While you might think of scissors and shears as interchangeable, there are a few notable differences between the two.
Not all scissors are shears, and knowing the difference can help you buy the perfect cutting tools for your next sewing project.
Here’s Why Some Scissors Are Called Shears:
Shears are a type of scissor that are usually longer and have a unique bent handle design. The blades are high-quality steel to help professional sewers and hobbyists make consistently smooth cuts. Scissors are not as long and will have a straighter design.
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What is the Difference Between Scissors and Shears?
When comparing scissors and shears, a few distinct differences can help you tell the two apart.
Let’s take a look at the top differences between the two:
Shears are usually designed to sit flat along the bottom edge as they cut.
They have a unique bent handle design that lets you rest the bottom edge of your shears directly on your cutting surface. This design gives you extra support as you cut and eliminates the need to hold the scissors or fabric in the air while cutting.
You might also notice that shears usually have asymmetrical holes for your fingers. There is usually a circular hole for your thumb and an oblong hole for multiple fingers.
Your shears may be completely metal or have a plastic-coated grip. For beginners, plastic-coated grips tend to be lighter and more user-friendly. Pure metal shears will be heavier for smaller hands but are regarded to have outstanding performance with their powerful blades.
Shears can further be broken down into tailor’s shears or dressmaker’s shears.
While different manufacturers might use these terms differently, tailor’s shears are usually the largest and heaviest, often made completely of metal.
Dressmaker’s shears tend to be slightly smaller and lighter while still maintaining the signature shear design.
No matter the type of shear, these specialty scissors are designed to help you to glide through your cuts smoothly. The long, sharp blades help avoid any raggedy cuts that can happen due to rushing with a regular pair of scissors.
They are especially loved by sewing professionals who find themselves cutting countless pieces of fabric in a day’s work.
Shears are typically longer than scissors. Typically, they will have blades longer than 6 inches. You can look for a pair of dressmaker’s shears for shears with shorter blades.
If you are looking for the longest, most professional shear type, check out the tailor’s shears at your local sewing shop.
Regular scissors tend to be smaller and more symmetrical in appearance.
A standard pair of scissors will typically have shorter blades than shears. They will usually have two matching circular holes for your fingers. The blades will emerge as the perfect line of symmetry between the two finger holes.
Within the scissors category, you can still find plenty of variation and specialization. Embroidery scissors, for example, are a petite pair of scissors that are specially designed for snipping small threads and making tiny, detailed cuts.
Because of the symmetrical design, scissors don’t have the bent handle for flat, supported cutting. When using standard scissors, you will either have to lift your fabric or hold your scissors at an angle to cut your fabric.
To see different cutting techniques for both scissors and shears, you can check out this informative video on YouTube:
Scissors and Shears: The Gray Area
With all of these differences being explained, it’s important to understand that there is also plenty of gray area between the two categories.
You might find a pair of scissors with the signature bent handle design but with less than 6 inches blades. Scissor manufacturers often take the best elements of both common categories and create scissors that give you the best of both worlds.
Kids’ scissors often use one circular hole for the thumb with an oblong hole for the other fingers. Even though the grips are not symmetrical, the blades are still situated perfectly between the two grips.
To find what works best for you, experiment with different kinds of scissors, shears, and those that fall in between. Only you can know what will work best for your style of sewing projects.
Are Shears Used for Specific Fabrics or Projects?
Shears are designed to make clean, easy cuts over long fabric stretches.
The blades are typically longer than a pair of all-purpose scissors and are designed with high-quality metal blades to cut from base to tip smoothly.
The bent handle of fabric shears also makes them ideal for cutting over long periods of time. If you have a lot of seams to cut, you can make smooth, supported cuts by resting the base of your shears on the table as you work.
Shears are generally considered more professional-grade than a regular pair of scissors. If you take on serious sewing projects, you will enjoy the ergonomic benefits of a pair of proper dressmaking or tailor’s shears.
Part of their professional quality is the blade material and construction. All-purpose scissors usually don’t possess the same high-quality blades as shears do. Shears are designed to be incredibly sharp and make clean cuts without a lot of effort from the user.
When they are properly cared for and sharpened, shears will cleanly cut from base to tip without offering any resistance to the fabric.
If you need to make perfectly precise cuts, especially through multiple layers of fabric, a pair of nice shears are better suited for this job.
All-purpose scissors might not be sharp or strong enough and can push the fabric out of the way as they cut. This will make for a messy final product.
On the other hand, shears can deliver clean cuts through multiple layers of fabric at the same time. They are also better suited for cutting through thick fabric without fraying the edges.
Are Shears More Expensive than Scissors?
Since shears are usually larger and made with higher-quality blades, they typically have a higher price tag than standard scissors.
On the positive side, shears are typically built to last. The blades are made from higher-quality metal and are designed to stay sharp longer.
This means that they will have a much longer life than the cheap scissors you use around the house. You can professionally sharpen shears from time to time to bring them back to their out-of-the-package effectiveness.
Even though shears are generally more expensive than generic scissors, you can still find a quality pair at an affordable price.
Fiskars is a respected brand that famously produces its orange handle shears at an accessible price.
Some brands of shears guarantee their shears for life. If you purchase from one of these brands, you can rest assured that your upfront investment is worthwhile.
Some of these brands will perform sharpening and maintenance for free for the life of their shears. Others will provide it at a cost as a mail-in service. Check with the manufacturer to see if you can have your shears sharpened or even repaired free of charge.
Are Scissors More Comfortable than Shears?
While shears tend to be larger and heavier than scissors, they are created to provide comfort to the user.
First, the bent handle design lets you rest the bottom edge of the shears on the cutting surface as you work. Standard scissors need to be lifted or held at an angle so the user easily feels their weight.
Shears may be heavier, but they are designed so that the user doesn’t feel their full weight during use. Depending on the make and model, their finger grips can also be more ergonomically designed than standard scissors.
If you are not comfortable using heavy scissors, consider a smaller pair of shears with a plastic handle.
These will be easier to use and are great for beginners as they get used to cutting with high-quality shears.
Do Shears Weigh More?
Shears typically weigh more than general-use scissors. They are larger and longer than standard scissors and made from heavier, higher-quality materials.
Tailors’ shears designed to cut through heavy fabrics are usually made of solid metal. This construction can make them heavy to wield but excellent at making consistent, clean cuts.
If you want to purchase a pair of shears but are worried about their weight, consider a pair of dressmaking shears instead of tailors’ shears. These tend to be smaller and easier to use while still delivering clean cuts.
Are Scissors or Shears Better for Controlled Cutting?
If you want to make small, detailed cuts, a pair of small, sharp fabric scissors will be the best choice. Shears will usually be too big to make precise snips and cuts.
A small pair of sharp embroidery scissors can be perfect for snipping out notches and making other tiny cuts.
If you are looking to cut long seams with control, shears become the best choice. You will be able to make long, clean cuts without tiring your hand.
If you need to cut several layers at once with complete precision, a heavy-duty pair of tailoring shears is your best bet.
While we might think of scissors and shears as interchangeable, they are two different categories of cutting tools that serve different purposes.
If you need a professional-grade pair of scissors with long, high-quality blades, you will want to get a pair of shears. Their signature bent handle design will help support you as you cut with control.
If you have short blades with a symmetrical design, these are likely a regular pair of scissors. A good pair of fabric scissors are still useful for detailed cuts and less professional needs in the sewing room.