If the latest series of The Great British Sewing Bee has inspired you to get creative with fabric, one tool you certainly can’t do without is a quality pair of dressmaking scissors. Arguably the second most important piece of kit after a sewing machine, these are specialist shears with a really sharp blade which allow you to cut all manner of fabrics accurately and easily.
A pair of dressmaking scissors could well last you a lifetime if you make a thoughtful purchase and care for them properly. The first thing to look for (aside from how comfortable they feel in your hand) is a pair which cut the fibres cleanly rather than chewing their way through. You also want the shears to grip the fabric rather than push it away from the blade as this can result in haphazard cutting and distorted pattern pieces.
Shears are available in a range of sizes between 8-13”, the choice between them being a personal and important one. Professional tailors will opt for those on the larger end of the spectrum as the length enables quick cutting. Many home dressmakers find 8-9” more manageable. The optimum size finds the right balance between a blade long enough to cut clean, smooth lines and small enough to give you control over the full length of the shear, especially when cutting tight curves or corners.
The most distinctive feature of dressmaking shears as opposed to regular scissors, is the angle of the handle. The side bend allows you to cut along the surface of the table without lifting the fabric, giving a more accurate cut. Traditionally, tailor’s shears have been forged from all metal but technological developments have seen the addition of plastic handles making them lighter and more comfortable to use.
The heavier weight of an all-metal pair does some of the work for you when cutting through thick fabrics but is tiring on the hand and wrist over time. Our roundup includes both plastic and metal ergonomic handles, which are shaped to fit the contours of the hand for comfort.
Also included are scissors with a serrated blade. Not to be confused with pinking shears which have a pronounced zigzag edge, the fine ridges on serrated blades give better grip. This is useful when working with delicate fabrics which want to shift about as you cut but the blades cannot be sharpened unlike a traditional smooth knife edge.
Given all these features to choose from making a purchase can be overwhelming, so we’ve reviewed a wide range of brands and models at a variety price points to bring you a run-down of the best. These scissors have been tested on a mixture of fabrics, from thick wool coating and crisp cotton to fine polyester chiffon and slippery silk satin. And to give you an idea of which hold up best over time we’ve pooled the opinions of a trusted group of fellow sewing addicts.
These are predominantly shears for right-handers but a number of these brands offer equivalent left-handed styles. Here are our top ten favourites.
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Kai 9.5” professional tailor’s shears: £36, Jaycotts
Size: 9.5″ (25cm) Weight: 170g Material: High carbon stainless steel with vanadium, plastic
Despite being one of the largest models on the list, these are anything but cumbersome and cut accurately and smoothly right along the length of the blade. The fairly flat plastic handle feels surprisingly comfortable and I can use these for hours without my hand tiring. They cut with ease through even the thickest of fabrics and out of the testing pool, dealt best with the shifty, lightweight fabrics too. Owners of these report them performing like new without sharpening after more than 10 years of use. They remain a firm favourite in our sewing kit.
Gingher 8” knife edge bent trimmer Shears: £43.95, Amazon
Size: 8″ (20cm) Weight: 249g Material: High carbon steel with double chrome and nickel plated finish
The knife edge blades on these are incredibly sharp and cut cleanly from the joint right to the tip. The heavier weight of the forged steel design coupled with slim handle style feels better balanced than most of the plastic handled options and the 8in size gives a lot of control when cutting. If you like to batch-cut projects, those metal handles do get a little sore on the hands over an extended period but they cut cleanly through dense wool coating and have good grip on finer fabrics. A pair of these will last you a lifetime with regular sharpening and oiling. They come with a moulded nylon sheath to protect the blades when not in use.
Fiskars amplify razoredge scissors: £30, John Lewis & Partners
Size: 9″ (24cm) Weight: 150g Material: Stainless steel, plastic
Fiskars came out top with owners in terms of longevity, with some still using the same pair afters 30 years. The brand also manufactures a scissor sharpener for at-home maintenance. This pair feels nicely balanced; the rubber spots inside the ergonomic handles give a softer feel to the handle, improving comfort, particularly when cutting the thick fabrics on which they perform best. The blades glide through the fabric and the ultra-sharp tip makes for precise cutting but the mechanism was stiffer than most leaving my hand feeling tired after a time.
