Sometimes, you cross something off your “give-it-a-go” list simply because it looks too hard. But once you do finally try, maybe with someone’s help the first time out, you often discover it wasn’t as hard as you thought! Such is the case with the phobia many sewers have when it comes to inserting metal grommets. Since these are usually installed with large machines or grommet presses in commercial production, people think they can’t replicate the professional look at home. It’s one of those sewing applications many simply refuse to attempt. Whether it’s the actual installation process, getting the spacing just right, cutting the holes in the fabric to the exact size, or all of the above; we’re here to prove you can do this at home and get a professional result. We’ve installed a grommet or two (or 100) here in the Sew4Home studios and will share with you all we’ve learned. Besides… getting to use a hammer in the sewing process can be very therapeutic!
To begin, grommets can also be known as eyelets. Many people use the terms interchangeably, referring to eyelets when they’re small-ish and grommets when they’re large-ish. In addition, if you see a sewing project that refers to eyelets, make sure to confirm if it’s the kind you install or the ones you can sew with your machine. Many upper-end sewing or sewing/embroidery machines offer an eyelet option within their selection of buttonholes.
At the end of the steps for handling the average grommet, you’ll find additional instructions for working with heavy-duty, screw-together grommets as well as tiny, one-piece eyelets.
In general, grommets are available in metal, rubber (for industrial purposes), and plastic (snap-on type), and they come in a variety of colors and finishes. In this tutorial, we’ll be focusing solely on the metal ones.
A grommet is comprised of two pieces: a male and a female. Since we’re not too crazy about that terminology, we took to the Internet to learn how others identify the grommet parts. We discovered the male section is considered the actual grommet and the female section is a washer.
When these two parts are forced together, with fabric sandwiched in the middle, you end up with a fantastic looking, durable hole.
Grommets often serve a dual purpose in a project, a perfect blend of form and function. They add a certain industrial or modern look; in fact, sometimes their only job is to look cool as an embellishment. But, they usually have very defined purposes as channels, handle anchors, and more. You see grommets on garments, accessories, and certainly in plenty of home décor items.
S4H Projects with Grommets
Grommets are super along the top of a bag. We used them on our Trendy Drawcord Backpack as well as our Shoulder Sling Beach Bag so we could feed through a drawstring cord, creating an easy-access top closure.
You can use also grommets in combination with other metal finishes. In our Ribbon Flap Shoulder Bag tutorial, we used grommets to secure the base of the shoulder strap. The metal of the side grommets complimented the twist lock closure on the front flap and added a very professional finish.
Sometimes all you need is one grommet. We used this approach in our Outdoor Mini Mats. A single grommet was the perfect way to give the mats a way to be easily stored on a hook.
A pair of grommets is a classic way to create and/or finish a drawstring channel. We used this technique in our Fleece Lined Shoe Bag as well as with small, colored eyelets for a set of Drawstring Gift Bags.
The sturdy nature of metal grommets was exactly what we needed for the handle in the Father’s Day Tool Tub & Tote. And they were just the ticket for the top of a designer Shower Curtain. They definitely added to the form and function of both these projects.
Grommets and installation tools
Grommets and the tools you need to insert them are readily available at your local craft or fabric supplier (in store and online) as well as from many hardware suppliers. Depending on where you choose to purchase your grommets, there may be a few visual differences in the tools, but probably not as much variation in the grommets themselves. We collected a few different ones so you could see what we’re talking about.
The first time you purchase grommets, you should buy a kit. Why? Because in a kit, you also get the tools needed for successful installation. It’s important to note that for each size grommet you buy, you need coordinating tools.
Afterwards, you can simply buy the grommets only and re-use the original tool. Remember, when you change to a new size, buy a new kit.
As we mentioned earlier, grommets are available in a range of sizes. They also come in a variety of finishes and colors.
NOTE: The very tiny grommets (eyelets) shown below do not have two parts, they are all-in-one (more on these below).
The actual grommet installation “tools” can consist of a single grommet plier, or a combination of a setter and anvil. Grommet Pliers are normally used for small grommets and eyelets.
For larger grommets, as we mentioned above, you use a setter and anvil to exactly match the size of the grommet.
