In the fashion industry, fabric shears or electric cutters are the primary tools used to cut out fabrics. As a hobby sewer, you have various sewing cutting tools available at your local fabric store. Here I will give you a complete guide to the different sewing cutting tools and how you can use them for your sewing projects.
It can be overwhelming knowing what all the cutting tools are used to cut and which ones are the best options for you to buy. Understanding what each cutting tool does is an excellent place to start. This deep dive into each cutting tool will help you determine which ones will make sewing easier for you.
Beginners Guide to Sewing Cutting Tools
Let’s start with the most popular area of sewing among my readers, and that’s dressmaking.
As a qualified and passionate seamstress, I can tell you that most of these cutting tools are nice but not essential to sewing. The four main cutting tools I recommend buying are fabric shears, paper scissors, snips, and a seam ripper (unpick). With these cutting tools, you can sew to your heart’s desire.
If you want to learn more about which sewing tools to buy for your sewing kit, read through my sewing tools and equipment guide.
Essential Sewing Cutting Tools for Dressmaking
Fabric Shears (Fabric Scissors)
Fabric scissors, also known as fabric shears, will be your sewing kit’s most crucial cutting tool when dealing with fabrics.
How do fabric shears work?
They often have a flat base blade (the bottom blade) which sits flat on a tabletop when cutting. The flat edge helps guide the scissors accurately while the top blade slices through the material. Flat bottom blades prevent the fabric from moving around, resulting in more accurate and controlled cuts.
What fabric shears should I buy?
Well-made fabric shears are sharp and can cut through a few layers of fabric at once. Most quality fabric shears will cut through three to four layers of cotton poplin or two layers of denim.
A pair that has larger blades (10-12”) will cut more length and can handle thicker fabrics better. A smaller pair of shears (8”) will be lighter to handle but may take longer to cut out due to the shorter blades.
Finding a comfortable pair can make a big difference because some fabric shears can rub on the palm and thumb, causing pain. A comfortable pair of shears makes sewing unenjoyable!
If you have the opportunity, try the shears before buying them to see how your hand moulds to the handles. Find what style is comfortable for you. A smaller pair of shears will probably be better if you have smaller hands and less wrist/hand strength. There are many styles; some have plastic-coated handles, and some are metal.
Keeping your fabric shears sharp is essential to avoid munching the fabric and creating pulls or jagged edges. It will also reduce tension on your wrists and palms.
A quality pair of scissors (fabric shears) is worth investing in your sewing kit. They can be sharpened and maintained, so they last for years. I have had mine for 10+ years so far.
It may seem silly to include this cutting tool first, but you will need a pair of paper scissors to cut out sewing patterns. If you like to use downloadable pdf sewing patterns, you already know that a fair bit of cutting is involved.
Because it blunts the blades, you shouldn’t use fabric shears to cut paper. Keeping a few pairs of cheap paper scissors around your sewing area is a good idea, so using your fabric shears is not tempting.
A must-have in any sewing room, snips are a handy little pair of cutters for snipping threads close to fabric or cutting open buttonholes.
Snips are a small set of blades with no handles. Instead, they are pushed together to cut threads quickly.
When I was studying fashion design, our tutor made us sew lanyards so we could always keep our snips around our necks. It was the best thing I ever did. Having them accessible is so helpful when sewing. It would drive me crazy, losing my snips in among the sewing mess.
You can find these at a dollar store or for nicks on Amazon. Some supermarkets will also sell these along with an unpick.
Seam Ripper (Unpick)
A seam ripper is always helpful to have in your sewing kit. You can use it to unpick seams that are mistakes or need removing, like basting. The seam ripper is a small, pointed metal tool with a sharp edge. It slides in under stitches and cuts the thread when pulled up.
Unpicks are in most grocery stores, dollar stores and any craft store for cheap.
I recommend having a couple of these in your sewing kit. You can keep one in your sewing kit, one by your sewing machine and a spare one in a cupboard if they break.
Left-handed fabric shears are for lefties like me. Left-handed scissors are helpful because the top cutting blade is visible to the left-hander, making cutting precise and easy. The right-handed blades are the opposite.
Left-handers can try using right-handed scissors to cut out, but it’s difficult to see where they will cut since the cutting blade is on the outside of the hand.
Most quality brands produce shears in both left and right-hand styles.
Other Useful Sewing Cutting Tools for Dressmaking
If you don’t own an overlocker (or serger), pinking shears are an excellent way to finish off your seam edges. The blades cut a zigzag pattern which can help prevent fraying on the raw edges of the fabric. The zigzag pattern is also a lovely decorative touch. Pinking shears are great for smaller craft projects like fabric napkins, making them look sweet and dainty.
