There are plenty of tutorials out there already, but it has taken me years of trial and error before I have achieved a “perfect” eyelet. The appearance of the eyelets are consistent, round, and non-fraying.
Summary: My process for each eyelet involves marking all of my eyelets with a dot, then tracing a ring, and backstitching over the tracing to define the shape. I use a series of awls to open the hole. The lacing ring is held to the backside of the eyelet, then stitched over in a specific pattern to create a nice round eyelet. After about 50 or so eyelets, I have the time down to 5 minutes per eyelet.
Materials: Patterns of Fashion (1560 – 1620) indicates that Cosimo Dé Medici’s burial garments contained eyelets worked over a copper ring (p. 56). The image below, from Archivio Medici, appears to be of Cosimo’s codpiece, where it attaches to the trunk hose. The metal rings on the back side of the eyelets are clearly visible, though in other images the stitches of the eyelet remain.
I use 10 mm metal lacing rings from The Bad Baroness. These are soldered closed, unlike split rings, which can cut into your eyelet thread and weaken your eyelet.
I have had great results sewing eyelets using 2 strands of cotton embroidery floss (used in tutorial), as well 1 strand of Trebizond silk (see orange eyelets above).
Note: I assume you have already marked the desired locations of your eyelets at this point.
Step one: trace the lacing ring onto your fabric. I use a Frixion pen by Pilot. The ink disappears when ironed, and does not bleed into my silks.
Step two: backstitch directly on the tracing, trying to keep your stitches an even length. My stitches tend to be about 1/8″ more or less by eyeball. If your eyeball isn’t that consistent, try marking your desired stitch length on your finger with a pen as a guide.
Step three: open the hole on the dot. I use a series of three awls (shown below): the fine, sharp one to create the hole (local vendor), the green Dritz awl (craft store) to start the enlargement, then the hand tool awl (from the home improvement store) to reach the final diameter. The base of the last awl is 1/4″, the desired inner diameter of my eyelets. Smaller eyelets can be difficult to insert an aglet through.
Step four: apply lacing ring to back of eyelet, stitch through previous holes. After the backstitches, your needle and thread should be behind the eyelet. Bring your thread over the ring, through the center of the eyelet to the front, then down through one of the previous stitch holes. Repeat. Gently widen eyelet with awl as needed to keep the hole and ring centered.
Ensure thread wraps around ring on each pass from back to front.
Insert needle into hole from previous backstitches. Repeat.
Step five: stitch around eyelet again, inserting needle in the center of the previous backstitches. You are splitting the difference between each wrap you have previously made.
Insert needle into the center of each backstitch. Repeat.
With this method, you will circle your eyelet twice, which will help keep the eyelet even. You can tie off your thread or carry it between eyelets, similar to the below image of Cosimo’s doublet.