Lauren Top Sewing Tips - Part Thirteen

How to use Prym Vario pliers
to attach snaps, fasteners, poppers, buttons and rivets to your dressmaking projects!

Blog / 13 October 2020

If you are anything like me, you love a good sewing gadget and the Prym Vario pliers are one tool that I’ve used for many dressmaking projects. In this post and corresponding Youtube video I’m going to explain how the pliers work, all the different fastenings you can use with them along with what fabrics are best suited to each option and some troubleshooting tips!

The post will specifically focus on the Prym vario pliers and the prym fastenings that are compatible with them. I’m using the term fastenings to include all the different types such as poppers, snaps, buttons, eyelets, hook and bar etc).

Where to purchase the pliers and all the tools?

Most of the Prym range is available to purchase in the online shop. I'll link to specific products throughout this post - you can click any blue highlighted text or on the products themselves.

Check out my latest Youtube video to see the pliers in action or read on for more tips and links on where you can buy the pliers and accessories in my online shop.

FAQ’s, general tips and troubleshooting

First of all I wanted to cover a few key points that are applicable no matter what type of fastening you are using with the pliers. Then under the heading for each of the different fastening types I’ll share specific tips and tricks for using them. It’s also worth noting that the following terms are often used interchangeably but essentially mean the same thing; snaps, poppers, fastener and press fasteners.

How do the Prym Vario Pliers work?

The vario pliers are a tool for making it easier to apply different types of fastenings onto your projects. They are compatible with lots of different types of Prym fastenings. The pliers have holes at the tips where you can insert a tool set that is specific to each fastening. This tool set is crucial to being able to use the pliers correctly.

The majority of Prym fastenings come with a tool set automatically, apart from the plastic colour snaps. The tool set for them can be purchased as a separate item if you already own a pair of the pliers or it comes included with the ‘Prym Love’ edition of the pliers.

I’ll show you how to use the pliers with each different type of fastening below.

Are the pliers essential for putting on the different fastenings? What other options are there?

The short answer is no, they are not essential, but they do make it a lot easier!

Most of the Prym fastenings come with a small plastic clip that can be used with the tool set and a hammer, so an alternative is to use that instead of pliers. You could also break the hinge on that clip and use it to access an area in the middle of a large project where the fabric is too bulky to bunch up. You just need to pay extra special attention to make sure both sides are lined up before hitting it with the hammer.

Prym also sell this tripod device that allows you to apply fasteners deep in the middle of an area of fabric when the pliers can't reach in far enough.

How to stabilise the fabric

This will depend on the type of fabric you are using. Most of the time it's best to use iron on interfacing to strengthen the fabric but there are a few exceptions. Check out the details under the different fastener headings for specific details on this.


Storing all the bits

I use a fishing tackle box for this - its from Amazon and the same one isn't available anymore but I'm sure there are lots of similar alternatives out there. It’s nothing too fancy, but has lots of little compartments so perfect if you have lots of different types of snaps in your tool box.

Alternatively, Prym have recently launched these cute little flower boxes with lots of compartments that would be really handy for storage too!

How to mark the placement of the snaps

This is somewhat similar to lining up buttons and buttonholes. You need to consider the size of the fastener to make sure it is placed completely on your fabric and not hanging over the edge (of a button placket for example).

I usually put one side of the fastener in first and get it secure and then using that as a guide, I’ll use a pin to mark where the centre of that snap falls on the opposite section.

How to remove them

It is inevitable that you’ll need to do this at some point but avoidance of the situation is good! Make sure you practice using a new type of fastener on a scrap of fabric first you get used to it before applying them to your finished project. Otherwise there isn’t a particularly easy answer, you can try using pliers or a hammer to break the fastening. For the plastic colour snaps there is a specific tool you can buy to remove them that essentially cracks and breaks up the snap in a controlled way.

How to get them into difficult areas where you have to get past a lot of fabric?

This is a great question and one that I have encountered when using the pliers to put rivets onto high waisted jeans. The first thing I’d say is try, you’d be surprised how much fabric you can squish in the little bit between the head of the pliers and the handles.

Alternatively, as I mentioned before, you could use the tripod tool with a hammer or break the hinge of the plastic bit that comes with the fasteners and use that with a hammer.

Why are they coming off or not snapping together?

