How to Rhinestone Your Own Costume.
Updated: May 8, 2022
Whether it's for aerial, pole, or dance, here's everything you need to know about rhinestones, techniques, and ideas to dazzle up your costume.
E6000 glue. This is the glue you want. It is the only glue you want. Make sure it's clear/transparent color and has the pointed tip. DO NOT buy the one with the chubby tip!
I've also purchased the E6000 "Jewelry & Bead" which is basically the glue but it comes with fancy ultra skinny tips. Skip it. The tips are too small for what we're doing here. I find I can control the glue just fine right out of the tube.
Make sure you are in a ventilated area when working with this glue. It can get pretty stinky.
No glue I have found will stick to pleather or a vinyl-like fabric!
Use these lil guys to pick up and place the stones. The back ends are great for pressing and shifting them around once glued and keeping the waxy end glue-free. There are also wax pencils and other fancy tools that I hear work great. I found these wax sticks on Etsy and the price looks fab.
Having some small trays are really helpful for organizing the stones by size and color as you work. Also, you need to periodically give the tray a shake to get the stones facing the right direction. Yogurt container lids also work great.
Rhinestones & Brands
Of course, we all know the name Swarovski (Austrian). It's considered the top, the best, the most expensive. Next in line would be Preciosa (Czech) and Alora (Austria). These are crystal. That means they contain 4% lead in the glass which gives the glass more clarity and sparkle.
Is There a Difference?
I don't see a huge difference between them, especially between Swarovski and Preciosa's latest Viva12 technology. Swarovski's prices just went up and honestly, I've looked to other alternatives. I still use them for my more high-end custom pieces or for clients in industries that have loyalty to them. I find that getting the right colors for the project is most important to me and all these brands carry different colors.
Lastly, for those more on a budget, machine-cut glass rhinestones are really amazing too. I honestly don't see such a massive difference between many of these and some Presiosa's colors and the huge price difference is not worth it to me. I'm on team sparkle glass! I found an excellent brand (and a couple duds I've weeded out for you!) Spark is a new brand through Dreamtime Creations, they are really nice stones, and you can't beat the price. You can see some minor imperfections on a few larger sized stones but again...for the price it's a non-issue for me.
Side by Side
Here's a video of Swarovski (on the left) and a machine-cut glass stone (right). You can see the Swarovski has more fire, facets, and clarity. The one of the right still has great sparkle. In fact, I dropped the two when I was filming and had to get two more because I actually got them confused!
The Swarovskis I paid $80 wholesale +shipping for 10 gross. The others cost me $5 wholesale for 10 gross with free shipping. For most of my ready-to-ship costumes at an affordable price...it's a no-brainer. Especially when you add in how much labor goes into stoning.
What Color Do I Get?
For all-over sparkle on your costume base, I would go with a size 20ss (more on size in a bit) in a matching color to the fabric. Space the stones evenly in a random dotted pattern making sure nothing looks lined up or gridded. This will give your fabric some pop and dimension.
Appliqués and Accents
For bringing appliqués to life, I like finding matching colors as well as mixing in a deeper and/or lighter shade for depth. AB (aurora borealis, stones that have an iridescent coating on them) have incredible shine and can be really beautiful as well. Keep in mind, AB colors don't tend to look like the color they are named. The iridescent coating really changes them.
Contrast Colors For Patterning
For some of you experts out there, you might like creating patterns which become a huge part of the design. This might mean taking a pretty basic costume and transforming it or simply enhancing parts of a costume. For this, your creativity and the sky is the limit. Go for it. Do your thing. I usually don't go this direction with my stoning as I rely on other design details for impact. I've seen a lot of great designers out there where this is their jam. We all got our schtick.
The most versatile color is crystal clear. It's like your basic pair of jeans. They have major sparkle, pop, and will stand out on most anything.
How I Use Them When I use stones on a costume I place them in a very organic way. I trickle, meander, and scatter them. I like blending lines in my costumes like the edges of appliqués or where the solid fabric meets the nude fabric. I like highlighting important elements and shapes in my costumes. I love adding sparkle to bump up the vintage glamour.
Take a look at the purple costume. It's a good example of
1. All-over lavender sparkle
2. Contrast patterning in crystal (clear) to mimic the beadwork.
One is to make the fabric pop and the other is a distinct design element.
What Size Do I Get?
I want to start with ss20. This is your workhorse. This is the best size for most projects and the size you will use the most of. Size ss16 is what I use to "skitter-scatter" around my 20's or "taper off" so the ends aren't so abrupt. I LOVE using ss30+ for punchy accents like centers of flowers and centers of bursts (like on boobies and booties). Sometimes I cluster a few large ones together and meander smaller stones as I move out. Personally, I don't like the big stones standing alone. I like blending them out or clustering them with smaller friends. DO NOT bother with stones smaller than 16ss...save those for ya nails.
Large Sew-On & Shaped
Large-sized stones and shaped stones have drilled holes to be sewn on. They're a fun addition. They are TIME CONSUMING but the results are impactful and hold tight. Something to really understand for safety is they can easily break! I don't recommend them for all apparatus, especially for hoop, pole, trapeze, or anything that can slam against them and cause them to cut you, shatter, land on the ground, and cut other people.
If you like the look of these I would recommend using acrylic sew-on gems. I actually use acrylic when I use extra large stones because it's safer. They have wonderful sparkle if the quality is good.
Wait...did someone say "Hotfix?"
What About Hotfix?
Hotfix rhinestones are also an easy and fast alternative. Do not use a Hotfix tool! I tried one of these once and I got lapped by a glacier. Literally, the glacier blew past me. Here's a method using a pancake griddle (or small crepe maker). This was a secret trick I learned in the theater years ago and I was really surprised to find it's now a thing!
Here's a great tutorial!
Okay, How do I do it?
If you're new to this start small. Start with a cluster of 5 until you get the hang of it and increase and you get comfortable and faster.
If the fabric is thin, place a towel or something under the fabric so it doesn't transfer to the backside of the costume.
Squeeze the glue making a blob the size of the stone. It should be enough to cover the bottom and not ooze a lot around it or be too small so the edges can lift. I use a little technique (you see it in the video though I don't talk about it) where I do a little "press & flick" when I'm done making a glue blob. I do this to "cut off" the glue and any strings that might trail behind. It's just my thing that I find works well.
Take your wax stick and pick up the stone (facing sparkle side up) and place it on the blob. Sometimes you need to give the stick a little twist to release it from the stone.
Every now and then you'll have to give the tray a little shake to get the stones facing the right direction.
That's pretty much all there is to it. It's easier than you might think so don't feel intimidated. You really can't ruin a costume with sparkles in my honest opinion! No mistakes! Just happy little rhinestones!
Below is a very stretched out video of me doing a short tutorial!