Now eyes see! – how to attach eyes to objects

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

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

How to make easy 3D fabric eyes

A pair of 3D fabric eyes peeks out from a pile of acorns and oakleaves

You can turn almost anything into a character just by adding eyes to it. I have done this using stickers and old magazine pictures. It’s not that much more difficult to make and attach 3D fabric eyes to all kinds of things. In this post I’ll show you how to make basic cartoon style eyeballs. In the next post, I’ll explain how to add eyelids and even eyelashes, to make more realistic looking eyes.

I use machine stitching and hand stitching to make these eyes. You don’t need a sewing machine. You could hand-sew everything instead.

A pair of finished 3D fabric eyes is shown with no extras added.
Finished basic eyes.


  • white non-stretchy fabric for eyeball base
  • something to colour the iris and pupil of the eye – fabric scrap/markers/coloured thread
  • stuffing
  • thread
  • paper for making the templates and patterns
  • lightweight cardboard for patterns (optional)


  • sharp scissors for cloth
  • scissors for paper
  • compass or other tool to draw circles
  • something to draw with
  • needle
  • pins
  • iron (if you are using fabric markers that need to be heat set)
  • sewing machine (optional)

Getting started

The first thing you will need to do is decide how big and how bulgy you want the eyes to be. This method works for little eyes, only 1.5 cm (.5″) across, right up to huge eyeballs 1m (1 yard) across or more. That’s why I haven’t said how much you need in the materials list.

I’m going to write instructions for 4 cm (1.5″) eyes, that are fairly bulgy. You can adjust the measurements to fit whatever size you want.

Make your pattern

On scrap paper, draw two circles the size you want your finished eyes to be. For this example, that’s 4 cm (1.5″) diameter. Draw the iris (the coloured part of the eye) and the pupil (black dot) on each eye circle. If you plan to add eyelids, the iris and pupil should be centered on the eye circle. Otherwise, you can put them where you want them.

Cut out the eye circles and try them out where you plan to use the eyes. Make adjustments as needed. When everything is the way you want it, you should have two matching copies of your eye template.

Two copies of the eyeball template showing the original drawing and the adjusted copy
Two copies of the eyeball template. You can see my original on the left and the adjusted version on the right. If you look closely, you can also see the fold marks that I used to find the center of the circle.

Measure the diameter of your template. For flat or slightly puffy eyes, draw a new circle that is twice as big. (For our example, that’s 8 cm (3″) diameter.) If you are making very large flat eyes, please read the note at the end of this section. For bulgy eyes, make it three times as big as the template.

Cut out the new circle, then fold it in half, and in half again to find the center. Mark the center with a pinhole or a small dot. This is the pattern for the eyeball.

Mark the center on both copies of the template. Take one template and cut out the iris. Match the center of the cut-out iris with the center of the eyeball pattern. Draw around the iris so that it is clearly marked on the eyeball pattern. The iris that you cut out from the template is now your iris pattern.

Using the other template, cut out the pupil. Match the centers to position it properly on the eyeball pattern, and then draw around it so that it is clearly marked on the eyeball pattern. The pupil that you cut out from the template is now your pupil pattern.

An eyeball template with the iris cut out, another eyeball template with the pupil cut out, the cut out iris, the cut out pupil, and the eyeball pattern with the iris and pupil placements marked on it.
Clockwise, starting at the bottom: eyeball pattern with iris and pupil placements marked on it, pupil pattern, template with pupil cut out from it, template with iris cut out from it, iris pattern.

NOTE: For flat eyes larger than 12 cm (5″) in diameter, the eyeball pattern circle does not need to be twice as large as the template circle. Instead, add just 5 cm (2″) to the diameter of the template circle to draw the pattern circle, and then continue with the rest of the directions as given.

Cut out the pieces

Cut two circles out of your white fabric, using the eyeball pattern.

If you are using fabric scraps for the irises, cut out two of those pieces using the iris pattern.

