Red monster face that will be used to show how to attach eyes from behind or inside an object.

Now eyes see! – how to attach eyes to objects

We’ve spent the previous two posts learning how to construct basic eyes from fabric scraps, and how to make those eyes more realistic by adding eyelids and eyelashes. It’s fun making eyes, but unless you want to display them in a jar on your desk, the only way they’ll get noticed is if you figure out how to attach eyes to things.

In this post I’ll show you how to attach eyes to the outside of an object and how to insert eyes from the inside of a hollow object. We’ll also look at how to make “wandering eyes” – eyes that can be moved from one object to another.

Make them look right

In the first post, I said that you can make almost anything look alive by adding eyes to it. Try that with your newly made eyes. Hold them up against hockey gear, a dresser drawer, a backpack, a tree trunk, a shovel, or a recycle bin. Not only do they add a sense of life, but eyes can suggest emotions or personality.

Fabric eyes are taped to a dresser drawer to make a face using the drawer-pull as the nose
These eyes frame the drawer-pull to make a friendly but sleepy looking face. Would you count on him to guard your stuff?

Choose something fairly plain, like a box or the refrigerator door. Put the eyes near the bottom of it, then try them close to the top. Place the eyes close together, then spread them farther apart. Even without adding other facial features, changing the placement changes the look. Play around with them until you get the look you want, then pin (or tape) them in place.

Attaching to the outside

Sewing

The simplest way to attach fabric eyes to an object is to sew them to the outside. Just pin them in place and then stitch the eyelids to the background fabric and trim off any excess. I usually leave the exposed raw edges as is. Alternatively, you can cover the edges with trim or turn them under as you sew. You can turn them into eyebrows like I did below. Just remember to leave at least 1 cm (.5″) around the eyeballs so they don’t come off with the first tug.

Brown hat with brown eyes attached.  The edge of the the upper eyelid has serger stitching all around it.  That serged edge has been stretched to look like eyebrows.
The serged border around the upper eyelid pieces has been stretched way up to work as eyebrows on this hat.

For invisible stitches, pull back the outer layer of the eyelids and sew securely through the inner layer to firmly anchor the eyes in place. Then smooth the outer eyelid layer back into place. Sew again at the very edge with tiny stitches. Basically, the inner layer holds everything together while the outer layer covers it up.

An eyelid is made from a folded piece of fabric.  Here the outer layer is pulled back so the inner layer can be stitched to the hat.
The upper eyelid has been unfolded so the inner layer can be stitched to the hat. Note that the pins are placed fairly closely to the eyeball and the inner eyelid is a bit smaller than the outer eyelid. It will be completely hidden when the outer layer is folded back into place.

Stapling/nailing

Some things aren’t easy to sew with. (Wood and stone are prime examples.) Staples or tacks work instead of stitches on wood. Pull the outside layer of each eyelid out of the way while you pound in the tack or staples through the inner layer and into the wood. When that is done, you can sew the outer eyelid layer to the inner one, or nail it in place too.

Gluing

Attaching fabric eyes to stone, metal, or glass is tricky but not impossible. There is a great variety of glues on the market now. It’s a matter of finding something that will bind your materials without making a huge mess. One of my favourites is Weldbond. (No one is paying me anything to make this recommendation.)

The problem is that the eyes are puffy so it is hard to clamp them in place well enough for the glue to set properly. There is also the risk of the glue seeping through the fabric and spoiling the look. Let’s deal with the seeping glue first.

Keeping it clean

Glue soaks easily through fabric but not so easily through paper. We can make a paper glue barrier. Take a piece of plain printer paper or writing paper. It should not have any printing on it because those inks might run or show through your fabric. Crumple the paper a few times and flatten it out again, just to soften it up a bit.

Place the paper between the outer and inner layers of an eyelid. Pin the layers together with the paper in the middle. Trim off any excess paper and use the remainder to do the same with the other eyelids.

A scrap of crumpled paper is beside an eye that has a piece of paper pinned in place as a glue shield.  The glue shield is between the two layers of one eyelid and is a little smaller than the eyelid pieces so that there's a margin all around it.
A piece of paper is pinned between the two layers of the lower eyelid. The paper is cut smaller than the eyelid layers so that there will be room to sew them together without stitching through the glue.

Testing, testing!!!

Use scraps of paper and eyelid fabric to make a test patch!!! The paper should work as a glue barrier but you need to test it to make sure. Changing the glue or the paper or the fabric or the amount of glue can change the results. Yes, it’s hard to wait for test results, but it’s even harder to deal with a spoiled project when you’ve already invested this much time in it.

Spread a little glue on a scrap sample of the surface you want to glue the eyes to. Smooth a scrap of eyelid fabric over the glue. Spread more glue on the scrap eyelid fabric and smooth a scrap of paper over it. Without adding more glue, place another scrap of eyelid fabric on top. You’ve made a sandwich with fabric on top, paper immediately below it, then a layer of glue, another layer of fabric, and another layer of glue. On the very bottom is whatever material you plan to glue the eyes to. Cover your “sandwich” with waxed paper and clamp, tape, or press it until the glue has dried and set.

While you’re waiting, mark where you want the eyes to go on the face. If the eyelid edges need to be trimmed, this is the time to take care of that too. When the glue has dried, remove the clamps/tape/weights. Check to make sure the glue holds well and does not show through.

