21 Cutting Tools for Sewing Explained (Names, Pics, Uses)

If you’ve been to a craft store before, you’ve probably seen an overwhelming number of fabric cutting tools. What are they all used for? And which ones do you actually need? I’m going to explain all the main types of sewing tools used for cutting. This is a beginner-friendly guide with names, pictures, and use cases.

If you’re new to sewing, the only cutting tools you need are dressmaking shears (8″ is a good size), general-purpose paper scissors, a few seam rippers, and thread snips or embroidery scissors. If you want to quilt, you’ll also need a rotary cutter and mat.

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Contents list:

Fabric shears / scissors:

  1. Dressmaking Shears / Normal Fabric Scissors
  2. Angled / Bent
  3. Micro-serrated
  4. Heavy Duty
  5. Spring-loaded
  6. Left Handed / Ambidextrous / Right Handed
  7. Pinking

For quilting:

  1. Rotary Cutters
  2. L-shaped Rotary Cutters
  3. Batting Shears
  4. Rag Quilt Snip Scissors

For detailed cutting:

  1. Embroidery Scissors
  2. Curved Embroidery
  3. Double Curved Embroidery
  4. Duckbill / Appliqué
  5. Thread Snips
  6. Buttonhole Cutter / Chisel
  7. Seam Ripper

For cutting paper patterns:

  1. General Purpose Craft / Paper Scissors

Electric cutting tools:

  1. Electric Fabric Scissors
  2. Fabric Cutting Machines

Fabric shears / scissors:

1. Dressmaking Shears / Normal Fabric Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Dressmaking shears are scissors that cut fabric. They have one straight blade (the lower blade) and one bent blade (the dominant blade), and you’re supposed to keep the lower blade close and parallel to your cutting surface (i.e. your table) and let the dominant blade do the cutting. This way you don’t need to lift your scissors off the table too much, preventing the fabric from shifting around, and making your cuts more precise. 

2 black dressmaking shears
Kai and LDH dressmaking shears. Photo credit: Nisan Aktürk.

Which dressmaking shears do you recommend? Dressmaking shears come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 6” to 12” (or even more). You’ll want to choose a size depending on the size and strength of your hands, as well as the projects you’re planning to work on. For example, I have smaller hands and I use my shears to cut garments, meaning I need a small-to-medium pair of shears. A good size for general purpose use is 8″. If you’re planning on making long, straight cuts, you might want to go for a bigger size like a 10” or 12”. If you’re planning to cut smaller pieces you might want to look into the 6” or 7” models. I personally own a pair of 8” Kai shears and a pair of 9” LDH shears and I’m very happy with both of them. 

2. Angled / Bent Fabric Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Angled or bent fabric scissors look like exaggerated versions of dressmaking shears. The upward bend in the handles is much more pronounced, giving you more leverage (power) when you cut fabric. They’re great for making long, straight cuts. They’re also better at keeping fabric flat on the table while you cut, so your fabric doesn’t shift and cause wonky and jagged edges.

orange handled fabric scissor with a bent handle
Angled fabric scissors from Fiskars.

3. Micro-serrated Fabric Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Micro-serrated or serrated fabric scissors have slightly textured blades instead of perfectly smooth ones. This texture gently grabs onto the fabric while you’re cutting and prevents shifting, giving you cleaner, more precise cuts. It’s often used with thin and slippery fabrics like silk. Serrated fabric scissors look just like regular dressmaking shears and come in a similar range of sizes.

Which micro-serrated scissors do you recommend? Just like standard dressmaking shears, you will want to get a size of micro-serrated scissors that will work with the size and strength of your hands and your projects. Fiskars makes a great 8” model that is well-reviewed, and it would be a good fit for most because of its medium size. 

4. Heavy Duty Fabric Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Heavy duty fabric scissors are designed to handle thick and heavyweight fabrics, as well as multiple layers of fabric. The blades on regular fabric scissors can separate too much if you try to cut really heavy fabrics with them, meaning they won’t be able to cut through them. Heavy duty fabric scissors force the blades together with each cut, allowing them to cut through thick materials. 

orange fabric shears with case
Heavy-duty Fiskars fabric shears. They’re from the Amplify range.

Which heavy duty fabric scissors do you recommend? Fiskars’s Amplify series has some great options for heavy duty fabric scissors. They have 6”, 8”, and 10” lengths with regular blades, as well as an 8” serrated blade version. 