Add irises and pupils

[If you are drawing or painting the irises and pupils on the eyeballs, do that now following any instructions for material preparation, heat fixing, etc. Then skip ahead to “Shaping the eyes”.]

Use the eyeball pattern to show where the iris pieces go. Stitch them in place by hand or machine, stitching all over the iris fabric with lots of tiny stitches. You can use matching thread for a subtle look or contrasting thread to add more visual texture to the iris.

The scrap fabric for the iris is laid out in position on the eyeball fabric, ready for stitching.  The iris pattern and eyeball pattern are shown at the side.
Iris fabric laid out in place on the eyeball fabric. The floral print will be disguised once the stitching is done.

You can stitch in spirals or back and forth like a spider web. There aren’t any rules, just make it up as you go. I prefer to do this on my machine using the free-motion presser foot so that I can doodle all over. You can do this with a regular presser foot. You just have to stop and start a lot more to do the back and forth sewing. If you are stitching by hand, you can use a basic running stitch or any kind of embroidery stitches you like.

(If you are afraid of the iris fabric fraying, then stitch over the edges a lot or pre-treat with a small amount of fabric glue or fray check liquid on the back before you start sewing. Test the glue first on a scrap to make sure it doesn’t show through or make the fabric too stiff or sticky to stitch.)

The backs of two eyeball pieces showing the stitching that holds the iris fabric in place.  The eye on the left only has the iris stitching done.  The eye on the right has the iris stitching and the pupil stitching done.
Backs of two eyeball pieces. The one on the left has just the iris stitching done. The one on the right also has the pupil stitching done. The contrasting coloured thread makes it easy to see the pupil stitching even though it’s done from the back.

Change your thread to black to embroider the pupils. I like to thread my machine with iris coloured thread on the top and black thread on the bobbin. Then, all I have to do to change thread colours for the pupil, is turn the fabric over and stitch on the back with the black bobbin thread showing on the front.

Front and back of eyeball pieces with the iris and pupil stitching done.
Front and back views with stitching done.

Shaping the eyes

Thread a needle with a piece of strong thread, at least 5 cm (2″) longer than the circumference of the eyeball pattern. (Note: diameter is measured across a circle, circumference is measured around it.)

Starting on the front of the eyeball fabric, use large stitches to stitch right around the circle, about 1 cm (.5″) in from the edge. Stop stitching on the front of the eyeball fabric. Don’t tie a knot!

Gathering stitches shown around the edge of the eyeball piece before they are pulled tight.
Gathering stitches done about 1 cm (.5″) in from the edge. Note that they should start and end on the front.

Pull both ends of the thread to start drawing the fabric circle up into a bowl shape. Don’t close it up completely. You need to get stuffing in there first.

The back of a gathered and stuffed eyeball compared to the template.
After gathering and stuffing, this eyeball is starting to look about right. Note that the back is still not pulled completely shut.

Add stuffing in smooth layers until you are satisfied with the size and shape of the eyeball. A bulgy eyeball will need more firm stuffing than a flat one, and the middle of the eyeball will need more stuffing than the edges.

When you think you have enough stuffing in place, pull the gathering thread tighter. Hold on to the gathering thread (or tie it in a slip knot) and see how the eyeball looks in place.

If it’s too bulgy, you can remove some stuffing and/or loosen the gathering thread. If it’s too flat, then add more stuffing and/or tighten the gathering thread. If it’s too small around, then loosen the gathering thread and then adjust the stuffing to suit. Use your template as a guide for size. I prefer to work with both eyes at the same time for this stage because it is easier to get them to match.

After gathering and stuffing, an eyeball is compared to the template for size.
An eyeball compared to the template for size.

Once you are satisfied with how they look, tie the gathering thread securely and tuck its ends into the opening in the back of the eyeball.

Finishing up

Your basic eyeballs are made. You can attach them to something right now or you can wait and add eyelids and lashes first. I prefer to add eyelids and lashes before I attach the eyes to their face but the lids and lashes can be added afterwards. So you can install them as is and change your mind later.

That’s it. You’re done. How to add eyelids and lashes will be in the next post, coming soon.