by David Thomas July 09, 2022
No, people don’t cut the umbilical cord with needlepoint snips
The trouble with history is sometimes the facts get in the way of a good story. So it is with stork scissors.
Fact: There is clear evidence to support that midwives used a clamp with a stork design on the two attached halves
Fact: Stork scissors are definitely one of the coolest and most popular scissor types, and were designed for embroidery, sewing and needlepoint.
Fact: People do not use embroidery scissors to cut the lifeline between a mother and her brand new baby.
Fact: Storks are not the only animals featured in the design of embroidery scissors. There are also eagle scissors and parrot scissors. But storks are the most common. And they can be absolutely gorgeous, with intricate detail and ornamentation, plated in nickel, silver or even gold.
So, how did we get there? Well, the Internet is full of interesting information, a lot of which is full of false or incomplete facts that can tell any story you really want to. For that reason, we turn to reputable scissor people to begin our debrief.
William Whiteley knows scissors. One of the two remaining heritage craft scissor makers in Sheffield, England, Whiteley has been making scissors since 1760, maybe a lot longer. A family-run business, there are a few people on staff who have 11 or 12 generations of knowhow absorbed into their DNA.
Here is what Whiteley tells us:
“The National Museum of American History has uncovered a very specific pair of stork scissors, once belonging to midwife Rosa Bonfante from Sicily, Italy. The stork scissors, a part of her midwifery kit, were not actually scissors, but a clamp for the umbilical cord of the baby.” Also, “the beaks were offset rather than straight, and rounded instead of sharp, with dull blades.”Whiteley also offers the entirely plausible theory that the reason this design and function managed to jump professions is the midwives’ fault. Or blame it on the babies for taking too long to come out. Confused? Good, I have your attention. Stay with me.
So, midwives deliver babies. Midwives have medical tools. Midwives also like to do their sewing work and have their kits open while they wait for mom to push out her newborn. Tools get mixed up with the kits. And someone gets the idea of converting the clamp to a pair of scissors.
It’s not that stork scissors couldn’t be used to cut the cord – it’s just that they weren’t. In reality, anything sharp could be used: Early humans would have severed the cord with a sharp rock. But I digress…
Fact: Just as there are different animals on embroidery scissors, there were different animals on umbilical clamps, namely snakes. In Greek mythology, the Staff of Asclepius is a rod entwined with a serpent which represents the medical and healing arts.
So why the stork anyway? Well, now we are getting into myth territory and who really knows. It appears that the stork/baby delivery idea became popular in the 1800s in several parts of Europe as a symbol of good fertility luck. It may even go back to classical Greece.
Storks migrate in the late summer, then return in the spring. Which is when a lot of babies were born. So surely that had something to do with storks making their nests on the rooftops? Stork on the roof and you're gonna have a baby. Sure. I guess. The stork delivered the baby? Obviously.
These days, people don't want a stork on the roof, even if they are desperate to procreate. But they plant a stork lawn ornament out front to let the neighbours know when there is a new baby on the block.
The motif for stork scissors was well in place by the end of the 19th century. The clamp and scissor versions sometimes have the stork standing on turtles and as the blades open you see a baby encased in a nut. They are beautiful and popular with collectors, for good reason.
Fact: Storks are not cranes. Sometimes stork scissors are called crane scissors. But they aren't cranes. We have it on authority from the stork dorks at The Difference Between that the differences between cranes and storks are as follows:
Ergo and in summation we might add: Storks have the mythical baby magic mojo. Cranes do not. Everyone knows if a crane makes a nest, whether it's on the roof or in shallow waters, the only one having a baby as a result is going to be another crane.
Final Fact: Yes, stork scissors are those scissors in Over the Garden Wall. We have never seen this animated show but we keep coming across references to it. Seems it is a cult-classic, kid-friendly version of Dante’s Inferno. That really got our attention, and so did the stork scissor plot angle.
The story tells the tale of brothers Wirt and Greg. They meet someone named Beatrice, who seems nice but actually made a deal with a witch named Adelaide.
All she has to do is give the witch a child servant and then she will get a pair of magic stork scissors in return which will help turn Beatrice’s family back into humans.
No, we won’t spoil the ending for you. It has nothing to do with midwives. Or cranes. It's funny that a new generation of people will grow up hearing these beauties called Over the Garden Wall Scissors.
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