Bent or Angled Fabric Scissors
Angled fabric shears have a unique shape that keeps the blades flat and parallel to the tabletop. The handles are the same as standard fabric shears, but the cutting blades sit in an angled or ‘bent’ position making them comfortable to use. The design helps create precise, crisp, and clean cuts into fabrics.
Electric Fabric Scissors
If you feel like being fancy or, some may say, efficient, there are electric fabric scissors for cutting fabric and paper patterns. Electric scissors are lightweight, ergonomic designs that can help reduce wrist and hand strain by doing the cutting work for you. All you do is guide the scissors.
If you find yourself cutting thicker denim or canvas fabric, these scissors would be an excellent investment for your sewing cutting tool kit. You can cut out paper patterns, cardboard, and light to heavy materials with the option to change the blades.
Since the blades are like fabric shears, there is no need for a cutting mat which is required when using a rotary cutter, making these quick and straightforward.
Suitable for both right and left-handed people. The battery on most of these cutting tools will last 2-3 hours if you purchase a quality brand.
Cutting open buttonholes is made easy with buttonhole scissors. This cutting tool helps reduce stretching and damage to the fabric. The scissors are small, making them easy to control. Some styles have an adjustable screw in the handle that keeps all the buttonholes cut to the same length, which is brilliant to avoid accidentally cutting through the stitching.
Quilting, Applique and Embroidery Sewing Cutting Tools
These cutting tools are handy for different purposes if you like quilting, embroidery, applique, or other fabric crafting activities. Let’s look at each cutting tool and why you may find them helpful in your sewing kit.
When it comes to quilting, a rotary cutter and mat are standard go-to tools. A rotary cutter is a handheld device with a round blade that cuts as it spins. Cutting with a rotary cutter is my favourite way to cut out fabric because it’s easy on the hands than fabric shears.
There are different blade circumferences, but standard sizes are 45” or 60”. It’s good to choose a blade size based on the sewing project you are working on. A smaller blade would work better if you cut out small intricate pieces. 60” blade cuts longer lengths which helps cut out garment pieces faster.
A rotary cutter does require a cutting mat underneath the fabric or material being cut to protect the blade and the cutting table or surface. You can find small and large cutting mats; a larger one is better, so you don’t have to rearrange the fabric when cutting constantly.
With these two tools, it’s sometimes helpful to have a quilting ruler nearby. A quilting ruler has measurements marked onto it so strips of binding or blocks can be cut out quickly and precisely.
Embroidery scissors are small and available in many pretty and fun handle styles. Embroidery scissors are used like snips to cut threads close to fabrics. The blades are sharp, short, and narrow with pointy sharp tips, which allows you to cut threads cleanly with a single snip. This keeps detailed work like embroidery tidy; nobody likes frayed or shredded threads.
Duckbill scissors are for embroidery artists. The large rings and curved handles help you create precise work. These scissors are called the duckbill because of the extra curved piece on the top cutting blade. The duckbill guides exact cuts around the edges of the applique.
Many sizes are available, but standard sizes are 4.5” to 6”.
Curved scissors are like snips or embroidery scissors with large rings for your fingers and curved blades. The blades curve upwards when the scissors are sitting down flat. The curved blades make cutting clean and precise cuts close to the fabric easier.
Double Curved Scissors
A double-curved pair of scissors has a deeper curve and more extended cut than curved scissors. The frames have angled finger loops which help keep hands away from the fabric and allow accessible cutting of challenging spots like under the sewing machine presser foot.
This cutting tool is useful when quilting using a hand or machine embroidery hoop because it cuts the threads closely without damaging the fabric. You can also use them to snip loose threads when sewing clothing or other projects.
Standard double curved scissors are 4” in size.
What brands do you recommend purchasing from?
Over the years, I have tried lots of sewing tools from many brands. The best value-for-money brands are Gingher (a popular choice on Amazon), Fiskars, Mundial, or Merchant and Mills.
I have pairs of shears from all these brands and find they’re quality products—many of which I have owned for over five years and still use often.
How do I maintain my fabric shears?
Always check that the blades can be sharpened when purchasing a pair of fabric shears. This means you can keep the same pair for a lifetime if you maintain them by getting a sharpening tool or sending them off.
Cutting material with blunt scissors can increase your chances of getting an injury in your hand or wrist. It can also make cutting out fabric unenjoyable and stressful as the fabric can get pulled or jagged.
Sewing Cutting Tools Conclusion
With plenty of sewing cutting tools available on the market, it can be confusing to know what cutting tools you should buy for your sewing kit. I hope that this detailed sewing cutting tool guide has given you a deeper understanding of each cutting tool and how you can use them to cut materials or threads when sewing.