If you choose to purchase your grommet kit at a hardware store, or other professional tool supplier, the tool set may contain what’s called a grommet inserting die (looks a lot like the setter and anvil) and a hole cutter. Some may also include a cutting pad. Here’s one example of a higher end kit.
Other tools you’ll need
Depending on the type of fabric you’re using in your project, you may need a strong layer of interfacing between or behind the fabric layers. It’s often recommended to use canvas instead of standard interfacing. If you do choose an interfacing, it should be a mid to heavy weight.
Pen, pencil or marker
You need to accurately mark the position and spacing of each grommet. You can use a fabric marking pen that will disappear, or even a regular pencil or marker since you will be cutting out the center and covering the outer area with the actual grommet.
Small sharp scissors or Xacto knife
Once you mark the position of the grommets, you need to cut a precisely-sized hole (more on this in the steps below). Depending on the size of the grommet, that hole might be very tiny. Very sharp scissors or an Xacto knife are key to precise cutting.
Rubber (or rawhide) mallet or a traditional hammer
You can use either in the installation. We prefer a mallet because it more evenly distributes the force of the hammering.
Since you do have to actually hammer the grommets to secure them in place, you need a strong, sturdy work surface. Your glass coffee table would not be a good choice. A sturdy table or counter, or even the floor would be better.
As you saw in the Sew4Home examples above, grommets are often installed along the edge of a sewn project. So, we’ve chosen this as our example.
Whether you’ve sewn two layers right sides together creating a seamed edge or simply folded over the edge, before you install the grommets, the first step is to evaluate the need for interfacing. In order for the grommets to have a nice tight fit and properly do their job, they have to be installed with a strong foundation. You can use a mid to heavyweight interfacing (fusible or sew-in) or a canvas layer.
- Fuse or baste the appropriate interfacing in place. For our sample, we followed the manufacturer’s instruction to fuse a mid-weight interfacing to our fabric.
- Finish the raw edge and/or complete any edgestitching or topstitching. We simply turned under the raw edge and edgestitched along the fold.
NOTE: If you need to add topstitching or edgstitching after you’ve installed your grommets, you can use a Zipper foot to sew past the grommets, just be sure to sew slowly so you don’t hit and break a needle on the metal grommet edge.
- Before installing your grommets, you have to determine positioning. If you’ll be using more than one grommet, this positioning includes the centering of the grommets on the fabric as well as calculating the space between each grommet. It’s easiest to work with your fabric right side down because grommets are installed from the front and secured on the back.
- Using just the grommet portion (the male section), decide the placement.
- You have to determine how you are going to account for the spacing: from edge to edge of the grommets, or from center to center of each grommet. In addition, you have to determine the space from the ends of the row of grommets.
- You can mark a line along the wrong side of your project, or use a seam gauge to check the positioning of each one. Yes… you should check each one!
NOTE: If you’re following a pattern or a tutorial, you will most likely be provided with this information. There’s really no set rule to the positioning, unless making something like a shower curtain where you have to match the number of grommets to a specific number of rings.
- Mark the positing of each grommet by tracing the inside circle of the grommet.
- If you are working with vinyl, laminate, or leather, you can use the grommet setter to make an indent, eliminating the need for marking. Or, depending on the type of kit you’ve purchased, you can use a grommet hole cutter tool.
NOTE: It’s common for hole cutters to not cut clear through the layers of fabric. You still may have to cut away the circle.
- Remove the grommets to reveal your marked circles.
- The cutting of each hole is a critical step in the process. It kind of reminds us of picky Miss Goldilocks and her friends, The Three Bears. If the hole is too big, the fabric will pull away and create a disastrous tear around the edge of the grommet. If the hole is too small, the fabric will pull and bunch, looking unprofessional. But, if the hole is cut just right, you’ll have the best looking grommets ever!
- Cut away the marked hole with small scissors. Or, cut an X in the center of the marked hole with an Xacto knife. We went the Xacto route.
- It’s finally time to actually install the grommets!
- The grommet portion (the male piece) is inserted from the right side into the cut hole so it pushes through to the back.
- The washer portion (the female piece) is placed over the portion of the grommet sticking out through the hole, like a little hat. Again you are working on the back of your project.
- If you’re using the setter and anvil, get ready to let out some aggression.
- Move to a sturdy work surface.
- Place the anvil under the front of your grommet and place the setter on top (on top of the back of your grommet).