5. Spring-loaded Fabric Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Usually when you’re using scissors of any type, your hand makes two motions for each cut: first it opens the blades, and then it closes them. These fabric scissors have a spring-loaded mechanism in them. This means you only need to do the closing motion, as they will spring back to an open state after each cut.

These types of scissors are great if you experience weakness in your hands, if you suffer from arthritis, or if you’re working on projects that require repetitive cutting for long periods. They’re also great for cutting thick and heavy fabrics like coating weight wools or multiple layers of canvas. Because these scissors require less effort, you’ll find that your hands won’t be as tired.

Different types of spring-loaded scissors: The spring-loaded mechanism can be found in a number of different types of scissors. The most popular examples are thread snips, fabric shears, or batting shears (explained later).

Which spring-loaded fabric scissors do you recommend? I don’t own a pair of spring-loaded fabric shears, but the Easy Action Fabric Scissors from Fiskars is a well-reviewed and well-liked pair. 

6. Left Handed / Ambidextrous / Right Handed Fabric Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? The main difference between right and left-handed scissors is the way the blades are connected. With right-handed scissors, the blade on the right side will go up and the blade on the left side will go down each time you open the scissors (source). On left-handed scissors, this is reversed, meaning they replicate the experience of right-handed users by mirroring the blade structure. Using the correct scissors for your dominant hand is crucial if you want a comfortable cutting experience with neat results.

There are left-handed versions of all the cutting tools on this list, from pinking shears and duckbill scissors to batting shears and double curved embroidery scissors. 

Some scissors will come with ambidextrous handles (designed for left and right-handed users), but this doesn’t mean they’re great for both left and right handed people. It depends entirely on the blades and not the handles.

7. Pinking Shears

What is it? And what’s it used for? Pinking shears have zig-zag shaped blades that cut the fabric in a zig-zag pattern. The zig-zag blades create cuts that are on the bias (cutting fabric at a 45 degree diagonal grain), so the cut edge is less prone to fraying. They work best on light to medium weight fabrics, where they can be used to finish the seams. Another great use for them is to trim the seam allowances on curved areas, because they essentially create a series of evenly spaced notches on the fabric, ensuring that your seam will lie flat when it’s turned right side out. There are also pinking shears with scalloped blades instead of zigzag blades, which give a nice, decorative element.

Open pinking shears with red handles
Pinking shears with zig zag blades. Photo credit: Nisan Aktürk.

Which pinking shears do you recommend? I bought my pinking shears from a local store for a cheap price. They work well on thinner fabrics, but they have issues when cutting through medium-weight fabrics or a couple of layers. If you’re planning on using them very occasionally like me, going with a budget option might be fine. But if you’re thinking about using them to finish your seams, I recommend getting a higher quality one like these ones from LDH Scissors or this one from Fiskars

For quilting:

8. Rotary Cutters

What is it? And what’s it used for? Rotary cutters are cutting tools that feature a disc-shaped blade that’s mounted onto a handle. To use them, you simply glide the circular blade on your fabric, applying a bit of pressure. The blade rotates while making its cut, allowing you to cut your fabric smoothly and with greater precision. They’re frequently used with quilting rulers to make really precise, straight cuts. You’ll need to change the blades after every few projects, so remember to keep a few spares on hand. Using rotary cutters with dull blades can be quite dangerous, so don’t skip changing the blades when needed. You’ll also need a cutting mat to use under them, as they’ll severely damage your table otherwise.

orange Singer rotary cutter and black rotary cutter
2 rotary cutters. Photo credit: Nisan Aktürk.

Different sizes of rotary cutters: The blades of rotary cutters come in four different sizes: 60 mm, 45 mm, 28 mm, and 18 mm, referring to the diameter of the blade. The 45 mm size is great for most uses, so I recommend starting with this. The smaller sizes are often used by lingerie makers, as they allow you to cut small pattern pieces and intricate shapes easily. The 60 mm size is used for cutting thick fabrics.

Which rotary cutters do you recommend? When I first found myself in need of a rotary cutter, I bought a cheaper model from Singer. I found it quite difficult to use, as the blade wasn’t sharp enough and the handle felt really flimsy. I then received one from LDH scissors as a PR gift, and it’s the polar opposite of my old ones! The blade is super sharp, so you don’t need to apply much pressure. It also allows you to move the blade to either side, giving you greater control over your cuts.

