How to Set Snaps

A while ago, I found some vintage snaps at my local creative reuse store and bought them to make a Seamwork Adelaide dress. Because I am an inveterate instruction and packaging reader, I later discovered this simple and clever set of instructions on the back of the packets:
thrifted vintage instructions from a packet of square-cap Singer snaps
The beauty of this method is that:

  • In my experience, it actually works a lot more reliably than the modern plier tools that are designed to set snaps for you. The placement of the snaps is more precise, so I waste fewer of them.
  • You don't have to buy or own a dedicated tool just for the purpose of setting snaps!

Materials

You'll need:

  • Your sewing or craft project, with the desired snap locations marked
  • Snap sets[1]
  • A wooden thread spool
  • A pencil with a new(ish) eraser on the end[2]
  • A mallet or hammer
  • Some scrap felt or similar fabric padding[3]

Instructions

  1. Place the felt on a sturdy surface.[4] The felt will help protect the snap from being cracked, dented, or smashed.
  2. Place the pronged cap on the felt. The smooth side that will appear on the outside of the garment or project should be facing down, and the prongs should face up.
  3. With the right side of the garment facing down, center the marked part of the garment over the prongs.[5]
  4. Use the pencil eraser to firmly push the fabric down so that the prongs poke through it. All the prongs should now be visible on the wrong side of the garment. If not, push the eraser on a few more times until all the prongs poke through.[6]
  5. The socket has one side with a deep groove all the way round it, and another side that will accept the stud when the installed snap is closed. Place the grooved side down on top of the prongs so that it rests on the points of the prongs. It's important to make sure this piece is not off center so that all prongs point into the groove.
  6. Center one end of the wooden spool on top of the socket piece. I like to look down the hole in the middle of the spool to make sure everything is lined up.
  7. Hold the spool in place with one hand and use the mallet to hit the top end of the spool with the other. Try to use about as much force as you'd need to sink a small nail with a hammer. You don't need to be Thor, but a gentle tap won't be enough.[7]
  8. Both the snap cap and the socket should now be flush against the surface of the fabric.[8]
  9. To install the stud side of the snap set, place the ring piece on the felt, pronged side up.
  10. With the right side of the garment facing up (because the smooth side of the ring will be on the inside of the garment), center the marked part of the garment over the prongs.
  11. Use the pencil eraser to firmly push the fabric down so that the prongs poke through it.
  12. Center the stud piece on top of the prongs, flat side down. Again, it's important to make sure this piece is not off center so that all prongs point into the groove.
  13. Place the wooden spool on top of the stud. The tall part of the stud piece should poke into the hole in the spool and help to keep it centered.
  14. Hold the spool in place with one hand and use the mallet to hit the top end of the spool with the other. Both the ring and the stud should now be flush against the surface of the fabric.
  15. Congrats, you've installed a snap!

I installed a practice snap set on some scrap fabric before I felt comfortable using this method on a sewing project, but now that I've got the hang of it, I find it much easier than using snap pliers.


  1. Each set will include a decorative pronged cap, a socket (a.k.a. the "female" part of the snap), a pronged ring, and a stud (the "male" part). These four pieces become one snap. The snap sets pictured in this post are these in size 16 and the silver color. I bought 50 sets when I ran out of matching thrifted snaps that suited my projects. ↩︎

  2. The best eraser for this will be one that sticks out from the metal ferrule that holds it in place by about a quarter inch and is more cylindrical than domed in shape. It doesn't have to be perfectly new and unused (after all, I'm guessing this snap installation method was used during the Great Depression), but a heavily used eraser won't work. ↩︎

  3. You'll need enough to place 2–3 layers under your snaps while you set them. Mine is from the center of the brims of some witch hats I made for Halloween a few years ago. ↩︎

  4. Just in case, you should either protect the surface (I use a rotary mat, but cardboard would work) or choose a surface that you don't mind marking up a little bit. ↩︎

  5. If the fabric is thin enough to wrinkle, be sure to smooth the fabric out so that the marked section is taut rather than rippled (this will help prevent puckering around the snap). ↩︎

  6. If the material is very thick, I sometimes need to push the middle of the eraser directly onto each prong in order to accomplish this. ↩︎

  7. If your first hit is too gentle, you may need to hit it again. ↩︎

  8. If any part of the snap was installed crookedly, bent, dented, or in the wrong place, you can use a slender flat-head screwdriver to gently pry it off and try again with a different pronged peice. I don't recommend trying to reuse a snap piece that has bent prongs, but any piece that isn't damaged after a failed installation should still work. ↩︎