Origin and usage
The compound noun pinking shears was first used in English in the early 20th century. It comes from the noun pinking which is derived from the verb to pink, meaning to cut a zigzag edge on a piece of cloth. The verb dates from the 15th century.
Coming across the term pinking shears as the answer to a crossword clue, I was transported back to my childhood and my grandmother’s sewing box, which is probably the last place I saw this item of dressmaking kit (unlike me, my grandmother was a skilled and enthusiastic dressmaker). Pinking shears have notched blades and are used to cut a zigzag edge on a piece of cloth to prevent it from fraying. The term comes from a sense of the verb to pink that originally meant to cut holes and slits in fabric or leather for decorative purposes, in order to show the layer underneath. The verb to pink is generally used nowadays in quite a different context, that of motor engines; an engine that pinks is making a noise because the fuel is not burning properly. The noun, in addition to referring to the colour, is the name of a garden plant with sweet-smelling red, white or pink flowers. Someone who is in the pink is healthy and happy, an expression that dates back to the early 18th century.
“Spring, / you are a pinking shears: you cut / fresh edges on the world.”
bobbin, cotton, thimble, thread