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How to Attach Metal Rivets to Sewing Projects

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Rivets are everywhere. Airliners have rivets. The pockets of your Levis® have rivets. Frogs make the sound, "rrriiiiiivvvet." That last example probably isn't applicable, but it kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it? Not only are rivets ubiquitous, they look super professional when used on a sewing project. Rivets also have a very logical purpose: they hold lots of thick layers together at points where it would be impossible to stitch with a sewing machine.

For sewing applications, you often see rivets attaching heavy straps to bags, holding belt buckles in place or reinforcing the corner stress points of a pocket or pouch. Rivets are the smooth, cool, tough guys of sewing. But here's their secret: with the right tools, they're actually quite easy to apply.

Heavy duty tools

Hole punch

Many riveting tutorials we reviewed left out this important tool. Or, perhaps they assumed everyone had one of these wacky hole punches. We kind of doubt that. But, this tool is one of the keys to making the process easy, especially with heavier fabrics, faux leathers and vinyls, and real leather. You can find punch tools online from Amazon as well as locally at traditional hardware stores; Habor Freight is a good option. 

A hole punch is a plier-like tool with a rotating wheel of variously sized sharpened, hollow spikes. Squeeze the plier, and the selected spike strikes against the opposing anvil. When your layers of fabric are in between the spike and the anvil, a clean hole is cut. 

Awl or small, sharp scissors

We have had very good luck with the hole punch on a variety of the heavier wovens into which rivets are placed as well as in faux and real leathers. However, If you can't find or don't wish to purchase a heavy-duty hole punch, you can make holes using a sewing awl. 

An awl is also a good option when working with lighter-weight wovens. For these fabrics, you'll get a much stronger rivet by carefully prying a hole between the threads of the fabric with an awl than by cutting the threads with the hole punch. The lighter the weight of the substrate and the smaller the hole (and the rivet), the more careful the cut. That said, if you still have trouble inserting the rivet, it's okay to use a pair of small, sharp scissors to clean up and slightly enlarge the hole. This is true when using either a hole punch or an awl. 

"Always" and "Never" are hard to use when it comes to creative processes. As usual, we recommend testing any process on scraps of the project's fabric prior to trying it on the final piece.

Plastic or leather hammer

The really fun part of riveting is the fact you get to whack something with a hammer. It's what ultimately seals the deal, locking the rivet post and cap. But it's also a great stress reliever, and if you're like me, it allows you to take out a bit of frustration on what might be an otherwise uncooperative project. Don't use a regular metal hammer as it could damage the setting post and/or your rivet. Look for a plastic mallet (shown above) or rawhide hammer. You can find either of these online (using our links) or in the woodworking department of your local hardware store.

Light duty tools

Setting post and anvil

Much like how a snap is applied, you need to press together two pieces to create a finished rivet. Due to the thickness and quantity of layers you are usually working with, this can take quite a bit of pressure. You need an anvil to help support the base of the rivet and a setting post to hold the top of the rivet in place and on which to strike your hammer. These tools are machined with one side concave (on the left above) and one side flat (on the right above). This allows you to match the surfaces of the anvil and post to the surfaces of your rivet pieces. Many rivet sets come with a post and anvil tool. The Rapid Rivet brand is a one option.

Dritz® tool

Dritz® makes an easy plastic setting tool that allows you to place a rivet back/post in one cup and a rivet cap in an opposing cup. You can find and purchase the the tool by itself, but are more likely to find it in a kit with rivets.

The layers of fabric go in between, against the tool's hinge, then you gently hammer cap to post. We show more detailed steps below. 

Both the Dritz® tool and most post and anvil tools are considered home options. If you are planning to do a lot of riveting, you might try looking for combination piercing and setting tools, commonly found for leather working. EZ Rivet makes an affordable option. 


There are MANY options for the rivets themselves. Most rivets are metal, and usually come in either gold (brass) or silver (nickel)The cap of the rivet sometimes offers a bit of decoration. You can find engraved decorative rivets , and there are even rivets with crystalor semi-precious stone caps. Remember, you are striking the top of the rivet with a hammer, so the more decorative options do require extra protection (covering with a cloth or leather) and care when inserting them. 