- With a hammer or mallet, give the setter several strong, smooth whacks to secure the bottom to the top.
NOTE: We recommend checking your progress after one or two swings of the hammer. If the grommets do not seem tight enough, you may have to hit them a little harder!
- Looking at the grommet from the back, you can see how the edge of the grommet has rolled back over the inner edge of the washer to meld the two pieces into one.
- And here it is from the front. Now… you try!
Screw together grommets
- If you need a particularly strong grommeted opening or are looking for a feature embellishment, such as a handbag’s closure, a screw-together metal grommet is a good choice. We’re working with a fashion option by Dritz.
- The grommet will come already screwed together. So the first step is to unscrew the pieces. Keep track of those screws; they are teeny tiny and like to roll away.
- Stabilize your fabric as needed to reinforce the grommet area. This is an important step for these heavier grommets.
- The Dritz grommet includes a handy template to use for tracing the center opening that will need to be cut from your fabric.
- If you do not have such a template, you can use the top half of the grommet itself to trace an opening, but you will also need to account for the screw holes to either side, which means your cutting area will extend out to either side.
- Using a sharp pair of small scissors, carefully cut out your opening. Err on the side of a bit small if not working with a template. Once cut, you can always set the top half of the grommet into place to double-check your opening and expand it if necessary.
- Run seam sealant around the opening. We used Dritz Fray Check.
- Set the top half of the grommet into the cut opening from front to back.
- Flip over the fabric, re-adjusting the top half of the grommet as necessary to center it in the opening so the screw holes are visible.
- Place the bottom half of the grommet into position, aligning the top and bottom screw holes. Carefully insert and secure each of the screws.
- This type of grommet looks nice from both the back…
- … and the front.
- Tiny eyelets are great for lacing and can even be pretty all by themselves as a decorative touch. Many people also like to use them for scrapbooking or other paper crafting projects. We like the Dritz 5/32″ (3.96mm) eyelets, which are inserted with the companion Dritz Eyelet Pliers. These pliers can quickly and easily insert both the 5/32″ as well as the ¼” eyelets.
- Small eyelets are quite lightweight, but you may still want to consider stabilizing the insertion point if working with very lightweight or sheer fabrics. With our faux leather sample, we did not need to stabilize.
- As above with traditional eyelets/grommets, measure and mark the position of each eyelet.
- Using sharp scissors, an awl, or a cutting tool, cut a tiny hole at each marked point.
- Insert the grommet into the hole from the front to the back.
- The crown of the eyelet should be clearly visible at the back. If you cannot see the majority of the crown, your fabric may be too thick to accommodate this small of an eyelet.
- Slip the pliers into place over the eyelet. The base or holder (bright blue on our pliers) is what the top of the grommet sits against. The metal splitting punch (the opposite, all metal side of the pliers) should be positioned over the opening in the eyelet crown.
- With the pliers correctly positioned, squeeze firmly and evenly to close.
- The back of the grommet will spread out, securing the top in place.
Additional Hints and Tips
- Some experts suggest using a commercial grade grommet set versus a craft store brand because they are heavy duty and cost less. You would have to try them to see if you prefer these, or maybe base it on the type of project you’re doing. We’ve had no trouble with the craft grade grommets.
- If you really get into grommets, you can purchase grommet hole cutters or die-cuts (in various sizes), a rawhide mallet (ideal for hammering according to the experts), and an official cutting pad.
- Presort the grommets from the washers by size/color and keep them in a small-compartmentalized storage container. A bead box or vitamin box works well.
- As shown above in the steps for the screw-together grommet, running a seam sealant around the edge of the cut circle before inserting the grommet is a good idea for any type. It helps eliminate fraying, and can prevent any loosening of the grommets due to raveling of the fabric underneath.
- You can use an awl to make the holes.
- An old cutting mat over a piece of wood or an old kitchen cutting board works well as a base to set your grommets.
- If you don’t have a solid table or work bench you can hammer on, use the floor.
- The bigger the grommets the more muscle you’ll need.
- Remember, grommets can feel abrasive next to the skin, so if you’re planning to add grommets to a garment, thoroughly consider their placement.
- Take a look at our tutorial on snap-on grommets. These big plastic grommets are super easy to install, fun to use, and very decorative.
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly and Liz Johnson