We all remember grommets from childhood camping experiences. They were the essential ingredient in holding up our shelters. Grommets enabled the tents to be staked down. Grommets were essential in holding up the huge tarpaulin over the picnic table. Well, grommets are not just for camping tarps anymore.
John Rowley, R.H. Rowley Co., describes four uses for grommets. First, grommets can be used to hold fabrics on rods. Second, they hold up the mesh material in hospital cubicles. Third, they appear in Roman and Austrian shades. Fourth, they work well in shower curtains. These are the most common current uses of grommets, but as Robert Döhlemann, döfix No*Sew, Inc., points out, "The limit is the imagination."
Grommets vary in size, but fall into two main categories: Standard and oversized. Standard grommets range from size No. 00 to No. 2. Oversized grommets consist of all larger sizes, the most common being Nos. 6, 8 and 10. There's even a "Mega grommet" available from döfix that exceeds the No. 10 by 3/16-inch which assures a generous fit on a standard 1 3/8-inch pole. We will come back to the size number later. First, we need to look at how we go about inserting the grommet into a piece of fabric.
All About Grommets
"With grommets," Rowley begins, "you have two steps. You have the hole punching and you've got the crimping." First, you make the hole. Rowley discourages the use of self-piercing grommets because they have a limitation of being used with only one or two layers of fabric. Instead, make the hole prior to inserting the grommet. The grommet itself will be in two parts: the trumpet portion and the washer portion. After making the hole, crimp the trumpet portion with the washer portion, and there you have your grommet.
The crimping process requires some special tools. This is where size comes into play. For standard grommets, you have an option of two methods. The first, and the most time-efficient way, is to use what Rowley calls a heavy-duty tool. This tool is a vice-grip type of tool in which "you turn the screw and the handle gives you tremendous leverage." While this tool will save a lot of work, you will need a different interchangeable die for each different size grommet. You will have to use a separate die for a No. 2 grommet and another one for a No. 00 grommet. Döfix offers an automatic industrial grommet machine in addition to hand tools to cut holes and set its Mega grommets efficiently. The machine is essential for mass production situations where hand tools would be unsuitable.
The second tool available for the standard size grommet is a light-duty tool. With this tool you'll need to use a hammer. This tool requires less of an investment, but is more time-consuming than the heavy-duty tool. It is recommended for workrooms just starting out with grommets. This tool is available in every size, and at its lower cost enables a smaller shop to get up and running quickly.
For grommet sizes larger than a No. 6, Rowley recommends the light-duty tool style. Light-duty "really is a kind of misnomer when we're using it in that size grommet," Rowley says. "It's really pretty hefty. You have to use a large hammer, or I prefer using a small hand sledge -- two pounds to four pounds." When using these light-duty tools, the hand sledge helps immensely. Though heavier than a standard hammer, it requires less force to get it moving fast enough to do the work. A hard surface punching plate and a no-bounce mallet is available from döfix to help in the fabrication process.
Also, when using the larger size grommets, that is No. 6 and up, it is important to consider whether or not the grommet has teeth. Rowley recommends not using anything other than grommets with teeth when working with larger sizes to prevent fabric from slipping out of the grommet.
"In a smaller size grommet you're dealing with a smaller size hole, so the chance of the fabric distorting and letting the grommet pop out is relatively low. When you start getting up to bigger sizes, say Nos. 6, 8 and 10, the chance of it happening is pretty easy." To avoid this, Rowley always uses grommets that bite hard, grommets with teeth. R.H. Rowley Co. produces grommets with inner and outer teeth. Once those grommets are in, it is practically impossible to remove them. In addition to teeth in its Mega grommets, döfix supplies PVC washer support rings to insure an even tighter grip, which is important when using thin fabrics such sheers. The support ring prevents the grommet from cutting through the fabric when being crimped.
In addition to the size of the grommet, notice the finish. Some grommets are available in several colors and finishes. The döfix Mega grommet, for example, has a frosted nickel and frosted black finish option among others. While in most applications the finish is an aesthetic consideration, in water-intensive environments it becomes a practical one as well. For instance, if a steel grommet is used in a shower curtain no matter how good the plating, it will rust. Rowley explains, "When you roll the trumpet portion over the washer, even on a microscopic level, you're breaking the plating. When you break the plating, you're going to get a lot of rust."
Aluminum grommets are even worse. They tend to corrode, turn white and give off a powder. Rowley chooses brass. Though it also corrodes and turns green, it generally is a much slower process than with aluminum and steel. In addition to the slower corrosive property of brass, Rowley adds a nickel plate for water-intensive environments. Nickel is durable and flexible so that when crimped it will adhere to the surface rather than flaking off. And nickel will not rust. "You've never seen a rusty nickel, have you?" Rowley asks. For wet and humid situations, Döhlemann recommends his 100 percent stainless steel grommet, made from the same material as a kitchen sink!
Working with Grommets
There are a couple of suggestions to keep in mind when working with grommets. Döhlemann recommends using a fabric stiffener to create top treatments with grommets. Or, if you want to make a panel use buckram, "which should be a heavy-duty one." Döhlemann continues, "It's got to be a [high] quality, thicker one with a better adhering coating on it."
Another special situation occurs when you use grommets to hang fabric on a rod. Once on the rod, grommets tend not to slide as easily as a glide through a traverse rod. To alleviate this situation, spray the top of the rod with silicon. "You want to use a non-petroleum-based silicon," Rowley advises, "because petroleum-based silicons will cause discoloration on the fabric. After you spray the length of the rod, you can stand back and push the drapery from one end to the other."
Another means of making the grommets slide better is to use a grommet with a large, inner diameter. Smaller, lightweight grommets tend not to glide as well. A heavier weight grommet will pull the fabric along nicely. So in order to allay the possibility of sliding problems, first spray the rod with silicon, then choose a grommet with a large, curved inner diameter.
There are a few disadvantages to using grommets, but they are far outweighed by their sheer popularity. Some fabrics are better suited to grommet use than others. This is due mainly to the hole making. Making a hole in a fabric with several layers can be difficult. Other than that, you can grommet any fabric.
The other major disadvantage, at least to workrooms, is the start-up cost. To ease this burden, begin by purchasing the light-duty, less expensive tool. It may require a little more elbow grease, but it will save you money until you begin seeing a high demand for grommets. At that point, or if you work only with grommet sizes No. 00 to No. 2, it would be wise to invest in the heavy-duty tool.
Grommets are here to stay. Using grommets in your workroom can enhance your design capabilities. As grommet fever increases, and the demand for the grommet look sweeps over your neck of the woods, your ability to use them will be reflected in the amount of business you get.
While the initial cost of the tools may be high, and while grommeted material may not slide as easily as a glide through a traverse rod, grommets have a definite place in our industry. Many designers and home owners prefer the contemporary look of window treatments made with grommets. Panels with grommets will show less stack and are easy to install. For these reasons, Döhlemann is right on track when he says, "The public is going to see a lot of this."
Yes, these invaders from afar are here to stay. We should be thankful, for they demand our attention, creativity and imagination. Their uses are limitless.
Cheryl Strickland is owner of Professional Drapery Seminars. She is an internationally-acclaimed speaker with more than 20 years experience in the window coverings industry. She is the publisher and editor of Sew WHAT?, an international monthly newsletter for professional drapery workrooms. Strickland also is the author of A Practical Guide to Soft Window Coverings and the Designer's Sketch Pad, which are available through Draperies & Window Coverings magazine.