The size of the head or cap varies as does the length of the post. The size of the cap is going to be important decoratively as it is what you see from the front of your project. Choose a size that looks good for your application.

Even more important is the length of the post. It has to be long enough to penetrate through all the layers of fabric.

The back of rivets are traditionally either flat and plain, revealing the hole that forms the post, or a covered curved back that matches the top.

A good overall resource for the rivets and all their setting tools is Tandy Leather

Ready to rivet

  1. Your first step is to determine the length of the post required to make it through the layers of your project. Hold up the rivet next to ALL the actual layers and depress the fabric slightly between your fingers. The post should just barely clear the fabric.

  2. Test the post of your selected rivet in the hollow spikes of the hole punch. You want the smallest hole into which the rivet post will slide. If it won't slide in, that hole is too small. If it slides in and swims around, that hole to too big. Pick the hole that is just right.

  3. With a fabric pen or pencil, mark the exact point where you want the CENTER of your rivet to fall. Make centering marks on both the front and back of your fabric.

  4. Align the hole punch over the centering points. Be VERY careful to make sure the center of spike is directly over your mark. Squeeze like heck! If you're going through a particularly thick set of layers, you can also rotate the punch slightly, while closed, to insure a clean punch through all the layers. Release the punch and carefully remove the fabric. If you are not satisfied the hole is clean through, you can flip your project over and punch again from back to front. Or, as mentioned above, clean the hole with a pair of small, sharp scissors.

  5. Push the post of the rivet through the hole from the back so the top of the post just comes through on the front.

  6. Place the anvil directly under the back of the rivet. The back of our rivet was flat, so we made sure the flat side of the anvil was facing up. Place the cap of the rivet on the post.

  7. Place the setting post carefully over the cap of the rivet. The cap of our rivet was curved, so we made sure the curved side of the setting post was facing down. Holding the setting post firmly at the base, whack the post with the hammer four or five times to set the rivet. Use smooth, strong blows, and be careful not to let the post slip to one side or the other. If you are using a decorative rivet cap, you will need to protect the cap with a cloth or small piece of thin leather. As always, test your rivets first so you can determine exactly the type of protection needed, if any.

  8. Ta-da! A finished rivet front and back

Riveting with the Dritz® Rivet Tool

  1. As above, make sure your rivet is long enough to go through all the layers. 
  2. Mark the position for the rivet.
  3. Use a hole cutter or awl to pierce a hole through all the layers at your marked point. 

    The Dritz® Rivet Tool Kit does include a hole cutting tool. Remove one of the rubber trays and insert the cutting tool, which looks like a small post. Insert so the tapered end of the post is facing down. Place the padded disc under your marked point and, holding the Rivet Tool flat, position the cutting tool against the fabric at the marked point. Strike with a hammer to pierce the fabric. This is certainly an option should you not have a separate hole cutter. 
  4. Place a rubber tray into each hole at the tips of the Rivet Tool. This is done by inserting the tray's post into the hole and pushing until you hear and feel it "click" into position. There is a smooth tray for the rivet stud cap and a dimpled tray for the rivet back.
  5. Place a rivet stud cap and a rivet back into the appropriate rubber trays.
  6. The stud (which is the cap/front of the snap) is inserted first through the fabric.
  7. Push the rivet stud through from the front to the back.
  8. Rotate the strap so the Rivet Tool is sitting flat on your work surface and the top of the stud is visible coming through the back layer of the strap. Slip the black padded disk that comes with the kit under the Rivet Tool. This helps cushion the tool and protect your work surface. 
  9. Close the Rivet Tool, bringing the side with the back of the rivet down into position over the rivet cap stud. In the photo below you can see the black padded disk in position under the tool. 
  10. Strike the top of the tool with a hammer to secure the back against the stud. It shouldn't take more than one or two smooth, even blows to set the rivet. Don't go too wild with your hammering; if you strike off-center, it may not secure correctly. 
  11. Gently open up the tool to reveal your pretty rivet, from the back...
  12. ... and from the front.

