I wanted to cover grommets early on in the SAL so that if people need to order/buy supplies, they have an idea of what they need and some possible places to purchase them. On that note, none of the links in this post for tools and supplies are affiliate links; they're just places that I've purchased from. I encourage you to choose a supplier that you're comfortable with and you can get the best deal from!
Grommets can be intimidating because you're cutting holes in your finished project. Eep! That's why we're going to be using scraps today so that we can make mistakes and be completely okay with it.
Before we talk about the actual grommets, let's cover what's needed to install them. You will need a method of cutting or punching the hole, and a tool or set of tools used to set the grommet.
A revolving leather punch is the easiest way to punch a hole but the basic ones don't have a punch large enough for most grommets. You can also use a hammer and a manual punch (pictured above on the bottom right). The 3 punches to the right of the hammer were part of a set that I initially purchased for cutting holes for turnlock installation. The punch to the left came from svagostudio on etsy.
If you don't want to purchase a punch, you can also just use scissors to cut your hole.
If you have a press, you can purchase a die set for cutting holes, but they're pricey.
There are several types of tools that you can use to set your grommets. You can use a press, grommet pliers, or an anvil and setter with a hammer. My preference is the press because I hate having to hammer things and the pliers can be a bit hard on your wrist but all methods are just as effective.
Why do I have 2 presses? Because I was trying to be cheap and see if rivet dies would fit the grommet press because it was much cheaper than the rivet press. (Spoiler alert - the dies from the rivet press do not fit on the grommet press.) Anyway, the press on the left is a grommet press that I purchased for $50 shipped. (The price looks like it has increased but you may be able to find a similar deal on ebay from a different seller.) It came with 3 dies (each die set fits a different size grommet) and 1,200 grommets. 1,200 grommets alone would cost way more than $50 at the craft store.
The press on the right is my rivet press from Minkus Margo. There are grommet dies made to fit the rivet press but they cost ~$30 each. So if you plan on using more than one size of grommet, buying a grommet press might be more cost-effective.
Now that we've covered what is needed to install grommets, let's look at the actual grommets themselves.
There are 2 parts to a grommet. The part that will be on the exterior of your project (it has the longer post), and the washer which will be on the interior of your project.
This is the portion of the grommet that will be on the exterior of your project. The outside will face out and the inside will be against the material.
This is the portion of the grommet that will be on the interior of your project:
The first step is to determine how big of a hole you will need to punch/cut for your grommet. Trace the inner diameter of the front portion of your grommet onto the back side of your material.
After you've determined the size hole that you need, punch or cut your hole. If your material is thin, you might choose just to cut an X rather than punching out the entire hole. Leaving the extra material will help give the grommet something to grab onto if your material is thin.
If you're using a punch and hammer to punch your hole, use an old cutting mat or something that will not dull the sharp edge of your punch.
After you've punched your hole, get the portion of your grommet that has the longer post (not the washer). Push the post through the hole from the exterior side of your fabric. Set the grommet on top of your anvil. the curved outer edge of the grommet should rest nicely in the recessed portion of the top of the anvil. If it's not centered on there properly, you can dent the front of your grommet.
Push the washer down on top of your grommet's post.
Push your setter down into the center of the hole and hammer your grommet firmly into place. You want to make sure the post makes a lip around the edge of the washer and holds it into place.
This is what your grommet setting sandwich should look like:
If you'd like to watch a video of a setter and anvil in action, I'm kind of in love with this Tansy Leather dude.
Setting with a Press
If you're setting your grommets with a press, you will still need to determine which size die you need for your grommets. The sizing on grommet press dies are different than the sizing of grommet dies made to fit a rivet press. That sounds very confusing but rivet press dies are in metric and grommet press dies have numbers that correspond to imperial measurements (i.e., #0 = 1/4", #2 = 3/8", and #4 = 1/2").
The top portion of the die on your grommet press has a retractable center that the portion of your grommet with the post will fit on. The retractable portion has a rubber gasket so that the grommet will stay on there without you holding it into position.
The washer lays in the bottom die.
You can have your material pushed through the top grommet before you put it on the press or you can push it up after you've put it on there. I think it's easier to have it already around the top portion of the grommet but for photos I wanted to show where the portions of the grommet went.
After your grommet pieces and material are in place, firmly press on your grommet press' handle and your grommet should be set.
Getting a Good Fit
The factors that will determine how nicely your grommet sets are the thickness of the materials you're setting the grommet through, and the height of the grommet's post. If the post is too tall or your fabric is too thin, it will be difficult to get a tight fit.
This set that I purchased from Joann's is a good example of a grommet with a post that's too tall. Unless the materials you're using are very thick, it's not going to set tightly.
I set this grommet through a piece of vinyl and it looks like it's set from the top down:
But if you look at it from the side, you can see all of that extra space.
Practice on scraps of the actual material that you will be using to make sure your grommets' posts are not too long.
I hope that this post has helped you to feel totally comfortable tackling grommets. Let me know if you have any lasting questions!