The Posthuman Tale of the ‘Good Scissors’
My upbringing in Scotland in the 1950s and later in England with three older brothers was comfortable. We always had enough to eat and were rarely cold, even in the days before central heating. My mother and father grew up in quite different circumstances 30-40 years before then where money was very short, fathers absent/unemployed: we were one generation away from poverty. Both of my grandmothers sewed clothes for their families, at least one with a Singer treadle sewing machine (passed on later to my mother, and on which I learned to sew aged 9). Making clothes from new or used fabric, a practical response to poverty, involves many important nonhumans such as patterns, thread, needles, fabric, pins and more significant investments like a sewing machine and a pair of good scissors to cut fabric and thread cleanly. A story my mother liked to tell from WW2 was of the excitement of getting hold of silk from a parachute that could be used for making a romper suit or wedding dress in the era of “make do and mend”.
I grew up knowing the importance of the good scissors in sewing and making clothes. Scissors and sewing machines were significant investments for working class families. The Good Scissors should never be used for paper as that would blunt them. Their significance and value was reinforced by my mother’s horrified reaction if I picked up the scissors to use for anything but fabric. “Don’t use the Good Scissors for that”. Even more heinous was to use the pinking shears on paper: probably because they would be even more difficult to sharpen. The mother-child-scissor-fabric-paper assemblage was a powerful conveyor of posthuman knowledge that lives with me long after her death. The heavy steel scissors from my childhood are long gone but I respect my current scissors in the same way. My ‘good scissors’ are a pair of Fiskar scissors about 50 years old. I have a sharpener for them but I still wouldn’t use them for paper. In writing this story, I checked with my own adult son and daughter. My son’s response was interesting: he “knew” that you shouldn’t use the good scissors for paper but had no clear memory of me saying it to him. A more recent memory for him is the message being reinforced by his wife who has become a keen sewist. In contrast, my daughter’s response was to laugh, and say “Of course, I remember that – you taught me to sew. And I remember learning to sharpen them if they had been used for paper”. Stories themselves can be both product and process of cultural transmission; they carry information and the telling of them is a means of passing that on even if we can remember them differently. If only scissors could speak!
 By posthuman, I mean ‘beyond human’ or ‘Posthuman, all too human’ as Rosi Braidotti has said.
Love this post. In our household growing up we had similar rules about scissors as my parents were hairdressers. Also had rules about certain foods and tableware kept “in case someone comes” ie not for us!
More love for the post. It has a feel of some common lore (already confirmed by Teresa) that I bet more can confirm. And interesting that it involved a cutting instrument that does a specific job but also suggests possible danger in wrong use
I am thinking only a “maybe” about having a good scissors rule.
The closest I am finding now is that towards my mid childhood my parents made this big investment in new living room furniture that for the most part sat under plastic covering unless company was there. It was not for every day use.
Not really the same at all, but I know this was a typical 1970s thing.
I have heard of the covers on furniture story. It reminds me that even in very small houses there sometimes was a room kept for “best” with the family crowded in a kitchen with a table and chairs and a fire/cooking range. The best room was sometimes called a parlour.
Interesting that you bring up the issue of personal safety – I am sure that’s right. What strikes me about mine and Teresa’s examples is that they are both valued as functional tools for an activity that is important for the welfare of the family: earning money from cutting hair or clothing members of the family.
One of the memorable moments of #oer23, Frances. As I was watching you listening, with the rest of us, to your recording of The Good Scissors story, I had a private moment of mild panic wondering where in my own house was my Good Scissors – a new one i’d bought myself at Christmas when buying one each for my daughters. Anyway, all is well, I found it when I got back, and it is safe in the place only I know now. Thank you for reminding us all of this, and to you and Lou for inviting us to contribute to the posthuman conversation.