Precision At The Cutting Edge
Landscape|January - February 2018

In Sheffield’s steel heartland, knife and scissor maker Grace Horne produces pieces that are both beautiful and useful

Fiona Cumberpatch and Julie Brown
SITTING IN THE window of a beautifully converted 1906 public convenience, Britain’s only female knife and scissor maker works at her bench. Using traditional wooden-handled tools, she creates both practical implements and works of art.

In her tiny two-storey workshop in Sheffield, Grace Horne makes between six and 10 knives, and eight pairs of scissors a year, many small in scale. Some are truly artistic: stainless steel knife blades embossed with intricate patterns; handles carved into decorative shapes. “I like the scale of the smaller pieces, and the fact that they are personal and quite a private thing, which rings true for pocket knives,” she says. “Hunting knives and large pairs of shears do nothing for me.

“I do see some of the of the things I make as sculptures, and some I would describe as pocket jewellery. But some are simply basic and functional, particularly the scissors, and I’ve been asked more and more for pragmatic items.

Developing her skills

Grace first became interested in knife making as a teenager, when her father lost a treasured pocket knife. “I wondered why he thought this knife was so much better than other knives. I started to ask questions about what kind of steel it was made from,” she says.

While taking a design, craft and technology degree, she decided to make a set of three folding knives for her final year project in 1992. “I went on a quest to find someone who would teach me how to make them,” she recalls. “I rang the Cutlers’ Hall in Sheffield, and they told me that no one did it any more. So I contacted the British Artist Blacksmiths Association and asked if someone could make me some patterned steel. The head, Richard Quinnell, agreed to teach me. I produced those folding knives, and although they weren’t quite right, I’d started something.”

In 1994, Grace moved to Sheffield, the traditional home of cutlery making. Here, she took a Master’s degree and later, a PhD in metalwork and jewellery at Sheffield Hallam University. Her studies gave her the opportunity to work with the city’s traditional knife makers. “I loved having access to all sorts of facilities, technical help and links to manufacturing,” she says. “Knife making is a wonderful field because most people who do it are ecstatic to be passing on their skills and knowledge.”

Her attention turned to making scissors four years ago. “I was experimenting with inserting folding scissors into a pocket knife,” she explains. “It worked, but I didn’t know why, and that piqued my interest.

“Making scissors feels like a natural progression from making folding knives. All the knowledge of getting moving parts to work against each other, all the heat treating and so on, is directly transferable. They have their own secrets, but that is another delicious layer of complexity and subtlety.”

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