Pinking Shears 101: What Are They? Uses? & How to Use

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What are pinking shears (for fabric)?

Pinking shears are scissors that make small zig-zag cuts in fabric. Their main purpose is to reduce how much the fabric frays. They’re mainly used on light to medium weight woven fabrics, but high-quality pinking shears will be able to handle heavy-weight fabrics like denim and canvas without “chewing” them.

Black pinking shears closed
Black pinking shears open showing zig zag blade
Gingham fabric with a pinked edge
This is what my fabric edge looked like after I cut it with pinking shears.

Do pinking shears come in different sizes?

They typically come in 8” or 9” sizes – a normal medium-sized scissor. Some websites say the teeth are available in different sizes too. This is to create zig zags of different depths (3, 5 and 7mm), however, it’s rare that this information is mentioned on product pages so you’re unlikely to be able to choose this. 3mm deep zig zags are common when it comes to fabric shears.

closeup of zig zag teeth on black pinking shears

What are pinking shears used for?

  • To finish the raw edges of fabric and reduce fraying. Especially if the fabric is tightly woven and won’t be washed or handled often.
  • Finish seams without a sewing machine or serger.
  • Reduce bulk in the seam allowances by trimming and grading them.
  • Create a decorative finish on felt ornaments.
  • Cut the raw edges of fabric yardage to reduce fraying during the pre-washing process.
  • Cut fabric swatches for your project planning notebook.
  • They work on woven fabrics and non-woven materials (eg. felt). They’re not designed for knit fabrics.

Here I used my pinking shears to cut small swatches for my fabric stash records. The zig-zagged edges help the samples live longer. (You can download the free swatch book template I used here.)

fabric swatch page surrounded by fabric, tape, and pinking shears
close up of a blue check fabric swatch with pinked edges

I also used my pinking shears to finish the raw edges of a doll dress. Doll clothes aren’t normally finished on the inside – the pieces are small and fiddly to work with, and the garment won’t be washed and worn like real clothes. My pinking shears were really helpful here because I didn’t want to leave the edges completely raw the way the instructions told me to.

18 inch doll wearing a blue check fabric dress

The dress hem was pinked, turned up once, and stitched.

Gingham fabric with a pinked edge
Inside gingham dress showing pinked edges

I also cut the ribbon to the right length using pinking shears. They’ve helped reduce fraying. Not as much as melting the ends would, but still a lot better than cutting them straight with normal fabric scissors.

closeup of ribbon on dress with pinked edges

What are pinking shears not used for? 

They’re not used on stretchy knits because these fabrics don’t fray, so there’s no need to finish the edges. Pinking shears may also cause snags and runs in knit fabric.

Pinking shears are not used to cut out your pattern pieces. You need your pattern pieces to be cut out accurately using straight cuts, not zig zags. Pinking shears would cut zig zags that could mess up your seam allowance requirements and leave you with too little fabric to work with. It would also be harder to match pattern pieces and sew them together.

Do pinking shears prevent fraying? *tested*

Pinking shears reduce fraying but don’t completely prevent it. Depending on the weave of the fabric, it will still shed a few threads as you use and wash the fabric. It’s not the most durable way to stop your projects from fraying, but it is a quick and simple option for beginners. 

To further secure your pinked edges you could sew a straight line of stitching between the seam line and pinked edges (try a short stitch length of 2mm). This acts as another barrier to stop any fraying from reaching the seams and creating holes.

If the fabric is loosely woven (meaning there are large gaps between threads), and the item needs to be frequently washed and tumble dried, you’re more likely to see fraying. Pinked edges work best on tightly woven fabrics that are rarely washed and dried.

Here’s why pinking shears reduce fraying: 

Once woven fabric is cut into tiny zig zags along the “bias grain”, it becomes harder to pull out a long thread from the fabric and start unraveling it. Any agitation of the fabric just sheds tiny threads.

Here are some fabrics that I cut using LDH pinking shears. You can see what they look like after I rubbed the edges. Most of them did fray a little, but not too much, and it was hard to pull out long lengths of thread. So pinking the edges did improve things.

Cotton-linen blend fabric test:

  • Fabric description: Light to medium weight fabric = easy to cut. Quite tightly woven (for linen) so less prone to fraying.
  • Results: pinking the edges reduced fraying. I was only able to pull out a few tiny threads after aggressively pulling at the edges.

Loosely woven viscose / rayon test:

  • Fabric description: Light to medium weight fabric = easy to cut. Loosely woven so more prone to fraying
  • Results: before the edges were pinked, it was easy to pull out long threads from the fabric. Pinking the edges stopped this and I was only able to pull out tiny threads.

Tightly woven silk test:

  • Fabric description: Light to medium weight fabric = easy to cut. Tightly woven so less prone to fraying.
  • Results: before the edges were pinked, it was easy to pull out long threads from the fabric. Pinking the edges stopped this and I was only able to pull out tiny threads.

Medium to heavyweight cotton for furnishings test:

  • Fabric description: Medium to heavy weight fabric for curtains, cushions, and upholstery. Tightly woven so less prone to fraying.
  • Results: After pinking the edges, most of what I pulled out were tiny threads, but there were a few long chunky threads that still came out. Pinking did reduce the overall fraying, but not completely.

Are pinking shears worth it?

Pinking shears are a nice addition to your sewing toolkit, but not essential. Many people who saw garments don’t use them frequently. They’re not needed for quilting or lingerie. If you make clothes or bags, you may use pinking shears to reduce bulk in seam allowances, and “notch” curves so they turn inside out smoothly. A beginner may also want to pink all their seam allowances because it’s the simplest option. Over time you’ll learn more durable seam finish options that stop all fraying, but at the start, pinked seams are still better than nothing. 

The best pinking shears – what to look for:

  • Very sharp all the way to the tip. Creates clean cuts and doesn’t “chew” the fabric.
  • Cuts smoothly, not rigidly with resistance.
  • Cuts light and heavy weight fabrics.

How to use pinking shears:

  1. Sew your seam. Depending on what you’re making, you may be told to press the seam allowances open or to one side using an iron.
  2. Put your hands in the pinking shear handles. Your thumb will go into the top handle and your other fingers will go into the bottom handle. 
  3. Open the blade by expanding your hand.
a hand opening pinking shears
  1. Place the fabric you want to cut in between the blades. Be careful not to include any layers that you don’t want to cut. You can make the seam allowance narrow or wide, but I recommend only cutting off a small amount like ⅛” (0.3cm). This way there’s a larger seam allowance, making it harder for any fraying to reach the line of stitching.
  2. Squeeze the shears to close the blade and make the first cut. Cut all the way to the tip of the blade.
  3. Open the shears. Move them up along the cut. Line up the teeth with the end of your previous cut and close the blades again. This will give you a neat and consistent zig zag.

Why are my pinking shears so stiff?

Some pinking shears will require a lot of force to cut. If your shears are old, this may be a sign that they need sharpening. Or a good clean and oil. If your shears are brand new, it may be because they’re budget scissors and the teeth aren’t perfectly aligned.

In general though, even the best pinking shears will be a bit slower and need slightly more force than normal dressmaking shears (the scissors that cut fabric in straight lines). This is because the 2 blades are zig-zagged with a tight space between them, so they have to pass through a narrow and complex shape to cut, unlike straight blades.

Can pinking shears be sharpened? How?

Yes, pinking shears can be sharpened, but this should only be done by professionals. They will sharpen each tooth with specialist equipment and know the correct angle to sharpen them (this differs between brands). It’s important not to file the teeth between the blades yourself. You can use a mail-in service to send your shears for sharpening.

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