9. L-shaped Rotary Cutter

What is it? And what’s it used for? These are rotary cutters that have an L-shaped handle. They allow you to direct your strength right over the actual blade, meaning you don’t need to use as much power to make a clean cut. They’re a more ergonomic and safer option. Just like regular rotary cutters, they come in different sizes.

10. Batting Shears

What is it? And what’s it used for? Batting shears usually come in 2 varieties: The first type looks like an exaggerated version of bent dressmaking shears, where the bend is much greater. Both handles are raised quite dramatically from the blades, giving you more control over where you’re cutting. The second type looks like a giant pair of thread snips: it’s a pair of long, spring-loaded blades that can easily cut through thick batting without tiring your hands.

Which batting shears do you recommend? This model is a good example of the first kind, and this 14” pair from LDH Scissors is a good example of the second type. 

11. Rag Quilt Snip Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Rag quilt snip scissors are spring-loaded scissors with a small, sharp blade. They’re used for snipping into the exposed seam allowances when making a rag quilt. This creates a beautiful, fluffy frayed texture when washed and dried – similar to adding a frayed / fringed hem to a pair of jeans. 

Which rag quilt snips do you recommend? Fiskars makes a high quality 8” version that is well-reviewed by quilters. 

For detailed cutting:

12. Embroidery Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Embroidery scissors are small scissors that are frequently used in embroidery projects to cut yarn, but they’re also a great sewing tool. You can use them to clip into seam allowances, make precise cuts in small areas like snipping into the corners of a welt pocket, or clean up loose bits of thread. Make sure you get a sharp pair, especially if you want to cut into fabric. You might also want ones with larger handles, as small handles can pinch your fingers. 

3 embroidery scissors in silver and gold
3 different styles of embroidery scissors. Photo credit: Nisan Aktürk.

Which embroidery scissors do you recommend? I have a couple of pairs in my collection: first is the classic, gold-colored stork-shaped ones that everyone thinks of when embroidery scissors are mentioned. These are really nice and sharp, ideal for cleaning loose threads or clipping into lightweight fabric. I also got this larger pair, mainly because I wanted a stronger pair that was still small enough to get into tight corners. This Merchant & Mills one and this Fiskars one are great options if you want sharp and durable embroidery scissors.

13. Curved Embroidery Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Curved embroidery scissors have an upwards curve at the tip of their blades. They’re designed for cutting single layers of material, and they’re ideal for making close, precise cuts like trimming around appliqués or needleworks. You can also use them to trim loose bits of threads in a safe way, without risking cutting into your stitching. 

Which curved embroidery scissors do you recommend? This pair from Gingher is a high-quality version. The tip is really sharp and the size is great at 4”. 

14. Double Curved Embroidery Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Double curved embroidery scissors bend down at the handles, and they bend up towards the blades, giving them a soft S-shaped profile. They usually feature quite short blades and a sharp tip, allowing you to easily get into small, tight spaces. They can be used for cutting out intricate shapes for appliqués or trimming loose threads. They can serve as an alternative to duckbill scissors.

Which double curved embroidery scissors do you recommend? KAI makes a great pair of 5 ½” double curved embroidery scissors with a really sharp tip, but they’re best suited for lightweight materials. This 6” Gingher pair has thicker blades, so reviewers had no problem cutting through thick materials, but this also makes them less ideal for getting into really tight spaces. 

15. Duckbill Scissors / Appliqué Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Duckbill scissors (also called appliqué scissors) are small scissors that have a flat, half-circle shaped blade (called a paddle or duckbill blade) on one side, and a regular blade on the other. Some of them also have handles that are bent up from the blades. They allow you to cut one layer of fabric while protecting the other layer(s) from being cut, thanks to the flat and wide blade. They are often used for grading seam allowances (trimming different layers of seam allowances at different widths to reduce bulk), trimming the excess fabric from appliqué projects, in lingerie making, or trimming loose threads. 

Which duckbill / appliqué scissors do you recommend? These Gingher ones are widely used and well-liked among home-sewers.

16. Thread Snips

What is it? And what’s it used for? Thread snips are small scissors that are used for snipping loose bits of thread, clipping into seam allowances, or doing other precision cutting jobs. They can come in a variety of shapes: some are spring-loaded, some come with a ring that allows you to “wear” your thread snips on your finger, and some are made in a U-shape. All of these types share one important property: they remain open until you close them to make a cut, upon which they return to their open state. This makes it really quick and easy to trim loose threads on your sewing project. 

black thread snips
Black thread snip from Golden Eagle. Photo credit: Nisan Aktürk.