A final Note: There really isn't any great way to take a rivet out of a sewn project; they are designed to be permanent after all. We have had some luck carefully cutting them out, then filling the hole with a fabric and interfacing patch -- trimmed very closely -- you can then install a larger rivet, a snap or a button to cover up the repair. 


Comments (29)

MUQ said:
MUQ's picture

I tried to use normal rivets (used for rivetting metals) and used the rivetting gun on a "Tough" marine jacket... the result was disastrous... I then searched for proper instructions on using rivet on clothing.  I would follow your instructions and hope I would get better results that the provervial frog, I hope...

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

MUQ - We hope so too  One very important thing is to make sure you are working on a very hard surface. We like to use a block of scrap granite countertop.

AStare said:
AStare's picture

Hi there,

I've tried setting rivets once - I put one through a stack of leather + cotton + linen. It was used to attach a bag handle. After a short amount of time, the linen layer developed a hole (around the rivet) that became quite wide. I'm not sure if this is because it started to fray? Anyway, how can I make sure it's secure and won't start falling apart?

Thank you!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ AStare - Your best bet would be to re-rivet the weakened layers, apply one or two squares of a fusible interfacing behind the linen where the hole is -- something like Pellon's Decor Bond. If that's not possible, the only think that could help stop further damage/tearing might be a seam sealant around the edges of the tear - like Dritz Fray Check. That should at least stop the raveling on the linen (it is indeed prone to raveling). 

AStare said:
AStare's picture

Thanks for your response! I'm wondering what to do differently in the future. I have owned linen bags (made by other businesses) for years that didn't have any interfacing where the rivet did they do it? Any other ideas moving forward? Thank you so very much!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@AStare - It's really hard to tell. With linen, we would always be likely to use reinforcement of some kind. The commercial bag folks might have a different type of rivet, smaller hole, etc. In general, if you're using a lightweight substrate, you need some sort of reinforcement either interfacing, layers of the fabric itself, and/or seam sealant. 

Raevyn said:
Raevyn's picture

Can the snap setter/anvil be used for rivets or is a differnt tool required?

I have a basic one from a set with snaps and wanted to see if I could just get away with buying the rivets alone.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Raevyn - the snap tools and rivet tools are different - each is shaped to fit a specific product. It's best to use the tool specifically designed for the rivets you want to use. The tools are usually fairly inexpensive and it will make such a difference in how smoothly the rivets are applied and how nice they look on the finished project. And, of course, you can use the tools for future riveting tasks. 

James Cohen said:
James Cohen's picture

Thank you for writing this tutorial. 

I have a question though. Could the rivets be put together by pressing them together by squeezing them with large vise grips or Channellock pliers?

Alternatively, would a small metal hammer do the job or is there some reason the plastic hammer must be used?


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@James - We recommend a plastic hammer because it better controls the pressure. You can smash rivets with too much force, so although we haven't tested either, vise grips or channellock pliers seem like they'd exert too much power and could distort or even crush the rivet. That said, I don't know what you're trying to add a rivet to. We're a home décor sewing site, so we're not dealing with projects like riveting boat covers and the like. For our projects, the tools that traditionally come with rivet sets work great. You'd want to reach out to a upholsterer or similar for advice on heavy dute riveting. 

James Cohen said:
James Cohen's picture


Thank you for your quick reply! I'm using rivets for connecting fabric and nylon webbing as it's faster than sewing (and I haven't used a sewing machine since I was 9). It looked to me that vise grips, pliers, and Channelocks could press them together as well as the using a hammer since it looked like they just need to be pressed together until they mate. One can easily control the pressure of those tools by squeezing gently. I would think even greater control than hitting with a hammer. 

But that's just the way it appeared to me. That's why I asked if there was more to it than I thought. For instance, something about the rivet needs an impact to properly seat.

