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What are Eyelets?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 16, 2024
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Eyelets are metal rings, usually made of brass, which serve as reinforcement to a hole in fabric or paper. The etymology of the name is from the 14th century Old French word oillet, meaning "little eye." Eyelets are metal rings with a flange surrounding the hole. The flange extends into a barrel that is inserted through a hole in the material and set by hand or machine. The barrel either rolls or spreads out, grabbing the material and strengthening the hole.

The first eyelet machine patented in the Unites States was invented by W. H. Rodgers and patented November 15th, 1859. It was primarily used to bind papers together before the stapler was invented.

Eyelets are not to be confused with their cousin, the grommet, which has a larger flange diameter in relation to the hole size than an eyelet does. The larger the flange, the stronger the grip, which allows grommets to be more practical in industrial uses such as tents, banners, flags and tarps. Eyelets, although also used in industrial applications, are more attractive and have a more finished appearance than grommets, lending themselves to be used more often in apparel, such as hats, belts, shoes and labels.

There are several things to take into consideration when selecting eyelets:

  • Size of the hole you are making
  • Thickness of the material you are using
  • Type of material -- is it lightweight or heavyweight material, or paper
  • How visible will the eyelet be? Is it being used for decorative purposes?

Eyelets are set using a variety of tools and machines. The simplest method is using a hand setting tool and hammer, which can be purchased at most craft or hardware stores. For setting a large quantity of eyelets uniformly and quickly, there are machines available, from simple foot or hand press machines, to pneumatic auto-feed light duty machines, to heavy duty setting machines.

To set eyelets by hand, first punch a hole in the material. Insert the eyelet with the barrel pointing up. The flange side of the eyelet should be on the side that will show. If using a washer for better strength and grip, slide it over the barrel. Next, insert the setter tool in the end of the barrel and tap it with the hammer. Tap until the barrel rolls over or spreads out flat onto the material.

A new generation of eyelets has evolved beyond the utilitarian brass- or nickel-finished original to include lighter weight aluminum craft eyelets which are easily set. These increasingly popular craft products are available in a variety of colors and shapes. This new generation is appropriate for any craft project that requires the eyelet's practical application as well as a simple embellishment.

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Discussion Comments

By momothree — On Jul 26, 2010

@gardenturtle: You can absolutely replace shoe eyelets. I have replaced many over the years. If it was for a $10 pair of shoes, I didn’t worry about it. For the expensive shoes, I was not about to toss them aside because I was missing an eyelet!

I researched a lot of places on the internet for shoe eyelets. Most of them have a really good selection of aluminum and brass eyelets. They have many different sizes and colors. You should be able to find a match for yours.

By GardenTurtle — On Jul 26, 2010

My son is very rough on shoes. He has somehow torn an eyelet off of his left shoe. I looked at WalMart but they didn't sell them. Does anyone know if I can even replace the eyelet?

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