  • From my experience of using the Prym fastenings and also showing people how to use them in workshops, the most common reason is that not enough force has been applied at the right angle to fully lock the sections of the fastening together or that the incorrect tool set is being used for the fastening.
  • Hold the pliers near the bottom of the handles as you squeeze them together and use both hands to get the greatest force through the top of the pliers.
  • Using the wrong type of fastening for your project - it may not be strong enough for the wear and tear of how the fastening is getting used. A light fastening strength snap on a heavy fabric, in a position that gets a lot of use/opening and closing will likely result in the snap coming off.
  • Making too big a hole in the fabric first. With general use that hole can stretch and get bigger, causing the fastening to fall off
  • Not stabilising the fabric first, so the fastening has less to grip onto
  • It’s important to make sure that the male/female parts of the fasteners are facing each other and matching up, otherwise they won’t click together and work.

Making a hole in the fabric prior to putting on the fastening

Depending on the type of fastening and fabric you are using will depend on whether you actually even need to make a hole. I’ll cover that in the different sections below on specific types of fastenings.

If you DO need to make a hole you can do this with

  • the hole punch tool sent that comes with the Prym Love edition of the pliers - they can punch either 3mm or 4mm holes
  • revolving punch pliers - this is great as it offers lots of different diameters of holes it can punch - always make the smallest hole needed and stretch the fastening around the hole for maximum fabric contact and stability of the fastening.
  • An awl (a really sharp pointy tool) this is probably the trickiest ont to use in terms of accuracy and control
  • The fasteners that require you to make a hole come with a little metal cylinder and flat plastic circle. This is for making a hole with a hammer. You use the plastic circle to protect the surface you are working on and the metal cylinder is sharp at one end so will punch a hole when hit with the hammer.

I'll now go over a selection of the different types of fasteners there are available and how to use them. In my Youtube video I show you the whole process for each one - the information below should act as notes to that.

Plastic colour snaps

These fun and colourful plastic snaps come in a big range of colours. Most of them are circles but you can get selected colours in star and heart shapes as well as more novelty ones like a smiley face flower.

They are available in single colour packs as well as mix packs and as part of a storage box set too that is the shape of a flower.

What fabrics and projects are they suitable for? They are great for baby and kids clothes as they are really light weight and not too bulky. I think they are best suited to woven (non-stretchy) fabrics. On stretchy jersey fabric they can be used if you have stabilised the fabric well.

They can be washed, dry cleaned and ironed.

You could use them in place of buttons at cuffs and button plackets. They also work well at the shoulder seam or centre back seam of kids clothing where the neck opening needs to be nice and wide for getting baby dresses with ease.

Strength - light fastening strength

How to reinforce the fabric? Use iron on interfacing to strengthen and stabilise the fabric. If the fabric is very light weight, you can consider adding in an extra layer of fabric so that the snap has more fabric to grip onto.

How do you apply them?

  • Lay out the 4 components of each snap set, identifying the two backing parts and the male and female parts.
  • Insert the correct tool set into the vario pliers
  • Rather than making a hole in the fabric first, use the sharp spoke on the snaps to push though and pierce the fabric.
  • Line the pliers up so the backing part of the snap sits in the little white tool
  • Place the male/female part over the spoke that is sticking through the fabric
  • Gently close the pliers making sure everything is lined up and squeeze very tightly with both hands, holding the pliers at the bottom of the handle
  • This should flatten the spoke and lock the two sections of the snap together.
  • Repeat on the other side with the opposing male/female part

    Jersey snaps

    These snaps come in lots of different colours too most of them have the subtle metal ring that appears on the outside of the fabric once installed that gives your garments a really professional finish. You can also get ones that have a plain round finish too. They come in lots of different sizes as well, anything under 12mm can be used with the vario pliers. Sizes above this need to be used with the tool that comes with the snaps and a hammer.

    What fabrics and projects are they suitable for? They are intended for use on thinner stretchy/ jersey fabric but I have used them in place of buttons and buttonholes on a light weight denim shirt dress before and it worked out really well.

    How to reinforce the fabric? It’s still a good idea to use iron in interfacing to strengthen the fabric. Usually they are attached through a few layers of fabric, for example at the gusset opening on a baby grow. This helps to give the snap more fabric to grip onto and therefore more sturdy.

    Strength - easy to medium fastening strength

    How do you apply them? There is no need to make a hole is the fabric first. These snaps have sharp prongs on them that pierce through the fabric.

    Set out the 4 sections of the snap, 2 backing pieces and the male and female parts. For snaps that have the circle ring finish it’s the same tool set that’s used for applying the male and female side of the snap.

    Metal anorak snaps

    These metal snaps come with lots of different colours and finishes and look really slick against the fabric. Most are a smooth shiny or matt finish cut there are some more patterned/fancy ones available too.

