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How to Install Metal Grommets

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Sometimes, you cross something off your "give-it-a-go" list simply because it looks too hard. But once you give it a try, maybe with someone’s help the first time out, you often discover it wasn’t at all 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 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 by yourself. We’ve installed a grommet or two here in the Sew4Home studios and will share with you all we learned. Besides... getting to use a hammer in the sewing process can be very therapeutic!

To begin, grommets are also known as eyelets. So, if you see a 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. In general, grommets are available in metal, rubber (for industrial purposes) and plastic (snap-on type), and come in a variety of colors/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 decorating items.

S4H Projects with Grommets

Grommets are super along the top of a bag! We used them in 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 French Market Tote With Coco Chanel Style Chain Handles tutorial, we used grommets to insert the metal chain continuous handle. The two metal finishes complimented one another and added a very professional finish.

Sometimes all you need is one grommet. We used this approach in our Key Fobs With Secret Pocket & Lanyard. A single grommet was the perfect way to attach a metal swivel hook for the detachable lanyard.

A pair of grommets is a classic way to finishing a drawstring channel. A technique we used in our Fleece Lined Shoe Bag.

The sturdy nature of metal grommets was exactly what we needed for the handle in the Father's Day: Tool Tub & Tote. They definitely added to the both the form and function of this project.

Grommets and installation tools

Grommets and the tools you’ll 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 not the grommets. We collected a few different ones so you could see just what we’re talking about.

Grommet Kits

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. 

So, the first time you buy a specific size grommet, buy the kit. Afterwards, you can simply buy the grommets only and use the original tool. When you change to a new size, buy a new kit.

Actual Grommets 

As we mentioned earlier, grommets are available in a range of sizes. They also come in a variety of finishes and colors too. 

NOTE: The very tiny grommets shown do not have two parts, they are all-in-one.

Grommet Tools

The actual grommet installation “tools” can consist of a single grommet plier, or a combination of a setter and anvil. Grommet pliersare used for very small grommets. 

For larger grommets, as we mentioned above, you use a setter and anvilto 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 just 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

Interfacing 

Depending on the type of fabric you're using in your project, you may need a strong layer of interfacing in between the fabric layers. It’s often recommended to use canvas instead of standard interfacing. If you do choose an interfacing, it should be heavyweight one.

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 a regular pencil or marker since you will be covering the 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 can be very tiny. Very sharp scissorsor an Xacto knifeare key to precise cutting.

Rubber (or rawhide) mallet or a traditional hammer

You can use either in the installation. We prefer a malletbecause it more evenly distributes the force of the hammering.

Sturdy surface 

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.

Installation steps

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 sample design.

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 heavyweight interfacing (fusible or sewn in) or a canvas layer. 

  1. Fuse or baste the appropriate interfacing in place. For our sample, we followed the manufacturer's instruction to fuse a heavyweight interfacing to our fabric.
  2. 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 narrow base zipper foot to sew close, just be sure to sew slowly so you don’t break a needle on the metal grommet edge.
  3. 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 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. 
  4. Using just the grommet portion (the male section), decide the placement. 
  5. You have to determine how you are going to account for the spacing, from the edge to edge of the grommets, or from center to center of each grommet. In addition, you have to determine the space from the edge. 
  6. 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. 
  7. Mark the positing of each grommet by tracing the inside circle of the grommet. 
  8. 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.
  9. Remove the grommets to reveal your marked circles.
  10. 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 be disastrous. 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!
  11. 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.
  12. It’s finally time to actually install the grommets!
  13. The grommet portion (the male piece) is inserted from the right side into the cut hole so it pushes through to the back. 
  14. 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.

    NOTE: If you’re installing the very tiny grommets with grommet pliers, you simply squeeze the handles to apply pressure to the post portion of the grommet, rolling it back and tightening it over the fabric edge. Remember, this type of grommet does not have two parts.
  15. If you’re using the setter and anvil, get ready to let out some aggression…
  16. Move to a sturdy work surface.
  17. Place the anvil under your first grommet (under the front of your grommet) and place the setter on top (on top of the back of your grommet). 
  18. 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!
  19. 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. 
  20. And here it is from the front. Now... you try! 

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. 
  • Add fray check around the edge of the cut circle before inserting the grommet to help eliminate fraying – especially on fabrics known to easily ravel.
  • 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.
  • You also use the grommet plier tool for inserting snaps
  • Take a look at our tutorial on snap-on grommets. These big plastic grommets are fun to use and very decorative. 

Contributors

Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

Section: 

Comments (25)

Fred PacCana said:
Fred PacCana's picture

This is very thouough and well explained, I hope beginngers and pros alike read this! I like to see people getting into grommets more because they can be both functional and interesting. 

Great pictures too by the way.

Jessie.b said:
Jessie.b's picture

Do you have any tips for installing grommets into velveteen, a layer of satin lining and interfacing. I have had several practice goes but my material keeps fraying or coming away from the grommet entirely. It is really starting to frustrate me and I don't know what to do. 

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

@ Jessie.b - it's a bit tough to trouble-shoot this long distance, but it sounds like your hole might be too large. In addition, you can cut the hole and then finish the edges of it with a zig zag stitch. This will hold the layers together and prevent fraying. 

Jessie.b said:
Jessie.b's picture

Thank you so much. They look great. I was really starting to freak out because it was my final major work for school and I couldn't ask my teacher as it is the holidays, so thank you. 

