Sheffield has been a centre for manufacturing various forms of “blades” since the 14th century thanks to the many hills, valleys and rivers powering its industry. Stainless steel was actually invented in Sheffield and you’ll still find a large percentage of your cutlery will proudly state “Made in Sheffield”.
Ernest Wright is one of the last remaining traditional scissor manufacturers in Sheffield and is a family run business that has been hand making scissors since 1902. As a Yorkshire lass who hails from Sheffield aka the “Steel City” and home of the scissor, I was really happy to meet Nick Wright of Ernest Wright Ltd at the Knitting & Stitching show at Alexandra Palace in October. The original Ernest Wright was Nick’s great grandfather. I kept Nick chatting for far too long at the show and he invited me to go and have a look around the factory the next time I was in town. So, recently I was in Sheffield and finally went for that long overdue visit. Here’s what I found….
The factory is on Broad Lane in central Sheffield and if you look up you won’t miss it!
A big thank you to Nick and Pam for being so welcoming and letting us take up precious time in their day. Pam wasn’t even supposed to be there, she came in specially to meet us!
I knew my dad would find it an interesting place, so I took him along too!
As soon as you walk through the door there’s no shortage of scissors….
OK, so down to the nitty gritty,
HOW ARE THESE THINGS MADE?!
Let’s start with a quick whistlestop tour of a pair of scissors:
Screenshot image from Little Less Known’s brilliant film of the Ernest Wright factory.
When are scissors called shears? This is a question I have been pondering as fabric scissors are often called Dressmaking, Fabric or Tailor’s Shears. Well, apparently when scissors are bigger than 15cm they become shears!
All Ernest Wright scissors (and shears!) start with a forged Sheffield steel “blank”:
a kind of rough and ready scissor shape that needs to be refined.
The first step in achieving this is…… ….the rumbler! Where the scissor blades are rattled around with tiny super hard pebbles (of I forget what material!) overnight to remove the rougher parts from the blanks. Next, a bit of grinding is required, first by machine:
and a scary looking machine it is too!
But look at that for a before and after pic!
After the machine grinding, some finer grinding is done by hand:
These grinding wheels literally get ground down over time and shrink in diameter. This process puts the sharp cutting edge onto the blades.
Every part of the scissors is hand worked, including the insides of the handles (or bows):
The last stage of the process lies with the “Putter”. The job of the Putter is extremely skilled and it actually means the “putter-togetherer” ie. the person who finally assembles the scissors.
Here’s Cliff, Ernest Wright’s most charming of Putters:
Who also happens to be an amazing story-teller!
Cliff’s job involves assembling the scissors and hammering the perfect curve onto each scissor blade. I’ve made that sound way easier than it is – it’s a highly skilled job which takes years of training to master and watching Cliff work is an absolute pleasure. You can also watch him in this film by Shaun Bloodworth.
Me and my dad with the lovely Cliff.
Cliff’s hammer, worn down over the years to fit his thumb and the precise angle at which he works. I love tools like this that tell their own story in the marks left by the craftsperson using it.
The curve and the setting of the blades by the Putter are what gives handcrafted scissors the ability to cut along the full length of the blade, forever. When the scissors are assembled they are slightly sprung against each other and if you hold your scissors up to the light you should be able to see a gap between the blades along the length with the tips tightly touching. Only machine made scissors have perfectly straight blades without a gap and they won’t cut at the tips for long once you start to use them.
I’m super proud to be stocking Ernest Wright & Son scissors. If you fancy your very own pair for life, here’s what I’ve got in stock at the moment:
8 inch Tailor’s Shears with comfortable angled handles to allow nice flat cutting. These shears measure 8″ in total including the handles. Right handed. £40
10 inch Tailor’s Shears with comfortable angled handles to allow nice flat cutting. These shears measure 10″ in total including the handles. Right handed. £60
Super sharp embroidery scissors with large bow (handles) making them really comfortable to use. These scissors measure 3.75″ in total including the handles. The ideal thread snips for dressmakers. £24
Wonderful duck-billed scissors variously called Napping or Appliqué scissors. The large blade underneath and the angled handles make these scissors perfect for trimming around appliqué or machine embroidery and for layering and trimming seam allowances without accidentally chopping a hole in your garment! £29
These scissors and shears are only available in person at MIY Workshop, they won’t be going into my online shop and I won’t be able to do them through the post. If you would like a pair, give me a ring at the workshop on 01273 693451 email me on email@example.com or pop in to MIY Workshop at 33 North Road in the North Laine area of Brighton, just up the hill from Infinity Foods.
Not content with having a look around his factory I asked Nick if I could interview him about how you should look after your new scissors. Gent that he is he agreed and I’ll be posting the results soon.
I have an old pair of Sheffield scissors which belonged to my Mums Mum. I remember them being used to trim my nails as an infant. I am 68 now so they must be over 70 years old. They have ‘Sheffield Made’ on one side and ‘J. Ireland, Brighton’ on the other. Could you tell me any more about them? I would like to attach a couple of photo’s but no’t sure if this page has that facility. Thank you.
Hi Stuart, what a wonderful family pair of scissors to own! I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about them but it might be worth getting in touch directly with Ernest Wright. Good luck with finding out more about them. Wendy
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This is a wonderful article, thanks so much for sharing! I am a huge Sheffield obsessive (our wedding rings are made from Sheffield steel by the last remaining hand steel forger who works out of Kelham Island!) and it’s so lovely to hear the stories behind the famous scissors. If I get any Christmas money I know what I will be spending it on!
Thanks, it was a brilliant visit and such lovely people. Great to hear about your Sheffield “addiction”! I’ll bet they’re very special wedding rings. Did you get to visit Kelham Island? It’s just down the road from my folks and a fascinating place – I love it. Hope your Christmas money finds you some “scissors for life” not just for Christmas ;o)
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