Sewing Injuries, or, Why I Regret My Eyelet Pliers

A couple years ago, before I learned how to do hand-bound eyelets in my garments, I bought a pair of Dritz Eyelet Pliers. I thought they would neaten up my eyelets on laced bodices (not historically accurate ones), and at first they did. The first few rows of eyelets came out much neater, with the metal eyelets set more securely in the fabric, than they did when I used to use the anvil eyelet tool.

But after the first few rows, the eyelets just got progressively messier. It became harder and harder to line the anvil side of the eyelet tool up with the open end of the eyelet in a way that would open the eyelet neatly to grab the fabric and secure the eyelet. Finally, my mother borrowed the tool to make her Ren Faire bodice and in trying to show her how to use it properly, I ruined a few eyelets and the ones I did get set in did not feel secure. We finished her costume as best I could, and then the pliers were buried in my sewing box because all of my projects since then have needed hand-bound eyelets for historical accuracy.

This year, I need a new Victorian corset. The one I used to wear under my Victorian gowns was an old plastic-boned thing that I made eight years ago before I dove seriously into historical costuming. It really wasn’t doing anything for me, but I was too lazy (and intimidated) to make a real one. The plastic-boned lame-o finally died last year after an ill-advised 7-hour be-costumed work shift during a bout with bronchitis (wearing several warm layers+sitting in a desk chair for long periods+heavy coughing fits=plastic bones molded into 90 degree angles). I finally realized that I needed to make a Victorian corset for real.

I bought the corset kit from Corset Making Supplies that includes the Laughing Moon Dore corset pattern, along with all of the necessary coutil, busk, steel bones, and grommets. Firstly, the instructions that came with the pattern are very lacking, but I’ll save that for another post. I was able to muddle through just fine, getting the shell pieces sewn together and the busk set in. When the time came to insert the grommets, I took some time to decide how I was going to get them in. I didn’t have a specific grommet tool, but the eyelet pliers have instructions on the card for small eyelets as well as large two-piece eyelets, so I thought they might work for the grommets as well. I tested a spare grommet on a bit of fabric and though I had to apply a lot of pressure on the pliers, the grommet seemed to set in very well. Because I was suddenly raring to go on the corset, I decided to proceed with the eyelet pliers. I set in 12 grommets over the course of an afternoon, taking breaks between grommets because the force I had to exert was hurting my hand a little, but nothing too bad.

I quit for the day after I had put grommets in one side of the back opening. At the time my hand felt fine. But that night while I was getting ready for bed, the muscles in my palm suddenly started spasming and then seized up, basically giving me a Charlie Horse in the palm of my sewing hand. I had to go to bed with a heat pack wrapped around my hand to try to get the muscle to relax. The next day my hand was swollen from the time I woke up until after dinner time. I could also feel it straining when doing things like buckling my seat belt and picking up books.

I couldn’t sew at all that week and I had to be careful with certain tasks. Even now, more than two weeks later, I keep getting weird little involuntary muscle twitches in certain parts of my hand, especially if I’ve been holding my phone or a pen for a while, or sewing, or typing. I feel pretty stupid for not realizing that I was injuring my hand by using the eyelet pliers on the grommets, but setting the grommets was working, so I just kept going.

I’ve since been told by a couple different people that even the grommet-specific pliers are not that great, and people actually prefer the die and anvil grommet tool if they don’t have a grommet press that they can use. The presses run upwards of $150 or more, and I use grommets so infrequently that I’m not ready to invest in one of those yet. However, while JoAnn Fabric has a grommet die on their website for only 6 bucks or so, it’s the wrong size, and the other sets that I can find are $24 or more. I don’t understand the price discrepancy, so I haven’t bought anything yet to finish my corset. It’s just been sitting on the sewing table because I don’t know what to do about the grommets at this point.

Basically, I’ve learned that 1. small metal eyelets are the worst and I’m never using them again 2. hand-bound eyelets are obviously the best (reasons include: they’re stronger because you’re opening the weave with an awl, not cutting the fibers; if they start getting loose you can just stitch them a bit more; they come out much neater; bonus points for historical accuracy) 3. grommets are an acceptable, though not HA alternative, but I need the right damn tools next time.

So I really don’t think I’ll be using my eyelet pliers again. I’m sad that I spent the money on them and was so excited, only to realize the small metal eyelets you can find at the fabric store are really no good for anything. I wanted to write this as a follow-up to my previous post on using the eyelet pliers, at the very least to let people know that repeated use may change results over time. But also to let people know that I’ve gone over to the dark side of hand-bound eyelets and you should join us here; they’re really not that scary. Definitely way less scary than causing muscle spasms in your sewing hand by abusing the eyelet pliers.

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