I’ve been repairing my 17th century style clothes, which has involved making hooks and eyes to replace some of the ones that have fallen off. It’s a pretty simple process, even though I’m not the handiest of people.
Hooks and Eyes History
I’ve got hooks and eyes on my clothes because that’s what the surviving sets of period clothes have for ordinary people. Most of my evidence comes out of the patterns in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion. Those are mostly a bit earlier or later than my chosen period of the mi d-17th century wars. However the hooks and eyes span that period.
Mine are mostly on the doublet and breeches. Hooks and eyes are what keeps them attached to each other. There are sets with lacing, which was fashionable in the 1630s and 1640s judging by the portraits. However not everyone got to wear high fashion.
The eyes go on the waistband of the doublet. Hooks are on the waistband of the breeches. I’ve found that eight is a good number. Fewer and there’s quite a lot of strain on them. More just takes effort and time. The patterns seem to have six to ten, so there’s some preference. If you’re bigger, or the material is heavy, then more is better.
Making Hooks and Eyes
Materials for Hooks and Eyes
If you are making a museum quality replica then you’ll need to find some ungalvanised iron wire. I just like it to look right and to last. So I’ve used a roll of galvanised garden wire that I bought in Wilkos. Whatever you use it needs to be thick enough to hold its shape when under stress, but not so thick that you’ll have trouble manipulating it. Mine is about 1.5mm thick.
You will need some needle nose pliers, ideally ones that double as wire cutters. You might want a small file to take the sharp edges off your cut wire. A second set of standard pliers is useful, especially when it comes to making the eyes.
I usually cut the wire to about 4.5 inches, or 12cm. It easier to cut all the wire up front. Although note that the eyes need shorter lengths than the hooks. The steps are shown in the photo from top to bottom:
- Bend the wire in half so that both ends touch.
- Use the pliers to squeeze the wire together from the middle to the ends. There will be a small loop in the middle, this is normal.
- Grip one end as close to the end as you can. Twist it through 270 degrees to form a loop. Repeat in the other side. Sometimes the wire twists when you do this. If so use the pliers to flatten it. This is the base that you’ll see onto your breeches.
- Put the pliers about halfway between the loops at the open end and the other end. Grip tightly with the pliers and push the end of the hook towards the base.
The ideal hook doesn’t quite go back as far as the base loops. This will give you more room for sewing the hook into your breeches.
You do want quite a long hook though. When you move there will be points where tension relaxes on certain hooks. If they’re too short they’ll come undone, which is a pain. You can help mitigate this by squeezing the hook down when you fasten it. Doing that a lot leads to metal fatigue though.
I personally find the eyes more fiddly to make. This is counterintuitive because they look a lot simpler. If you have a decent former, maybe another pair of rounded pliers, then it gets easier.
My eyes start off as 3 inches (7cm) of wire. The steps are:
- make the loops for the base. One on each end of the wire on the same side.
- Bend the centre over a former to bring the two loops together.
- When you can get the needle nose pliers through the loops use it to bring them together round the former.
- Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion
- The Tudor Tailor books – http://www.tudortailor.com/bookshoptt.html