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Why Are Embroidery Scissors Shaped Like Storks?

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Milesy is a collector and enthusiast of stork-shaped scissors.


As some of you may know, I adore stork scissors. Most of us probably have a couple pairs of these hanging around the house, especially embroidery enthusiasts. But why a stork? Isn't that a bit random?

Well, I got curious and went looking for answers as to why embroidery scissors are shaped like storks. At first, all I got were some less than reputable-looking blogs, but they all said about the same thing: that the scissors started out as part of a midwife's toolkit. The blogs never explained how this happened, though, just that the scissors are now shaped like storks to symbolise childbirth.

A Tool Used for Childbirth

That's kind of a weird jump, isn't it? But this was a good starting point. Eventually, I came to a page on the Smithsonian's website about a specific pair of stork scissors that had been donated to the collection. I was surprised that the Smithsonian had a page about stork scissors, but it still didn't tell me how these precise scissors were used in the delivery of a baby. What it did tell me was that there was a genuine connection between the scissors and childbirth. Specifically, the website stated that the donated pair was part of a midwife's toolkit.

Digging deeper, I discovered that these scissors didn't actually start out as scissors, but as umbilical clamps. Sometimes, the clamps would be used with a set of forceps shaped like snakes. Why snakes? To symbolise the Rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and medicine.

Between the 19th century and now, these little stork scissors have gone through some really big changes. In the past, most of them were between four and a half to six inches long, with their heads mounted at almost a 45-degree angle. The beaks were heavy clamps not meant to cut, but to restrict the blood flow before the umbilical was cut. Some even had little babies hidden inside the stork's beak that would appear when the clamps were opened.

From Childbirth to Embroidery

But why did these clamps morph into an embroidery tool? Well, the answer is actually pretty straightforward. There's a lot of waiting around with childbirth, oftentimes hours or even longer, and what do we do when we get bored waiting for something to happen? We pull out our embroidery kits and get to work. Because of this, midwives would often keep their birthing kit in their embroidery basket so they'd always have both on hand. Over time, the clamps began to change in shape and size, moving from the midwife side of the basket over to the embroidery side.

Today, the stork-shaped scissors are a pretty big collector's item. Online, most are listed for a couple hundred dollars, though I did find one pair of sterling silver clamps from 1890 listed for over $1200. Admittedly, this exorbitant price probably has more to do with the maker than the clamps themselves.

So there you go! If you're like me and you like to collect stork scissors, now you know the history behind them.


© 2018 Milesy


Jessica Thomas on September 26, 2019:

Fascinating! Thank you so much for saving me the time to research this. I was just looking at my pair of gorgeous golden stork embroidery scissors and wondered how can something so beautiful and useful at the same time be so widely available and cheap to scissors are like a precious rare treasure! on September 23, 2019:

In the 1970s I worked for the embroidery and scissor company of Erik Greene & Company in Los Angeles. They sold their yarn, yarn packs with designs and the stork scissors. It was my understanding that they were the "oridiginal" stork scissors in the United States. They were quite detailed and very sought after from around the world. I'm not sure they are still functioning.

Vixis on October 01, 2018:

Fabulous! I never knew any of this and I love both history & stitching. Well done you.