Thank you 


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@James - you're welcome. The two parts of a rivet do indeed need to seat properly into one another, which is why the tools that come with the rivets are usually what we like to recommend. The concave and convex surfaces of the two parts of the tool sets kind of "cradle" the rivet and make sure the two halves seal together well. But... as we always say: test, test, test. Rivets are fairly inexpensive. You could certainly buy a few extra and try with your other tool options. Let us know how it goes. 

Bo Lin said:
Bo Lin's picture

Hey there! I loved your blog. Since you seem very knowledgeable I was wondering if you'd have any advice for my dilemma. I'm trying to stud up some incredible steampunk tailcoats. I've just gone to put the screw studs through the fabric but the shank thread is not long enough to screw in, it comes through the other side but the material is too thick for the screw to make contact with the spike head. I've searched google and I can't find any useful info on how to solve this, or even where to buy screws with a longer shank, to be used on thicker materials. Do you have any ideas? Thanks in advance :) Becca

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Becca - Well, there isn't much you can do lengthen a rivet, and if the tailcoat is already constructed, there probably also isn't any way to thin the area you're riveting through. Soooo - it really comes down to new rivets. We've turned to the folks at Tandy Leather before when we've needed heavier-duty items - since they are people who work with thick leather belting all the time, I bet they have some solutions. Here is a link to their main site - you can probably contact them directly as well:

Tamie said:
Tamie's picture

Excellent article! Clear, simple instructions and helpful photos. I was looking for step-by-step instructions, and these are perfect. It'll be my first time applying rivets to fabric, but I feel confident after reading your article. Thank you so much!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Tamie - Thank you - we're glad you found it so helpful. I hope you come back often for more information and inspiration. 

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

Hi, Where is the best place to buy rivets online, I've been searching and can't find anything really reputable.

Emily said:
Emily 's picture

HELP! My rivets are coming loose from the fabric and leaving a hole :( any troubleshooting as to why this is happening, how to fix and prevent in the future?! 


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Emily - There are a lot of variables in the fabric, pattern, etc., but, my first guess is that the fabric probably should have been stabilized to give it a better thickness for the the rivet to grab onto. Rivets are made for heavy fabrics and/or thick layers; if you're using a lighter weight substrate, the rivet can simply tear through. The other thing that could be happening is there aren't enough rivets. If the rivet's job is to hold two pieces together at a real stress point, a single rivet might not be enough, consider adding more rivets. Regarding a fix, you might try what we normally suggest for snap repair: First, you'll then need to reinforce the area. Depending on the size of the hole, you can use fabric from another part of the project from a hidden area or simply use a patch of some kind. It sounds like you also may want to further reinforce the area with interfacing. Once the area is repaired, reinsert a new rivet.

Emily said:
Emily 's picture

Hi Liz! This is all very helpful. It's for aprons I'm making. Perhaps I'll start putting A leather patch for reinforcemen. Thank you! 

Geno said:
Geno's picture

I just received a beautiful windbreaker from the USGA as part of the volunteer wear for the 2016 US Open at Oakmont this year. Unfortunately, the elastic on the cuffs of the sleves is way to big. The cuffs swim around my wrists and fall over my hands. I went on line looking for a solution. Taking up a bit of the slack and placing the rivets in a stratigic location, they look like "little cuff links", works perfectally!!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Geno - What a clever idea! Thanks for letting us know. It's always good to hear about different uses for various products.

Dogmad said:
Dogmad's picture

This was fantastic advice.  Thank you so much for posting this

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Dogmad - You're welcome - glad you found it helpful!

amrovetto said:
amrovetto's picture

I just set rivets on two bags this weekend and they look great! Thanks for the great tutorial, gave me the confidence to give it a try and now I'm hooked!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Linda - Yep, never stop learning 

Linda @ Sewing Bee Fabrics said:
Linda @ Sewing Bee Fabrics's picture

It's so easy to forget how something so simple can make projects look so professional. Love how clear you made your instructions. I reckon even a frog could do that riiivvveet ;)

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