Fabric eyes with eyelids and lashes added for a realistic effect. The eyes are ready to be attached to something.

Add eyelids and lashes to make fabric eyes look real

In the previous post you learned how to make basic round eyes from fabric scraps and stuffing. In this post, I’ll show you how to upgrade those eyes from cartoon style to realistic by adding eyelids and lashes. It looks fancy, but it’s really not that hard to do.

Supplies

  • basic cartoon eyes (see previous post here for instructions)
  • eyelid fabric enough for 4 pieces, each about twice the size of the eyeball pattern
  • eyelash fabric or trim
  • thread to match eyelid fabric

Tools

  • scissors
  • needle
  • pins

How to select the fabric

Unless your creature is wearing eyeshadow, the eyelids should co-ordinate with the colour of its face rather than the colour of its eyes. If the colour is right, almost any fabric will work for eyelids so long as it is not really stiff.

The eyeballs with two knit shoulder pads that I want to use for lids.  One of the shoulder pads is taken apart.
These sweater shoulder pads looked perfect for eyelids and I could feel that they had an extra layer inside. When I opened the first one, I found an inner layer that was much smaller than I wanted. However, the fabric is very stretchy so I am going to use it anyway.

For eyelashes, the easiest thing to find is fabric scraps that can be unraveled along an edge. Just remove threads along the edge until the remaining thread ends are the length you want for the lashes. For thick lashes, use coarse fabric. For fine lashes, use finer fabric. You could also use “eyelash” yarn or commercially made fringe trim but finding the right scale and colour can be tricky.

5 samples of eyelash materials are displayed:  fine cloth with a frayed edge, coarse cloth with a frayed edge, fuzzy yarn, commercially made fringe trim, and eyelash yarn
Possible materials for making eyelashes, including frayed fabrics, fuzzy yarns, and commercially made fringe trim.

Placing the lower eyelids

If you look closely at people’s eyes, you’ll see that the lower lids appear to be tucked under the upper lids at the corners. That’s why we’re going to put the lower eyelids on first. We’re also going to work with both eyes at the same time, going through the entire construction process. Otherwise it will be very tricky to get them to match.

A close-up of human eyes showing their shape and the creases in the eyelids
Even young eyes have creases around them. Note how the upper eyelids appear to overlap the lower lids at the outside corners.

Before you cut anything out, fold your fabric in half and place the folded edge across the lower part of the eyeball. It should extend beyond the eyeball and at least 2.5 cm (1″) on to the table on either side. I like to have a bit of a curve along the edge and that’s easier to get if there’s some stretch to the fabric. So if I’m using a woven fabric, I’ll fold it on the diagonal (ie the “bias”) to get that stretch. Knit fabrics will stretch in any direction. (In the photo below, the lower lid pieces are smaller than I would like but they will easily stretch to be big enough so I’m going to use them anyway.)

When the lower eyelid placement looks right, pin it but don’t cut it yet. Pin the second eye to match and then play around with how the upper eyelids might look. It’s easy to place the lower lids too high up on the eyeball. So if you don’t like how they look, try moving the lower lids down a bit. If you look at human eyes again, you’ll see that the lower lid stays in the bottom third or quarter of the eyeball. It does not meet the upper eyelid halfway up.

Two eyeballs with lower eyelids pinned in place.  The one on the left also has the upper lid draped over it.
Lower lids are pinned in place. The eye on the left has its upper lid draped over it to show how it could look with both eyelids.

You don’t have to get the upper eyelids perfectly in place at this stage. You just need to see that you can get the effect you want while the lower eyelids are in their current position. Once you are satisfied that the lower lids are well-placed, you can get ready to cut.

Cutting out and stitching lower eyelids

Each eyelid is made from a double layer of fabric, with the fold line running along the mostly straight edge of the eyelid. You need to cut two lower eyelids (one for each eye) from folded fabric. Leave at least 2.5 cm (1″) margin all around each piece. That’s 2.5 cm that rests on the table after the eyelid has stretched across the eyeball and down its side.

Unless I have very limited fabric, I actually prefer to leave 5 cm (2″) all around. The bigger the eyeball, the more margin you will need. Any excess is trimmed once the eyes are finished and sewn in place.

