Sewing Tips

My Snaps Journey

Like many sewists, I started making apparel using any pattern that did not require closures. Zippers were out of the question, and buttons and snaps were intimidating because their placement needed to be spot-on equidistant from each other to avoid fabric buckling. No wonder beginning sewists are so fond of wrap-styles and elastic casings! The exception for me was doll clothes…..snaps (and buttons) are not quite so scary when you only need 1 piece…..and so began my sewing journey through the world of snaps.

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  1. METAL SEWN-ON SNAPS

I have a “love-hate” relationship with snaps that started early on…probably around age 7 or 8. I still have the first item I made using a snap closure; a ballet tutu-dress for a “troll” doll (it was originally turquoise!):

Snaps have been around since the industrial revolution, plentiful and cheap, and requiring no special tools….just a needle and thread. Sewn correctly they do not show from outside the garment, making them a favorite of fine dressmakers. Yet, they pose a simple challenge.

Consider that snaps have 2 parts (male “stud” and female “socket”…which I’m sure would have meant nothing to me at that age!) and each part has 2 sides (one that should be placed towards the fabric and one that should be placed going away from the fabric). That gives you 4 possible combinations of placement and only 1 of them will create a successful closure. Naturally I got it wrong 3 times in a row and had to unpick the threads over and over again. I was not a fan of snaps.

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2. METAL PRESS-ON SNAPS: Dritz

As I moved from sewing clothes for troll-dolls, to Barbie dolls, I “graduated” to Dritz pronged snaps. They held the promise of being faster to apply, and never needing a seam ripper! Of course they have the same male-female complication, except now with 4 parts (male/female x inner functional piece versus outer “ring”), which all must connect up correctly. Plus, they require a hand-held pressing tool, and if they are not pressed together with enough strength you have to remove and try again, potentially destroying the fabric. I no longer have the Dritz tool but this is what it looks like:

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3. METAL HAMMER-ON SNAPS: Snap Source

Much more recently when I started sewing baby rompers, I suddenly needed to attach snaps in multiples. The Dritz system became tedious, and the application inconsistent. I discovered a brand called Snap-Source, who had introduced a hammer-on application method. This clever little tool lets you position your snap parts carefully and hold them in place, then you use a standard tool-box hammer to secure them. It works well….although it does take time, plus it’s quite noisy.

(There are YouTube videos readily available to show you how to use any of these application methods.)

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4. METAL SNAPS TABLE-TOP PRESS: Gold Star

Eventually I needed to step up and invest in a table-top press. After some online research I decided on a basic machine from Gold Star Tool . There are tons of cheap knock-offs of this iconic green enameled design available on Ebay and Amazon, most with dreadful reviews, so “buyer-beware”. Here is my Gold Star machine….I’ve taped samples of the male and female snap parts to the upper side of the tool, and decorative outside rings on the bottom side of the tool, in case I don’t remember the correct position placement. Honestly, if you don’t use snaps often it’s quite easy to forget which piece goes where:

Gold Star not only makes a high-quality product, but their customer service is great. I had an ample supply of 11-millimeter (7/16″) Snap-Source snaps and wanted to know if they would be compatible with the Gold Star setter…which is confusing because snap and grommet manufacturers tend to have inconsistent sizing. The Gold Star rep had me send her a few Snap-Source snaps and she personally tested them on fabrics for me, to ensure that I was purchasing the correct size of setting-tool. Turns out that 16-line at Snap-Source = 18-line at Gold Star.

The Gold Star press worked well for me with the Snap-Source fasteners…most of the time. At random, one (or two) of the prongs would not get sandwiched in correctly, no matter how carefully I had positioned the metal pieces through the fabric.

If this has happened to you, you know how frustrating it is to potentially ruin a garment that is finished, since adding snaps tends to be the final step in construction. I thought that maybe using Gold Star brand snaps might be better, so I ordered some. They seem to work perfectly….however the color selection is limited. I really need ivory snaps quite often, and so far I can only find them from Snap-Source. (The KAM company, probably more well-known for plastic snaps, also has metal ring snaps….but in a very limited color range, and no ivory.)

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5. PLASTIC SNAPS: BABYVILLE

So what about plastic snaps? Honestly I avoided plastic because I prefer the more delicate appearance of the metal open-ring showing the fabric in the center; plastic snaps feel bulky to me.

However they are popular for children’s and infant’s wear. My first foray into plastic was with “Babyville” brand from Dritz, simply because they were available at JoAnn Stores:

They are applied with a handheld press, similar to Dritz….which is fine for random use but gets tiring on the hands. Of course you could try KAM snaps, which can be applied with a KAM table-top press…..but I couldn’t justify investing in another $75 machine.

