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From Love Tokens to Life Saving

by AlexisB about a year ago in vintage
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My History With Scissors

Author's prop New Year's Greeting Card 1860

Scissors eh? What would I have done without them? Scissors have distracted me from some of the saddest times in my life and absorbed me in the constructive times in my life.

The thing about scissors is that they are so ancient. The word, derived from the Latin ‘Cisorium’ meaning a cutting instrument has been with us for probably a millennium or so and in various forms and the items themselves would have gone back into the Bronze Age. Who was that unknown genius who sharpened two knives and fixed them around a pivot? He has empowered so many tailors, seamstresses, designers, craftworkers and many more. He or she must surely be one of those great unlauded heroes whose gift to future generations surely deserves to be recorded in the annals of history.

I wonder how many of us have a history with scissors? I used a pair today to cut out a printed photograph for my daughter’s 49th birthday that I attached to the wrapping of a boxed birthday present. I wanted something that would cut through the confining nature of time and say something eternal, so I used a photo I took outside of my house of a comet against the distant looming hills and speckle of stars in a velvet sky.

Author - Comet Neowise July 17th 2020

That cast my mind back over my own history with scissors.

My grandmother whose mortal coil was cut in 1953 was a great gardener. We lived with her in a little semidetached bungalow in Sussex where the back garden bloomed with lavender, phlox, irises, roses, forsythia, lilac and many more blooms whose name I never knew. She would cut these blooms with a large pair of black-handled scissors then lay them out on a little table just outside the back door trimming the stems as she arranged them for the several vases she put on every shelf, mantelpiece, and window ledge, bringing the colours and smells of the season into the house. A special posy she would arrange beside the red votive lamp she kept high on a corner shelf as a sort of altar to good fortune and health. I had no idea that represented a pious hope for some blessing as she had already had her body offered up to the surgeon’s knife and clamps while the sutures were cut by sterilised scissors, relieving her of both breasts and a slightly improved lifespan.

Now in my seventies, I still associate my grandmother with scissors.

Of course, as a small boy, I was not allowed to handle anything sharp and rounded plastic scissors were yet to appear in our household while at school some very blunt metal examples were employed with limited success for the Easter collage or the Christmas paperchains.

The idea of craft beckoned, yet was frustrated by a combination of inexperience and bluntness. For all those early years, craftwork equalled frustration.

Matters weren’t improved much at my grammar school where the girls seemed to have first choice of anything sharp as they were encouraged, in domestic science, to cut cloth, with all scissors counted out and counted back at the beginning and end of every lesson. For us boys, art and craft lessons comprised brushes, pencils, palette knives and potter’s wheel if we were lucky. Scissors? What did we need those for?

In early adult life, the scissors made an appearance entirely as a utility tool for cutting away packaging, strips from faxes or teleprinters to make up Met charts and warnings to be placed on boards for the scrutiny of aircrew. A humble yet critical use upon which many lives would ultimately depend.

On my days off, a fine pair of orange handled scissors would be found in a waterproof case for first aid in the rescue boat, sometimes being misused to cut lines and when ashore to cut out patches to repair leaks in the outboard-powered inflatable, until some kind soul gave us a pair of substantial pinking shears which worked brilliantly on the canvas reinforced patches.

As life waxed and waned with work and projects, scissors in their various forms moved from the utility of cutting tangles from the fur of cats and dogs and even the umbilicus of one newborn lamb, that had entangled itself around its neck, a fate that I, apparently, nearly succumbed to when I was born. As my mother said, it was scissors to the rescue yet again.

No, it was when we started working at our own museum of Christmas project that scissors really came into their own. Having rescued from skips, flea markets and various attics, ancient decorations, strings of lights and Christmas cards that delicately wielded scissors became an essential tool.

Author's Workshop 2012

In order to fund the conservation efforts, we took to replicating designs, paper decorations of a particular period even going back to making collages or albums using those cards which were beyond repair, yet within which some imagery could lend itself to new use. These replicas were hired out, appearing in film, TV and exhibitions worldwide. Indeed if you have ever seen ‘Peter’s Friends’ directed by Kenneth Branagh, ‘The Blue Carbuncle’ in the ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ or even ‘The Little Match Girl’ Starring Twiggy and Roger Daltrey, you would have seen what our scissors could achieve.

Author's work - Amy Mott's Album 1892 Reclaimed in 1986

Author - Regency Christmas Table Adornment, Reclaimed 1999

Author's Library 2001

Author - prop work 2010

I find myself wondering whether being instructed in sheep shearing counted as using scissors, for indeed even pet sheep needed to be shorn.

But perhaps scissors’ finest hour in my hands was when they cut up an old chocolate box to make a small concept design for my invention ‘Skirider’ a sort of scooter to be used on snow for those who through injury or ailment could no longer use skis or snowboard. The graphics were designed by a young man named Simon Bathard who had done contract work for Fiskars. Vinyl sheets were cut and applied giving eye-catching graphics which embodied elements of the Welsh flag.

Author's library 2008
Author 2018

And so it went, I bought an inflatable for use on the River Wye whose puncture was immediately repaired using sharp scissors this time, to great effect and inflation success.

Being a keen angler, both at sea and on river, scissors have always been an essential adjunct, nestling in various pockets of anoraks, smocks and fly fishing waistcoats.

Ah fly fishing, surely the tying of flies needs scissors to trim hackles, cut tinsel and of course nip off the tiniest thread. My own efforts have been very scissors dependent, far from the sheer artistry of a Japanese fly tier whose excellent salmon fly now adorns my bedroom wall. Still for all my humbler efforts, the trout, shad, chub, salmon and dace don’t seem to mind. They all work, and scissors, those small, humble, sharp and necessary tools are always to hand and should any line tangle so much as to present a true Gordian knot, they can easily be employed to part line then nip off tag ends when line is retied, even without losing that fish pulling hard at the other end.

And that folks is how I spend my latter days, happily relying on the tools that have accompanied me joyfully through life.

Author's Workshop 2012


About the author


Mother, lover, educator, escapee. Obsessed with finding ease in relationships, health, wellbeing and the juggling of life. @alexisbehrend.

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