    What fabrics and projects are they suitable for? They are great for anoraks and skirts or dresses where they can be used in place of a button placket for example.

    Thicker fabrics like denim, twill and canvas work well and can take the heavier nature of the snap well.

    Strength - Medium fastening strength

    How to reinforce the fabric? Interfacing that is suited to your fabric should be used, you may even want to use a double layer of interfacing.

    For areas that will receive high usage such as a pocket opening, you can cut a few extra layers of fabric to go on the wrong side of the garment just to bulk it out a bit and give the snap more to hold onto.

    How do you apply them?

    • Lay out the 4 components of each snap set, identifying the two backing parts and the male and female parts.
    • Make a hole in the fabric using punch pliers or a similar tool. The hole should be the smallest size you can get away with, so when you come to put the snap through the hole you almost end up stretching the hole slightly. This will ensure maximum contact with the snap and make it more secure.
    • For each half of the snap there is a different set of tools to use in the vario pliers. The picture below shows what tool corresponds to each part of the snap.
    • As you apply the snap you have to make sure the correct tool is in contact with the correct part of the snap
    • Make sure all parts are lined up and you gently close the pliers and you will feel things lightly click together.
    • Then you need to squeeze the pliers really hard, holding the bottom of the handles with both hands to squash the snap parts and lock them together securely.

    Eyelets

    These reinforce holes in fabric for laces and cord for example. They are metal and come with different finishes/colours and different sizes. Up to 8mm can be used with the vario pliers. Larger sizes need to be used with a hammer and the tools set that comes with the eyelets.

    What fabrics and projects are they suitable for? They are best suited to woven fabrics for projects where a lace or cord needs to be threaded through, for example the channel for a waist cord around an anorak or hood.

    How to reinforce the fabric? The fabric needs to be reinforced with iron on interfacing to minimise the chance of the eyelet coming up.

    How do you apply them? I have found that its really important to make the smallest hole you need to as this will give the eyelet more to grip onto. Start off by making a small hole with punch pliers or the hole punch tool set that comes with the prym love edition of the pliers.

    Then push the eyelet though the hole which will slightly stretch the hole. Place the washer on the other side to sandwich the fabric and with the corresponding tool set in the pliers squeeze them together as tight as you can until you feel the eyelet ‘give’. You can check how secure it is by trying to get your nail underneath the eyelet. If you can then you need to squeeze a bit harder.

    Jeans buttons

    These more heavy duty buttons come with lots of decorative finishes and colours as well as different diameters.

    What fabrics and projects are they suitable for? They work best of thicker fabrics like denim and corduroy and can be used at the waistband of jeans and trousers or on skirts and dresses that have a button placket down the centre front as well as dungaree styles.

    How to reinforce the fabric? Iron on interfacing is needed to strengthen the fabric and depending on the thickness of your fabric you may want to add in an additional layer of fabric underneath to give the button shank more to grip onto.

    How do you apply them?

    For the button that has a flat front - the backing piece of these buttons has a sharp spoke on it, so use this to pierce a hole in the fabric rather than punching a hole. This will keep the fabric more intact and make it less likely that the button will come off with use and wear.

    For the buttons that have a decorative hole in the middle - they are applied in a similar way to the anorak snaps. You need to punch or make a hole in the fabric first before you can fit the backing piece through the fabric.

    With the corresponding tool set in the pliers, click the front and back side of the button in the tool set gently close the pliers to make sure the ends are engaged and lined up, then squeeze tightly as hard as you can. Check it is secure by trying to twist it. If the button can move easily you need to squeeze tighter with the pliers.

    Rivets

    These are decorate additions you can put onto your projects for an extra special finishing touch. They look great at the top corners of pockets on jeans. They are made of metal and come in different colours/finishes.

    What fabrics and projects are they suitable for? They work best on thicker fabrics like denim or corduroy.

    How to reinforce the fabric? As they are usually applied at thicker points in the garment where they are going through several layers of fabric, often interfacing isn’t needed to reinforce the fabric first.

    How do you apply them? You need to punch a hole in the fabric first using punch pliers. It’s best to make the smallest hole needed to prevent the rivet coming loose with wear and use.

    Using the corresponding tool set in the vario pliers, click the front and back of the rivet into the little rubber grip around the tool set. Put the backing piece of the rivet through the hole in the garment and gently close the pliers together to make sure the front and back and lined up and engaged, then squeeze the pliers together tightly till you feel the rivet ‘give’. Check it is on securely by trying to get your nail under the rivet, if you can, squeeze it together again with the pliers.