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How to Insert Metal Snaps in Fabric

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For some sewing applications, there's nothing that works quite as well as a metal snap. They're easier to use than buttons and more durable than Velcro®. That's why they're used in everything from mountain climbing jackets, to yacht covers, to baby clothes. Just think how long it would take an NBA player to jump up from the bench and get into the game if he didn't have those "quick release" sweat pants with snaps running up both sides. He'd probably fall into the stands trying to pull his sweats off over his giant shoes. Installing snaps is pretty simple. You just take a series of tiny metal rings (which can be set up twenty wrong ways and only one right way) line them up within a millimeter of perfection, and then crush the whole assemblage together as hard as you can through several layers of fabric. What could possibly go wrong?

As you might imagine, plenty can go wrong. Take a look at some of the online forums for tales of woe, tragedy, anguish, and regret. But billions of snaps are successfully installed each year, and by taking a few precautions, you too can successfully install snaps!

If you like this article, you may also want to check out our step-by-step tutorial on the Babyville Plastic Snaps. Their bright colors and cute cover designs are great for children's projects and more. And, they're completely reversible! 

Choosing your tools

Industrial Snap Press

If you're going to be installing snaps 24/7 and have about $100 to spend, you should get a small industrial snap press. It looks something like a heavy duty stapler with an arm to give you extra leverage. You get good crushing force and perfect alignment.

SnapSetter And Other Hammer-Driven Tools

The "old school" way of installing snaps was with a wooden spool, a hammer, and a very sturdy surface. SnapSource refined this technique with an affordable tool called the SnapSetter that makes it simple to align your snap parts and only requires moderate tapping with a small hammer. It comes in a variety of sizes to accomodate the various snap dimensions, and they offer regular and long prong snaps.

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Dritz Plier-Style Snap Tool

This is the tool that's readily available at fabric stores (in store and online) and the one we're using for the following instructions. Using the Dritz Plier Tool, you squeeze the handles to embed the two halves of each snap part. There is also a heavy-duty plier kit available and a myriad of plain and decorative snap options. Visit Dritz for the full selection. 

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Preparing your fabric

Metal snaps will not install properly if your fabric is too thin. Try the Babyville plastic snaps linked above for lightweight fabrics or consider a different fastener, such as a sew-on snap or hook-and-eye.

As you'll see below, part of each snap is a metal ring with little spikes on it. These spikes penetrate your fabric and then are jammed into a groove on the other part of the snap. If your fabric isn't thick enough (or layered enough times), the spikes don't penetrate evenly and your snap doesn't look right.

You can use lightweight fabric with metal snaps, but you must add a layer(s) of interfacing, both for thickness and to keep the little spikes from tearing holes around the snap.

For our example, we chose a medium-weight, cotton fabric. We used two layers – a single piece folded once and ironed flat.

The parts of a snap

A complete snap has four parts: the ball, the socket, and the two rings with spikes that attach them to the fabric. A decorative snap would have one solid back piece instead of a ring, such as the pearl snaps on a cowboy shirt.

Marking your fabric

Think through exactly where you want the ball and the socket parts on your project. Traditionally, the back of the socket will on the front of your project. Using a fabric pen or pencil, mark where you want the CENTER of each part of the snap. Make these centering marks on both the front and back of your fabric.

Setting up the Dritz pliers

Your pliers have a round metal holder on one side, and on the other side, a yellow plastic wheel with both a round plastic holder and a metal punch. The metal punch is for eyelets, so for snaps, make sure the plastic holder is opposite the other side's metal holder. There's a yellow wheel you lift and turn to position the punch/plastic holder.

Your pliers should come with two little rubber rings. Slide a rubber ring over each of the holders (the metal holder on one side and the plastic holder on the other side). Make sure each ring is pushed all the way on.