A different set of eyes surrounded by the pieces cut out for eyelids.  The picture shows an open upper lid, a folded upper lid, an open lower lid, and a folded lower lid.
This set of eyes shows the size of the eyelid pieces compared to the eyeballs. You can also see that the lids are very roughly cut.

If you want bags under the eyes, or a fancy shape around them (like stars or diamonds), cut even more generously. That shaping will be part of the finishing details.

Sew the lower eyelid pieces onto the eyeballs, just a little bit back from the fold line. You can stay under the edge and stitch through just the lower layer of the folded eyelid piece so your stitches are invisible. The stitches need to be snug but not tight enough to pucker the eyeball.

Cutting out upper eyelids

Upper eyelids are cut out like the lower ones but they will be bigger. The lower eyelids just go across the bottom of the eyeball but the upper lids start near the bottom, and go up, across, and back down. They also extend beyond the edges of the lower lids by a little bit, so they need more margin.

To figure it out, pin an upper eyelid in place, starting at the corner of the eye where the upper lid overlaps the lower. Drape the upper lid up and around the eyeball, keeping it fairly snug. The edge of the eyelid will probably lift up from the eyeball a bit but that doesn’t matter. Adjust the lid up or down the eyeball until you get the expression you want.

Two eyes - one with the upper lid fairly open, the other with the lids mostly closed.
Playing with upper eyelid placement. The eye on the right looks sleepier than the one on the right.

When you like what you have, pin it in place, then cut it out leaving a margin of at least 5 cm (2″) all around.

Add eyelashes

If this is your first set of eyes with eyelids, I recommend that you not add eyelashes. They make it harder to see what you’re doing and that can be frustrating on your very first set. If you’re not adding eyelashes, skip ahead to the next step.

Tuck a scrap of potential eyelash material across the eyeball, under the upper eyelid that is pinned in place. If you don’t like it, try something else. Thicker, thinner, longer, shorter, brighter, plainer lashes can all be tested.

Eyelashes tucked under an eyelid to see if they look right.
I thought I would like these long fine lashes on the big eyes but when I tried them, I didn’t like the effect at all.

Once you have settled on something you like, use pins to mark the upper eyelids showing beginning and end of where you want the eyelashes to be. Then carefully unpin just one of the upper eyelids. The other one stays pinned in place as a reference.

Cut a piece of eyelashing to fit between the marking pins with about .5 cm (.25″) extra on each end to tuck in. Sew it to the underside of the eyelid so that your stitches don’t show from the front. Pin the eyelid back onto the eyeball and repeat for the other eyelid.

Eyelash scrap sewn in place on the back of the eyelid.
Eyelash piece sewn on to the underside of the unfolded eyelid. Note how the lashes point towards the middle. When the lid is folded, they will stick out as they should.
Front of folded eyelid with lashes sewn on
The folded eyelid from the front, after lashes have been sewn on. Now the lashes are pointing down.

Stitching upper eyelids

Stitch the upper eyelids onto the eyeballs just as you did for the lower eyelids. Start at a corner of the eye where the upper eyelid laps over the lower lid. Don’t sew too far into the margin or your stitches might get cut when you trim off the excess. If that happens, you’ll have loose threads letting go and the eyeball will get loose in its socket.

Two eyeballs with eyelids pinned and ready to sew.
These are pinned and ready to stitch.

If you have added eyelashes, you will need to stitch through them as well. It can be a bit tricky making sure you don’t get your thread tangled in the lashes. (At this stage, I sometimes find myself feeling a little squeamish as I stab the eyeball with my needle. The lids and lashes can make it look just a little too realistic.)

Finishing up

This is a good time to add creases along the eyelid if you want them. Since everything is securely sewn in place, you can fold and tuck and unfold without messing anything up. Try it out and see what you prefer. A few strategically placed stitches can hold those lines in place.

Two eyes with eyelids sewn on.  The one on the right has a crease pinned along the edge of its upper lid.
The eye on the right has a crease pinned into the upper lid. The crease takes up some of the margin of the upper lid but that’s why there is extra built in.

If you want a star-shaped twinkle in the eye, sew on that bead or sequin now.

At this point, your eyes are done and ready to install. In my next post, I’ll show you two ways to do that – attaching them to the outside and inserting them from the inside. I will also show you how I make “wandering eyes” – eyes that can be attached to different objects again and again. I hope you join me!

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