring more effort on your part to open and close them.
Can you adjust them?
Depending on the model of pinking shears that you own, you may be able to adjust the tension on them.
Look at the screw that keeps the two sides of the scissors together, if your pair has a screw you can take a screwdriver and gently tighten or loosen the screw as needed to adjust the tension.
If it is simply a set screw like mine in the photos above, you may not have the flexibility of adjusting your pinking shears.
You may also be able to use a sewing machine oil at the connection of the two blades to help relieve some of the tension. Just be sure there is no lubricant still around when you go to cut your next project!
Alternatives to pinking shears
So what if you want the fray preventing power of a pinked edge without the use of pinking shears? Is it possible?
Sure is! May I introduce to you, the rotary pinking blade.
Rotary cutters do actually have pinking blades. While this method may not be any cheaper than purchasing traditional pinking shears, if you have bad hands or arthritis, this may be a perfect alternative.
There may be a few drawbacks to using a serrated blade to your rotary cutter worth considering though:
- The zig zag is not as pointed at pinking shears, so you might see a bit more fraying compared to traditional pinking shears – still better than no pinking at all though.
- The safety guards on regular rotary cutters are made for straight blades, not the thicker pinking blades. Extra care in storage will be key to make sure no one gets cut accidentally.
- Unless you have a dedicated rotary cutter just for a pinking blade, you may find yourself switching out the blades multiple times during a project.
So depending on your personal preferences, there are options!
How to care for pinking shears
I know, I know, they are JUST a pair of scissors. Can’t I just throw them in the drawer and call it a day?
You absolutely can, and they will likely last just fine. But there are a few care related things you can do to keep them in commission longer, prevent rusting longer, and just make them easier to use overall.
And when caring for your shears costs a small fraction of a new pair, it is definitely worth the effort to keep them in tip-top shape, especially if you use them often.
Cleaning and oiling
To start you’ll want to grab a damp paper towel or a scrap of fabric and clean away any dirt or grime that’s on the surface of the scissors.
This could be left over basting spray, dust, lint, even sweat. If you have an adhesive build up on them, you will likely need some sort of cleaning agent other than water to help clean it off.
As you are cleaning the surface of the shears, be sure to open and close the blades to make sure you get as much grime out as possible where the blades overlap at the screw.
Once they have been cleaned thoroughly, it’s time to determine if they have become dull.
Take the thinnest piece of fabric you have on hand and attempt to cut it with the scissors. If the fabric just bends between the blades instead of cut, the scissors are due to be sharpened.
If you do need to sharpen them, make sure to give them a good wipe down afterwards to get rid of any potential metal debris left from the sharpening process.
Now to make sure they stay easy to use. Using the steps we talked about earlier, determine if you like the current tension of the scissors and adjust if necessary.
Using a standard sewing machine oil, open the scissors as wide as they go and dab a few drops on either side of the screw holding the blades together. You can also put a drop on top of the screw head on either side.
Open and close the scissors to work the oil in between the blades until they are relatively easy to open and close.
If you live in a more salty area where exposed metal may be prone to rusting, you can actually wipe the oil along the full length of the blades and leave them stored that way. The oil will help keep them from rusting. Just be sure to clean it off the next time you go to cut fabric with them so you don’t get oil everywhere!
Can you sharpen pinking shears?
Yes! You can sharpen pinking shears just like any other knife or pair of scissors. With the specialty cut pattern though there are a few caveats to keep in mind.
Sharpening of pinking shears occurs on the flat underside of the blade, not in-between the peaks and valleys of the teeth.
By attempting to sharpen each tooth between the peak and valley, you are actually changing the cutting pattern of the scissors. Instead of a sharp zig zag, you may end up with a more scalloped pattern on the blade.
If you file the teeth away, they will no longer interlock perfectly, making it difficult to actually cut the original pattern.
Your best bet is to bring them to a fabric store to be sharpened.
A fabric store typically charges much less to sharpen a set compared to what a new pair of pinking shears would cost, and they’ll be sure to sharpen them correctly so they cut like new!
Are pinking shears worth it?
Absolutely. By trimming your scrap fabric edges with pinking shears instead of a traditional straight cut on the grain, you can drastically reduce damage to your fabric caused by fraying.
This is a fantastic method to use when you are working on a long term project that will get moved often, or if you are working with fabrics that are prone to fraying in a particular sewing project.
I love using my pair when I am working on a quilt that I know I’m not in a rush to finish. The pieces will likely get moved around the room as I do other projects which means fraying can really get out of hand.
Using my pinking shears on the edges of my quilt pieces helps me tame the fraying as well as the mess!
If this is a problem you face regularly too and are looking to put it to an end, pinking shears are the way to go!
Just grab them from the drawer, trim the very edges of your fabric and save your project pieces until you’re ready to tackle it again.
The best pinking shears
Alrighty, down to business. Now that we know exactly what pinking shears are and how they can make our lives much easier in the sewing room, let’s talk about which ones are worth owning.
Hands down my go to pair is made by Jistl. They aren’t super heavy, and while they don’t have a screw to adjust with, they are naturally smooth to handle so I haven’t needed to worry about adjusting them.
This pair is actually no heavier than a traditional pair of metal scissors so you can use them on a whole project without your hand getting too tired from using them.
If you want a pair of dedicated pinking shears, these are the ones to go for.
You can shop them on Amazon here!
The best alternative to pinking shears
Just in case the sound of “Pinking Rotary Blade” caught your ears earlier in the article, Olfa makes a pinking blade kit that you can get!
Olfa is one of the more popular brands of rotary cutter so if you happen to already own a 45mm one and don’t mind switching out your blades when you are ready to pink your fabric, the Olfa pinking blade kit is the way to go.
The Olfa rotary cutters aren’t terribly expensive either, so if pinking your fabrics is something you find yourself doing often, you can even purchase a second Olfa rotary cutter to dedicate just to your pinking blade!
You can shop the Olfa Pinking Blades on Amazon here!
Wrapping this all up
Can you get away without pinking shears? You absolutely can, but if fraying is a constant battle that you fight, a pair of pinking shears will quickly become your favorite notion investment.
For those of us who seem to always have overflowing fabric stashes, pinking shears can definitely go a long way in making that stash last as long as possible. And in a world where the fabric lines don’t seem to stay in print too long, having the ability to extend the life of your favorites is always a plus in my book.
So now that we’ve spent far too much time talking about a single set of scissors, I hope you found this article helpful in learning what pinking shears are and how they can be super useful in the sewing room even as a quilter.
And if you liked this post and are interested to see more of what we have going on over at Quilting Wemple, be sure to come check us out sometime!
Thank you so much to Amy for letting me hang out today!
Thank you for all of this detailed and helpful information about pinking sheers, Paige.
If you’re looking for more Quilting Tricks and Tips check out these handy posts here.
I have used a rotary pinking blade for years. It doesn’t actually prevent fraying, but it lets me know which fabrics have been pre-washed, which I really like.
This post is so timely! Just yesterday, I found a pair of pinking shears in my mother’s old sewing stuff and I’m sure they need to be cleaned & sharpened. I’ll contact my local quilt shop to see if they offer this service… if not, it will be off to YouTube for help! Thank you!!
I’m a lefty and looked high and low for lefty pinking shears. I finally found vintage (never used) pinking shears and am so happy! This is a wonderful post, I can’t live without my pinking shears!
I have my mom’s very old pair but they killed my hand. I purchased a pair of Fiskar’s picking shears with spring assist soft grips. I love them. I got mine with a 50% off coupon at JoAnns
Thanks Amy for sharing! I love my pinking blade.