Putting it all together

When the glue has passed its tests, glue each paper piece to its inner eyelid. Then sew the inner layer to the outer layer outside the edges of the paper. (You don’t want wet glue gumming up your needle.) Finally, spread glue on the back of the eyeball and both inner eyelids, and position the glued eyeball on the face. Cover it with waxed paper and clamp, tape, or press it until the glue has dried and set.

An eye is shown with its paper glue barrier in place.  The inner and outer layers of the eyelid are being sewn together around the edge of the paper.  For this sample, bright pink thread was used for the sewing so that it would show up against the dark blue eyelid fabric.
With the paper glue shield in place, the inner and outer layers of this eyelid are being sewn together. For this example, I used bright pink thread so you could clearly see the stitches. Normally, I would choose thread that blended in. After the sewing is done, the edges can be trimmed to tidy them up.

Attaching from the inside

Although it’s more work, sometimes cutting eye socket holes in the face, and inserting the eyes from inside the head is the only way to get the results you want. I find the trickiest part of this procedure is getting the hole the right size. I like to use cereal box cardboard to test different hole sizes and shapes before I start cutting into the actual face material.

Cut out a test hole and try inserting an eye from the back. When you’re satisfied with how the first hole is, decide where the second eye should go and cut a matching hole (mirror image) there. When that is tested and approved, you have a template for the eye holes.

Two eyes are poking through holes in a piece of cardboard. The holes are slightly different shapes so that I can compare them to see which I prefer before I cut holes to attach eyes to my object.
Here I’m comparing two differently shaped holes to see which one I prefer for these eyes. The eyes are also sitting at different angles. In this case, I prefer the shape on the left with the angle on the right.

Gluing/stapling/nailing

Cut the eye holes in the face, insert the eyes from inside, and then glue, nail, or staple them in place. This time you don’t have to worry about glue or staples or nails showing through.

When the eyes are in place, I like to add a panel behind them to cover up any rough edges and thread ends and protect them from getting caught and tugged during the stuffing process.

Sewing

I’m going to write this next section as if you have drawn round holes for your eyes. You can do ovals or diamonds or other shapes instead but I’m going to call them all “circles” for now. It’s just easier.

Make the holes

Use the cardboard template to mark the eyeholes on your face fabric. Using a tiny machine stitch, sew around the hole markings so the drawn circles are just barely inside the stitches. Go at least twice around the each circle.

Draw another circle about .5 cm (.25″) inside each eyehole circle and cut it out. Snip the edges right to the markings but do not cut the ring of machine stitches. Push all the clipped edges through to the wrong side of the fabric and press them in place. The ring of machine stitches is your fold line.

A highly textured red fabric panel has two eye holes cut out.  The hole on the left shows the clipped seam allowance still inside the hole.  The one on the right has the seam allowance folded back and pinned, ready to sew.
These eyeholes are small enough that there isn’t much center to remove. The entire circle was snipped, as shown on the left. On the right, the pieces are folded back and pinned, ready to insert the eye.

Insert eyes

Insert the eyes from the back, adjusting the eyelids as desired. You can pull extra eyelid through to make creases or puffy eyes. Pin eyes in place making sure you catch all three layers – face, outer eyelid, and inner eyelid. Smooth the layers as much as possible without adding unwanted distortions.

Sew it up

Working from the outside, stitch through all layers, starting close to the eyeball and working outward in ever-widening circles. (I like to use a zipper foot for the first few circles so I can get close to the raised eyeball.) Once the first few rounds are sewn, you can turn the piece over and work from the back if you want to hide your stitching. You can also morph your circles into wrinkles or tattoos or freckles on the face.

When the stitching is done, trim off any excess eyelid fabric and secure any loose threads. At this point, I like to add a panel to tidy up the inside. It also protects those edges and threads from getting snagged.

A plain panel of scrap fabric is laid over the back of inset eyes.  One corner is folded back so you can see a bit of the messy back underneath.
This panel doesn’t need to be fancy or even match for colour. No one’s going to see it. The corner is folded back to show you what is being covered up. In this case, the stitching will be hidden on the front because of the highly textured surface. If there is no way to hide the stitching, the panel can cover the entire back and just be attached at the edges.

Wandering eyes

Instead of permanently attaching eyes to something, you could put magnets, ties, safety pins, or hook and loop tape on the backs of them and deploy them in a number of places. (If you want to use magnets, they will need to be rather strong as the eyes are bulky and can be awkward to support.)

To make wandering eyes, follow instructions for attaching from the front, using either stitches or glue for assembly. Instead of attaching eyes to a face, you will attach them (together or individually) to a panel that has a fastener already attached. Magnets should be glued to a wood or cardboard panel. Clips, safety pins, elastics, ties, or hook and loop tape should be sewn onto a cloth panel. (I prefer felt.)

A circle of felted wool with a clip sewn on it, ready to become the back panel for a "wandering" eye.
Stitching a clip onto a felt circle to prepare the back panel for a “wandering” eye.

When the eyes are sewn on their back panel(s), trim all around for neat, well-matched edges.

Sewing a wandering eye to its back panel.  The stitches for this sample are done with contrasting thread so it is easier to see them.
Basting the wandering eye to its back panel. When the proper sewing is done and the basting threads have been removed, the eyelids and back panel will be trimmed so they match exactly.

Now take those eyes for a wander and surprise someone.

Leave a Comment