April M said:
April M's picture

When I put the grommet in the sunbrella canvas it actually cut the fabric around the outer edge, I only had the single thickness of fabric, what did I do wrong???? I need them for air vents in a gazebo cover 

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

@ April M - that's an unusual issue that is pretty hard to troubleshoot long distance. You may have pressed too hard through just the single layer, the grommets might be too large for your fabric, or you may indeed need a bit of extra thickness to get it to seat well. You could apply a layer of fusible interfacing on the wrong side of the fabric so you are inserting through the fabric and the interfacing. 

bannerladyPam said:
bannerladyPam's picture

For some of the comment above. I bought my metal #12 grommets (1 1/2" hole size) plus tools to put them together from Grommet Mart on line. They buy things from Micron America which will also sell you products. Grommet Mart was very helpful on the phone when I had questions. Originally I bought the plastic grommets and they do not work on to many layers of fabic. I hope this helps anyone else that needs it.

Linda M. Johnson said:
Linda  M. Johnson's picture

  Thank You so much for the information!  It's just what I was looking for!  Again thanks

doaa said:
doaa's picture

please tell me where can i get these things in Riyadh please answer me necessary

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

@ doaa - I'm sorry, since Sew4Home does not sell any products, we are not aware of international distribution. Your best option is to contact the manufacturer of the item you are interested in to see how or if it is distributed in your area. 

Tracykins said:
Tracykins's picture

I used your tutorial and it helped tremendously, but my grommets are not setting. No matter how hard I hammer the setter, nothing happens. I think it could be because I have only one layer of fabric (cotton) + one layer of mediumweight interfacing. Could this be the issue? Should I add two more layers of fabric on the back, and try again?Thanks for the help! :)

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

@ Tracykins  - sorry, this is a tough one to troubleshoot long distance. It should actually be a bit easier with the thinner fabric layers. If you are using the base and the setter on a firm surface as shown above, it should be working. If you have enough grommets, it might be a good idea to do some additional testing on scraps to see what the problems might be.

Tracykins said:
Tracykins's picture

Thank you Liz for the feedback. I'll try changing surfaces and maybe try a rubber mallet instead. Thanks for the quick response! :)

Anita Bokan said:
Anita Bokan's picture

I made draperies out of silk type materiel and the top 4" are finished and lined.  I have 4 layers of fabric.  I already purchased decorative grommets (holes are 1 1/2") but it didn't come with a kit.  I would like to finished the drapes with grommets.  One, can I find a tool to fit these grommets, and/or two, are there places who would actually just insert my grommets for me?

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

Anita Bokan - This doesn't sound like something that can be answered long distance as we can't tell what type of grommets you have - plus, we aren't necessarily experts in all things grommet-related . If they are metal grommets by a known manufacturer, such as Dritz, you can purchase the tools separately. However, a 1-1/2" hole is quite large, so it does sound like a specialty item. You best best may be to follow-up with a company in your local area that makes custom draperies. 

BLACK said:
BLACK's picture

YES  BUT HOW  TO  REMOVE THEM  IS THERE A  TOOL  FOR THIS

alicia.thommas said:
alicia.thommas's picture

@BLACK: If there is a tool for removing grommets, I'm not aware of it. It is usually possible to get them out without damaging fabric with needlenose pliers and wire cutters... plus a bit of patience. With the pliers, slide one end under the metal ring and gently pry it upwards. You'll need to go all the way around, gently releasing the ring. Hopefully, you can remove the grommet at this point. If not, use your wire cutters to carefully snip the two pieces apart. This is best done with a series of little snips. Some grommets will pop out easily and some will be stubborn. Go slowly and gently for best results.

Peter said:
Peter's picture

Thanks for the tips. I have a fabric shower curtain that I'd like to add metal grommets to. The shower curtain already has holes (slits) for the hooks, but the holes don't look or feel all that durable, so I'm looking to bolster the strength of the holes in some way. What's the best way to determine the size of the grommets I would need? Should I measure the size of the slit lengthwise when its not stretched open?

sumi pillay said:
sumi pillay's picture

A very helpful and informative aid, but where can I buy a grommet kit? We have tried everywhere in Australia and you just can't purchase one. We're happy to purchase from the US if necessary, but need some help as to where. Thank you in advance.

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

@ sumi pillay - above in each description, if you click on the link "buy a kit" it will take you to that set at Amazon. I believe they would be your best bet for internation options. 

TAMKEEN PIRZADA said:
TAMKEEN PIRZADA's picture

Thank u for a detailed tutorial, that also with pictures. I have always felt intimidated using the grommets. I surely am going to try them in my next project. Take care & Thanks again

immerBeginner said:
immerBeginner's picture

very thorough and very helpful; thanks so much for sharing! I've had the gadget but have held off on using it - I know it shouldn't be so hard, but am a little anal and didn't want to 'waste' a grommet. The visuals are very helpful: it's always easier for me to start on something when I have an idea/visual of how to go about it. Once again, many thanks!

immerBeginner said:
immerBeginner's picture

very thorough and very helpful; thanks so much for sharing! I've had the gadget but have held off on using it - I know it shouldn't be so hard, but am a little anal and didn't want to 'waste' a grommet. The visuals are very helpful: it's always easier for me to start on something when I have an idea/visual of how to go about it. Once again, many thanks!

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