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Pinking shears have a utilitarian function for cutting woven cloth. Cloth edges that are unfinished will easily fray, the weave becoming undone and threads pulling out easily. The sawtooth pattern does not prevent the fraying but limits the length of the frayed thread and thus minimizes damage.
These scissors can also be used for decorative cuts and a number of patterns (arches, sawtooth of different aspect ratios, or asymmetric teeth) are available. True dressmaker's pinking shears, however, should not be used for paper decoration because paper dulls the cutting edge.
The cut produced by pinking shears may have given its name to (or been derived from) the plant name pink, a flowering plant in the genus Dianthus (commonly called a carnation). The colour pink may have been named after these flowers, although the origins of the name are not definitively known. As the carnation has scalloped, or "pinked", edges to its petals, pinking shears can be thought to produce an edge similar to the flower.
The word "pink" can be used as a verb dating back to 1300 meaning "pierce, stab, make holes in". The French word piquer and Spanish word picar are derived from the Latin pungere meaning "to pierce, prick" and related to "pungent".