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How To Attach Metal Rivets On Sewing Projects

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They're 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 loads 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 leather 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

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Hole punch

Many riveting tutorials I reviewed left out this important tool. Or, perhaps they assumed everyone had one of these wacky hole punches. I don't think so! But, this tool is the key to making the process easy. I'll admit it wasn't super easy to find one of these. We ended getting our punch tool online from Amazon. It 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 these two, a clean hole is cut.

If you can't find or don't wish to purchase a heavy-duty hole punch, you can get away with making holes using a sewing awl. More drilling and sweat equity is necessary for this method.

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Plastic or leather hammer

The really fun part of riveting is the fact you get to whack away 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 your frustration on an uncooperative project. Don't use a regular metal hammer as it could damage the setting post and/or your rivet. Look for a plastic (what we used) or leather hammer. You can find these in the woodworking department of your hardware store.

Light duty tools

Setting post and anvil

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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 takes quite a bit of pressure. You need an anvil to 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.

Dritz® tool

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Dritz makes a plastic setting tool that allows you to place a rivet back/post in one cup and a rivet cap in an opposing cup. The layers of fabric go in between against the tool's hinge, and you gently hammer cap to post. This option would be fine for lightweight riveting, but I would suggest the more traditional post and anvil for most thick applications

Rivets

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There are several options for the rivets themselves. Since rivets are metal, they usually come in either gold (brass) or silver. The size of the head or cap doesn't vary too greatly, but the length of the post does. That's the measurement you care about, because the post has to be long enough to penetrate through all the layers of fabric. The cap of the rivet sometimes offers a bit of decoration. We liked the 'dimpled' look of the Dritz® rivets shown in the photo above. You can sometimes find engraved decorative rivets, but they are rather rare. You are striking the top with a hammer, so you can't expect to use any kind of fragile surface. 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.

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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  8. Ta-da! A finished rivet front and back
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Comments (24)

NatalieL said:
NatalieL's picture

Hi, I'd like to use rivets to add tags to clothing, would they work on cotton or would the fabric be to thin and the rivet end up loose? I am not sure how tight you can clamp them together? Thank you :)

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

@ NatalieL - Rivets on regular cotton seems like overkill unless your tags are quite thick. You could add a bit of interfacing between the layers to stabilize, but even then, it seems like the weight of the rivets might be a problem. Maybe tiny eyelets would be an option - they have a similar "industrial" look but are much lighter and come in both gold and silver (tone - not real :-))) as well as lots of other colors.

bluemoongecko said:
bluemoongecko's picture

I want to apply 3mm rivets to doll clothes. I don't think I can punch a hole small enough, can I just poke a hole with a crochet hook or needle?

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

bluemoongecko - the awl pictured above would be a good hole punch choice for smaller rivets.

Raquel said:
Raquel's picture

Do I really need the hole punching device? I won't ever use this stuff again, in all probability. could I just open a small hole with a small screwdriver or something and widen as necessary?

Larry in California said:
Larry in California's picture

The hole punching device only costs a few bucks at Harbor Freight Tools.  HFTs is a retail store selling mostly Chinese mechanics and other hand tools.   They claim to have stores all over the country.  They also have a website or Google can find it for you.  This is a must tool for Girl Scout and Boy scout projects.   An awl is fine, but you can't safely give it to a 9 year old to punch holes to make mockasins.  

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

@ Raquel - the punch gives you the cleanest cut - so the fabric (if you're using a woven) is less likely to ravel and pull away from your rivet. But, you can use tiny scissors or an awl to carefully cut your circle. 

D. Macdonald said:
D. Macdonald's picture

Hello, I am wondering if you know how to get a rivet out of an article of clothing?  Thanks.

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

@ D. Macdonald - there really isn't isn't way to take them out since they are designed to be permanent. I have carefully cut them out, then filled the hole with a fabric and interfacing patch -- trimmed very closely -- you can then install a larger river, a snap or a button to cover up the repair. 

Steve said:
Steve's picture

I imagine fabric rivets can be removed the same way industrial snap rivets can be removed.  Since rivet is basically just 2 flat plates joined by a metal tube, you can drill out the center of the rivet with a drill bit that is slightly larger than the conneting metal tube.

Mynevere said:
Mynevere's picture

Thanks for sharing this great tutorial! I've used rivets on my projects before & it's nice to see I "winged" it well. Also helpful were the options available to closing the rivets. Again - thanks!

Parker said:
Parker's picture

Hi- brilliant tutorial thanks. 

Do you have any idea where one would find rivets for fabric with a large domed head ?30/40mm?

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

@ Parker - our best option is to simply search via Google as well as take a look through Etsy and Ebay.

kelsey said:
kelsey's picture

what do you recommend using for a 18mm  spike rivet?

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

@ kelsey - I haven't worked with the spike rivets, so I'm not your best resouce, but I believe they have a completely different attachment method. I don't think it's a base and cap like a traditional rivet that is meant to hold layers together. I think they are more decorative and you simply poke their prongs through the fabric/leather and bend them into place from the back -- kind of like a brad. But again - I haven't used them, so check my thoughts with an expert. 

Catherine said:
Catherine's picture

Great tutorial, thanks, but I have very weak wrists and fingers.  Is there anyway to use the rivet tool?

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

@ Catherine - Neither the post and anvil not the Dritz tool take a lot of power. However, the hole punch does take stength. That might not be the option for you. However, as mentioned above, simply creating the initial hole with an awl and or small, sharp scissors would be another option. 

Leo said:
Leo's picture
It is great when someone puts together a really thorough and useful page like this. Thanks!
Denice Adams said:
Denice Adams's picture
I was looking for strap closures half the day on line. I did not want to try rivets because they just seemed hard to do. But for less than 20.00 I bought the tools above. And after a day of practicing. My rivets are coming out great. Thanks for the helpful information.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Isabel -- having just the right tools always makes things easier and faster, but you can often make do with what you have. A regular paper hole punch won't work for fabric, but if you have an awl like I describe above (or even a sharp ice pick - they're pretty much the same thing), you can get a hole started. Sometimes a small sharp pair of scissors can work too. A regular hammer will certainly work, just be a little more careful about whackin' the heck out of things. Then, all you need are the rivet anvil and post and the rivets themselves. These aren't super expensive. And... the punch we show above and the hammer aren't super expensive either. If you save up ... you shouldn't have to save too long. Here are some Amazon shopping links to try - and all these items are easy to find in a store as well:

Punch Tool: http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ...B001D65JWY

Rivets with Tools: http://www.amazon.com/Easy-Do-...pd_sim_k_4

Hammer: http://www.amazon.com/TEKTON-3...=8-1-fkmr1
Isabel said:
Isabel's picture
I really want to learn how to rivet but I have no money to get the tools I need smilies/sad.gif. All I have is a hole puncher, a metal hammer, and some fabric. Help? Or do I just have to save..?
How Sew said:
How Sew's picture
Thanks again for a really good how-to. I recently incorporated rivets into my handbag designs but not before ruining a few dozen sets and my reputation as a lady. My initial go for it method...not so good. The jiffy rivet cap and post kept sliding the opposite direction. After many hours scouring the internet, I finally found a video on howtohistory.com: "How to Set a Double Cap or Jiffy Rivet." The video was made by Jim from Maine Line Leather. I did a search for their site after watching the video, and found they have a really good selection of rivets, including screw rivets and jeweled rivets. I have no idea how to attach them, but maybe that's a good follow up how-to for you!

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