Installing the snap socket

  1. Take one of your rings with prongs on it and insert it into the yellow plastic holder with the prongs poking out. Make sure it's pushed all the way in and is sitting evenly in the holder.
  2. Pick up the snap socket and determine which side is raised. You can feel it with your finger. Or, if you hold it sideways and squint, you can see one side protrudes a little more than the other.
  3. Insert the socket, with the protruding side OUT, into the metal holder.
  4. You're just about ready to squish this half of the snap into place. Check your two snap parts one last time to make sure they're all the way into their respective holders and sitting evenly.
  5. Hold your pliers so the ring with the prongs (in the yellow plastic holder) is facing over what will be the outside or front of your project. Then position the pliers so that mark you made on your fabric earlier is in the center of snap. On our sample, the front is the side with the fabric folded back to simulate the facing on a shirt.
    Click to Enlarge
  6. Holding your pliers level, squeeze firmly. I mean... really firmly. Then open up the pliers and see how you did. The ring should be evenly pressed down all the way around
    Click to Enlarge
    NOTE: If the ring isn't perfectly flat all the way around, you can use a pair of regular pliers to gently 'persuade' it. Squeezing the ring with pliers can scuff the shiny finish. So if you do this, put a piece of fabric between the plier jaws and the ring to protect it.

Installing the snap ball

  1. Take your remaining ring with the prongs on it, and insert it, prongs poking up, into the metal holder on the pliers.
    Click to Enlarge
  2. Take the ball part of the snap and insert it, with the ball facing downwards, into the yellow plastic holder as shown in the photo below. Again, make sure both pieces are all the way inserted and sitting evenly.
    Click to Enlarge
  3. Find where you marked your fabric for this half of the snap. Remember, you want the ball part of the snap to meet the socket part of the snap you just installed. This is the part where you have to stop and think. The ball is facing down into the holder. You have to position your fabric so the ball will be facing up when it's installed. That means, if you put your snap parts in the right holders, the yellow plastic holder will be on top again for this step.
    NOTE: This is a bit of a brain teaser, because all of the other parts of the ball installation are opposite of what you did for the socket installation. Except, just like with the socket, your final plier position is with the yellow side of the pliers over your fabric. It's okay... this is correct. Double and triple check which side is which on your project so the two layers will come together the way you want them.
    Click to Enlarge
  4. Center the pliers over your mark. Firmly squeeze the handles. Then release them, and see how you did.
    Click to Enlarge

Practice first

With snaps, it's rare to get perfect results the first time. Make sure you have extra snaps in the size you'll be using for your project. Take a scrap of your project fabric, fold it and, if necessary, add interfacing just like you would for your project. Then practice putting in the ball and socket parts of the snaps. After you've successfully installed a few on your scrap, go ahead and install them on your actual project.

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Comments (22)

Gwen Jones said:
Gwen Jones's picture

Hi Liz. i want to be able to put snap fasteners, either metal or plastic, further than about the 2" that you can do with the pliers. I have a handbag that I want to add a snap fastener to but 6" from the edge.There is too much material to scrunch it into the small space available. Is there anything on the market that would let me place a snapfaster anywhere I want not just at the edge of things. If so what do I need to buy. Hoping you might have some ideas. I am about Googled out. lol

Thanks

Gwen Jones said:
Gwen Jones's picture

Thanks so much for your reply. Will look at the leather craft option and see what is available in the UK.

Cheers

Gwen

Alma said:
Alma's picture

What size snaps do you recommend for bibs?  What's the big difference between the sizes?

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

@ Alma - the size of snaps refers to their diameter. There is no one snap just for bibs, although the Babyville plastic snaps are a favorite of many because they are plastic and cute. You want to choose a snap that fits the area into which it is being inserted and how securely it needs to be closed. The smaller the area, the smaller and fewer the snaps; the larger the area, the larger the snaps and the more of them you may need. Also, bibs can be many thicknesses. If you are using fairly thin layers, a standard snap or snaps should work great. If you want a thick bib - for example one with a cushy terrycloth lining, you may need a snap with what is called a "long prong" in order to be able to go that thickness. 

fairies wings said:
fairies wings's picture

In looking at your dritz did it come with the little yellow cups - cause I must have a really old one it didn't come with the cups.  Maybe it's time for a new one.

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

@ fairies wings - Yes, the Dritz tool does come with the little yellow cups and you really need them to properly seat the two pieces. Soooooo.... I'd have to agree. It's probably time for a new one.

Sheila Keeling said:
Sheila Keeling's picture

I want to use snaps to how together the sides of a tote I'm making that has 3 layers of batting...will the snaps work through that much fabric/batting?

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

@ Sheila - it sounds like you need either a jumbo snap or a regular snap with long prongs. It will take a bit of brute strength to get it work through very thick layers, but it is possible. As always - practice first on scraps to make sure it's a result you like. I've included links to some snap options at Fabric.com and Amazon so give you an idea of what I'm talking about. These may not be the exact size you need, but it shows what to be looking for.

http://www.amazon.com/Snap-Source-Capped-Long-Prong-Pkg-Antique/dp/B001K...

http://www.anrdoezrs.net/links/7874483/type/dlg/https://www.fabric.com/b...