Which thread snips do you recommend? I own multiple spring-loaded thread snips from the brand Golden Eagle and they’re among my favorite sewing tools. They make trimming loose bits of thread much easier and quicker than using small, regular scissors. I keep one by my serger (aka. overlocker), one by my sewing machine, one by my iron, and even one in my purse. LDH Scissors also makes some great ones.

17. Buttonhole Cutter / Chisel 

What is it? And what’s it used for? A buttonhole cutter is a tiny chisel that’s used to cut open the center of your buttonhole stitching. To use it, you simply place your fabric with the buttonhole stitching on a hard surface, align the chisel with the center of the buttonhole, and either press on it or give it a few light taps with a hammer. It produces a really straight and clean cut, eliminating any risk of accidentally cutting through your stitching.

Which buttonhole cutter / chisel do you recommend? I’ve seen this Clover one used by many sewing friends.

18. Seam Ripper

What is it? And what’s it used for? A seam ripper is a small tool that has one sharp point, one point with a small plastic or rubber ball at the tip, and a sharp razor between these two pointy ends. It’s used to cut through stitches when you need to undo a seam. You can slide the end with the ball under the seam and gently push the razor against the stitches to quickly undo them while protecting your fabric from tears. You can also use them to cut off loose threads, or open up buttonholes (note: this is risky because you can easily cut through the stitching and rip your fabric, so be careful!).

2 brown Clover seam rippers and a lid
Clover seam rippers. Photo credit: Nisan Aktürk.

Which seam ripper do you recommend? I own a couple of these ones from Clover, and I’m really happy with them. You could also try one that has a comfortable grip, a sharp razor, and a protective ball at the tip of the shorter side, like this other Clover model

For cutting paper patterns:

19. General Purpose Craft / Paper Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Craft or paper scissors feature straight blades with a blunt tip, as well as soft handles to stop your hands from hurting after long periods of use. Some models also have a slight bend like fabric scissors so that you don’t lift the paper off your cutting surface. Others feature ambidextrous handles which are best for cutting paper while holding it in your other hand. You’ll use these to cut paper sewing patterns.

2 craft and paper scissors with yellow and white handles
General-purpose paper scissors. Photo credit: Nisan Aktürk.

Which craft / paper scissors do you recommend? Craft / paper scissors come in all sorts of sizes: if you’re planning on using these to cut small, intricate pattern pieces, these 6 ½” soft handle craft scissors from LDH Scissors are a great option. If you’re looking to cut larger pattern pieces, this 8” and 5” set from Fiskars can be a good option: the 8” pair has a slight bend, making it easier for you to cut garment patterns. If you’re looking to get a pair of scissors for cutting large pattern pieces, I highly recommend getting one of these bent pairs.

Electric cutting tools:

20. Electric Fabric Scissors

What is it? And what’s it used for? Electric fabric scissors are a battery-operated cutting tool that makes it quick and easy to cut large amounts of fabric. They feature shorter blades that open and close automatically, cutting the fabric as you move it along. Most models are also quite strong, so they can cut through heavier materials like canvas, leather, coatings, or upholstery fabrics with ease. These are a great alternative to regular scissors if you have issues with hand strength.

21. Fabric Cutting Machines

What is it? And what’s it used for? These are computer-controlled cutting machines that can cut a variety of materials like fabric, leather, vinyl, or paper using the design you upload. They’re perfect for cutting small, intricate pieces – especially if you need to cut large quantities of them. While they’re not that helpful for garment sewing due to their smaller size, they can be helpful assistants for quilting.

Which cutting machines do you recommend? Cricut is perhaps the most well-known producer of these machines. Among their three models, their Cricut Maker 3 is the best one for fabric.

What to read next…

More about fabric cutting tools:

More about sewing supplies:

This article was written by Nisan Aktürk and edited by Sara Maker.

Nisan Aktürk (author)
Nisan started her sewing journey in December 2019 and already has a fully handmade wardrobe. She’s made 50+ trousers, 20+ buttoned shirts, and a wide array of coats, jackets, t-shirts, and jeans. She’s currently studying for her Sociology Master’s degree and is writing a thesis about sewing. So she spends a lot of her time either sewing or thinking/writing about sewing! Read more…