What is that and what does it do? Pinking irons are tools that would cut a notched or scalloped edge into fabric that may have looked something like this:
These edges are very much a decorative choice for clothing, however, these edges do also serve a practical purpose. The zig-zag or scallop pattern makes unfinished edges less likely to fray than a straight-cut edge because every single cut is on a bias, making it harder to pull the individual threads out of the fabric.
To use a pinking iron, you would put the sharp edge with the design onto the fabric and strike the other end with a mallet to apply pressure and cut through. You may be familiar with the more common modern tool that achieves the same general purpose, pinking shears (as a child I just thought these were cool scissors to cut my construction paper with).
You might be wondering: “Why are they called pinking irons?” The verb “to pink” is related to the color “pink” but in a rather roundabout way. The verb “pink” seems to have come first, from an old word that means to pierce or to stab. Which is essentially what pinking irons, and now pinking shears do. They cut in to fabric. From this definition of the word “pink” we might have gotten the name of this type of flower:
Which are called, simply, Pinks (and are related to Carnations). As you can see in the picture, they have notched edges like the cuts made by a pinking iron. The name of the flower may have given us the word for the color pink, as many of them are in that color family. It's unclear which word came first, but what is clear is that they're all connected.
Stay tuned next week for another mystery artifact! And as always, if you're interested in a closer look at this or any of our recent mystery artifacts, please come visit us and take a look around the museum too! Thanks for reading!