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
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.
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
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 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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Push the post of the rivet through the hole from the back so the top of the post just comes through on the front.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ta-da! A finished rivet front and back