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6. PLASTIC SNAPS: GOLD STAR

The inbetween solution was to buy plastic snaps from Gold Star, and a set of dies for them to be used in my existing Gold Star machine.

It takes only a minute to switch the dies from metal to plastic, and the Gold Star plastic snaps work well:

It did take a few tries to get the thickness of the fabric correct. If the fabric is too thin, the center plastic “bubble” (created by pressure on the center-post of the prong to create the attachment to the fabric) will be too big and prevent the male stud and female socket from closing together. I had to add thicker interfacing to make the snaps work.

Note: I would suggest ALWAYS testing snaps on any new-to-you fabric!

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6. PLASTIC SNAPS: KAM

Finally I decided to try KAM plastic snaps. Why? Because of the color range. I doubt that I would ever use the entire rainbow they offer…..however I do need ivory, and these are not offered by Gold Star in plastic.

I ordered a KAM snap assortment through Amazon, with the intention of trying to apply them using the Gold Star tabletop press together with the GoldStar plastic-snap dies. What’s the worst that could happen? If it doesn’t work there’s always the option to invest in either the KAM hand-held pliers, or the KAM table-top press.

How do the two different snap brands compare? For whatever reason, plastic snaps tend to have more consistent sizing than metal ones: 12.5 millimeter snaps are referred to as #20 from Babyville, Gold Star, and KAM. Here’s a photo of a KAM snap on the left, and a Gold Star snap on the right:

However there is a difference in the post size, which affects the thickness of fabric required. You need enough extra plastic in the post to get squashed down and anchor the snap to the fabric, but not so much that the snaps can’t close. Here is the standard KAM post (orange) compared to the GoldStar (white):

My first test with KAM snaps using the GoldStar plastic dies worked well:

However they would not snap because the “bubble” was too big. Keep in mind that I was attempting to use KAM snaps in a Gold Star machine:

I tried adding fabric thickness with additional interfacing:

That was the trick….perfect closure:

If I keep making rompers, I may invest in a dedicated KAM tabletop press in the future, simply because the dies are designed specifically for KAM snaps and will create just the right size “bubble” to keep the snap parts secure to the fabric, while allowing the male and female parts to connect.

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AND FINALLY: A note about snap safety.

Be wary of no-name snaps. Just as the online shopping world is full of knock-off snap press machines, there are also plenty of lesser-quality manufacturers of snaps, both metal and plastic. For the sake of consistency (less thickness testing!) and quality (fewer incorrectly applied snaps), I highly recommend purchasing snaps from reputable companies like Dritz/Babyville, Gold Star and KAM.

If you sew for children, purchasing from reputable businesses is even more important, because products intended for babies and kids under age 12 must meet certain standards from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (
https://www.cpsc.gov/Regulations-Laws–Standards/Statutes/The-Consumer-Product-Safety-Improvement-Act/ ) and for snaps this means that plastics must be free of phthalate plasticizers (
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phthalate ) and metals must be free of lead (
https://www.epa.gov/lead/learn-about-lead ). Better manufacturers guarantee their product safety, and upon request they will send you statements ensuring that their products are safe. More information on safety compliance is available from this FB group:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/227360430739322/

It is highly unlikely that metal snaps would be made of lead, considering that lead is a very soft metal that is generally melted-and-poured into molds, such as for making charms. Snaps are normally die-cut stamped from very thin sheets of stainless steel which is quite hard. The greater danger in childrens-wear has been in charms, often used to embellish the zipper-pulls of outerwear: with the zipper closed, a child could lick the charm.

A bigger danger is in a child swallowing a snap, which is why product recalls due to snaps are almost always due to poor application, not snap content:
https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls?combine=snaps&field_rc_date%5Bdate%5D=&field_rc_date_1%5Bdate%5D=

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What do you think? Metal or plastic? Love snaps or prefer other closures?

Happy sewing! Best, Janet

One Comment

  • JustGail

    I haven’t used plastic snaps yet. In fact, I don’t recall the last I used snaps of any type, then again I haven’t been doing much garment sewing lately. I have a Dritz plier kit but the fabric slips in the side, not end like yours. It came with 5-6 different snap locator bits that are slid in the jaws. I almost always end up needing to add an extra layer or two of fabric to get the snaps installed snuggly. Sew in snaps are so fiddly, especially the small ones!

    Just remembered the last I did snaps – I replaced the hook & eyes on Dad’s pants with press in snaps when he could no longer get them hooked or keep them hooked.

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