Sheila Keeling said:
Sheila Keeling's picture

Liz, thank you so much for the quick reply!  I was amazed that you took the time to link me to the perfect products so that I don't have to go searching on the internet.  Thank you for doing that.  I did practice on a sample of my fabric with all the layers of batting & the side of the snap with the protrusion worked pretty well but the other side it snaps into would not hold.  So you are probably correct that I need a "long prong" snap. Thanks again...I will be checking out your site from now on!

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

@Sheila - You're welcome! Hope it all works out.

Emily said:
Emily's picture

On the instructions above for the Dritz snap pliers, when you say to put the protruding part of the receiving end of the snap "out", do you mean up away from the maching or down facing into the machine?  I'm still practicing but I think that could be my problem - that I am putting that piece in upside down?

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

@ Emily - Out - as in facing out of the machine. I think if you look carefully at those two photos you can see how it's sitting in there. Best of luck -- glad to know you're practicing. That's the best way to master it 

Ann Wright said:
Ann  Wright's picture

It is expensive to keep buying the snaps and snap plastic pliers. you snap it together and one pull gently or rough they come out. I have bought 4 different snap pliers metal and plastic different brands and not one will make the snaps stay in permanently. 

I want to know what machine or device to purchase that will put a snap either metal or plastic in a baby bib, or western shirt. why do they make plastic snaps and plastic pliers that do not work , take this back it works but once you pull the snap apart it breaks and then you have wasted your money on products that are bad, your time and money. 

I want to know if you invest in the 100.00 snap table top device and use metal snaps will it work every time. or will this be a waste too.

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

@ Ann - sorry to hear you've been so frustrated. We've used the Dritz metal pliers, the SnapSetter, and the Babyville Snap sets and pliers (shown above - and the Babyville set is linked to our tutorial on that tool) to great results, inlcuding in baby bibs. To be honest, I've never had a snap itself actually break. I have had snaps pull out of the fabric, which has usually been my own fault for not interfacing the snap insertion point correctly or not using the correct size of snap for the fabric. There are a lot of variables with any project, in both materials and use, so I can't really give you any kind guarantee that a particular product will work for you every time. Snaps do take practice. Perhaps the best option would be to pick the tool that has given you the best results so far and practice with it on scraps, experimenting with snap sizes and interfacing options, until you get the results you like best.  

MJarvinen said:
MJarvinen's picture

How do you fix snaps (the socket part) that have separated from the clothing enough so that if you were to continue using it, it would eventually tear through the garment?   Thanks

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

@ MJarvinen - if the tear is as bad as you describe, your only solution is really to replace that half of the snap. The problem will be how easy it will be to conceal the small hole you'll need to cut to remove the snap. They are not meant to come out once inserted, so prying apart the two pieces that make up the socket is a challenge and can often cause further damage. Try to cut away as little of the fabric as possible to remove the snap. You'll then need to reinforce the area. Depending on the size, you can use fabric from another part of the garment from a hidden area, such as a seam or hem, or simply use a patch of some kind. It sounds like you also may want to further reinforce the area with interfacing as we show above. Once the area is repaired, reinsert that half of the snap, figuring out its position by using the half of the snap that is still functional as your guide. 

Leslie Coduti said:
Leslie Coduti's picture

I do not know why, but the dritz plier works about half the time for me.  It is disheartening.

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

@ Leslie Coduti - hopefully our steps above will help you. It is often all about the pressure - it can take a strong grip if your fabric is thicker. We prefer the pliers, but you could certainly try the snapset since that relies on the outside pressure of a hammer, but you have to be extra careful that the parts are seated perfectly balanced and flat. 

Lynne said:
Lynne 's picture

Really useful info thanks.  I have a snapsetter with metal snaps.  I've just bought plastic snaps and pliers too.  I'm wondering if the metal ones can be fixed with the pliers?  I'd try it but don't want to damage the pliers.  Anyone know if they are interchangeable?  Thanks

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

@ Lynne - We wouldn't recommend trying to use the plastic snap pliers for metal snaps. The snap sizes can vary and the pressure required to set plastic versus metal is quite different. 

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