Hemline premium dressmaking scissors: £20, John Lewis & Partners
Size: 8.25″ (21.5cm) Weight: 190g Material: Steel with double chrome and nickel plated finish
Here’s a good option if you prefer the smaller-sized shears. With a blade of 9cm, these are great for neat and precise work but take longer to cut around large pattern pieces. They’re a really nice “in between” weights although those with larger hands might find the handle a little uncomfortable. The rose gold handles would look lovely hanging in any workroom and make an excellent gift.
John Lewis & Partners soft grip serrated dressmaking scissors: £15, John Lewis & Partners
Size: 9.8″ (25cm) Weight: 130g Material: Stainless steel, plastic
These are a great budget option for anyone just starting out and our pick from John Lewis & Partners’ own range as the cut is so smooth. The rubber coated interior of the handle provides good grip along with comfort and is a big bonus on a pair in this price bracket. They feel less robust than some of the other models and don’t cut as easily through thicker wools and denim but the serrated blades perform great on fine or slippery fabrics. Make sure to keep cleaning the blade to keep these cutting smoothly.
Mundial serrated bottom blade cushion soft dressmaker shears: £23.09, Amazon
Size: 9.5” (24cm) Weight: 191g Material: Stainless steel, plastic
Mundial offer a huge range of shears manufactured in Brazil and are a popular brand amongst professionals. We preferred their “soft grip” handles with cushioned inserts to the heavy all metal models as wielding those feels a bit like going to the gym. Marketed as ambidextrous these are comfortable in either hand but the arrangement of the blades suit a right-hander. If you intend to sew a lot of jersey these are an excellent choice as the serrated bottom blade performed beautifully on fine stretch fabrics.
Merchant and Mills extra sharp reds: £45, Merchant and Mills
Size: 8″ (20cm) Weight: 240g Material: Chrome plated high carbon tool steel
The red enamelled handles make these a stand out choice if you want shears that look as good as they cut. If you buy scissors with serrated blades you’ll need to invest in a pair built to last like these, given that the blades can’t be sharpened to extend their life. These are manufactured by family-run William Whiteley & Sons who have been making scissors in Sheffield for twelve generations. They are similar in size and style to the Gingher model but one blade is serrated and one traditional knife edge, so you get the best of both worlds. You’ll want to keep these well-oiled to perform at their best.
Fiskars classic universal scissors: £24, John Lewis & Partners
Size: 9.8″ (25cm) Weight: 145g Material: Stainless steel, plastic
The orange handle on these may look familiar as they are a popular choice in classrooms due to their durability and versatility. This extra-large size is surprisingly manoeuvrable and we actually preferred these to the smaller 21cm for the ability to cut smooth long lines. Marketed for universal use, they would be great for cutting paper patterns too. Although you’ll want to reserve a pair exclusively for fabric to preserve the sharp blades which cut accurately and easily through all fabrics. They also offer a red left-handed model and spring-loaded version to reduce hand strain.
Ernest Wright 10″ dressmaker shears: £135, Ernest Wright
Size: 10″ (25.4cm) Weight: 394g Material: Carbon steel
A popular choice within the home sewing community these classic all-metal shears are forged by British craftsmen in Sheffield. A scissor with real character and (with a life-time warranty) a pair to hand down through the generations. The movement initially felt a little sticky but they soon loosened up and those blades are as sharp as they come. The handle is smooth, well shaped and comfortable. Arriving hand-polished in a presentation box they would make a treasured gift. We also love their duck billed appliqué scissors for grading seams.
The verdict: Dressmaking scissors
The Kai Tailor’s shears perform best as a versatile all-rounder: they’re durable, sharp, comfortable in the hand and require minimal maintenance. They achieved the best results on the widest range of fabrics and are great value for money for a tool that will provide years of continuous use. A pair from the Fiskars classic range is another smart multipurpose option at a budget-friendly price. If your preference is for the more traditional all-metal shears, the Gingher model strikes the right balance between size and weight and will last you a lifetime.
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