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Dancing is more fun stoned. Here’s how to glue rhinestones on practically anything, Part One.

So! You have some perfectly good piece of clothing, or item of dancewear, or a shoe, or a cat or whatever, and you think, “Self, this really would look a lot better if it sparkled like CRAZY.” Congratulations! I agree with you! Let’s glue some rhinestones on that action!

In this series, I’m going to walk you through an actual recent stoning project and give some general tips on what to do, what not to do, and my own process that I’ve developed over the course of screwing up a lot. As always, questions and your own experience and tips in the comments are greatly appreciated.

All the advice in this post is going to be designed for the At-Home Stoner, but it’s also a good guide to check out if you’re buying a ballroom dress, or something that already has rhinestones on it, so you understand where your pricetag and your stones come from. (Personally I will only get free-range, locally sourced, organic, gluten-free rhinestones, but we all make our own compromises.) Ready? Then let’s get completely and egregious stoned. (That’s right. There are going to be a LOT of jokes like that in here. Can’t help it, won’t help it. (Rhine)stona 4 life and all that.)

Rhinestone supplies

Part One: Get a Box. Of, um, rhinestoning stuff. Supply list time!

  • Rhinestones (a bucketload of them, way more than you think)
  • Rhinestone Color Chart (optional but useful)
  • Adhesive of your choice (I use Gem-Tac)
  • Application tools
  • Unsparkly thing that you want to make sparkly
  • Some awesome kickin’ jams because this is kind of a boring process (hello, podcasts!)
  • A well-lit and well-ventilated space
  • A good flat surface with plenty of room that you won’t be bummed about spilling glue on

What rhinestones should I choose?

My friends, the first question is, what amazing sparkle are we going to glue onto some unsuspecting and presently insufficiently sparkly surface? If you’re planning to do this kind of thing on the regular, it’s worth investing the $30-$40 into a Rhinestone Color Chart, the equivalent of a Pantone book or a Home Depot wall of paint chips. I purchased mine years ago from Rhinestoneshop.com, and it’s been a fantastic investment. It’s also a great tool for online dress shopping – what color is Amethyst AB really? (Answer: it’s much more blue than it is purple.)

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If you don’t have a color chart, and are buying stones locally, you can always take your fabric with you to the store and check on in there, but it’s been my experience that rhinestone sellers don’t have years of patience for you futzing around with their tiny boxes of expensive stones. Know what you want before you go, or at least have it narrowed down to a few key options. There are a ton of great places to buy stones online, including

If you’re local to the LA or Orange County area, I recommend the following real-life stores – either Bead Source (with locations in Silverlake, Reseda, Valencia, West LA, Thousand Oaks, and DTLA) or Bohemian Crystal (in the fashion district in downtown LA).

How many rhinestones should I buy?

This is a cost-benefit analysis, for sure. Typically you buy rhinestones by the gross (144 of the little suckers), and for a conservative project, let’s say a top, you’ll want three or four gross at a minimum. For an entire Smooth dress, you’re looking at about 20-30 gross when all is said and done.

I buy mine and then immediately dump them into little containers and label those containers with my label maker. I do this because it is deeply gratifying to me and gives me a sense of being an Organized Person in this one, completely pointless, and utterly inconsequential regard. You, um, you can leave them in the bags. Doesn’t matter.

Why do I need so many rhinestones? I’m not in the circus.

It’s true. (Or IS it?) But wearing an unstoned fabric on the floor, under the lights, tends to look washed out and matte and really, really flat. It doesn’t show or accentuate your movement, or draw the eye. Even if you just do a basic scatter of same color sparkle on your fabric, it will light up on the floor and make you look alive and vibrant. If you want to go beyond that to an actual design, you’re looking at even more rhinestones. We’re talking competition and performance here – obviously if you’re headed out social dancing you don’t need to glue on the bling. (Although I will admit that I totally have. No shame!)

What kind of rhinestones should I buy?

Swarovski. I’m really not compromising on this one. Here’s the deal – Swarovski rhinestones are made of actual cut, faceted crystal. They have a bajillion little facets and they sparkle like CRAZY. Other “rhinestones” – especially Korean ones – are either cut glass, or worse, molded plastic or acrylic. They’re the cheap-o jobs that you see on skanky tops from Forever21. Some people like Preciosa stones, which I’ll admit I’ve never used. I have heard rumors that they tend to fall off unless you use E-6000, whereas I can testify from personal experience that Swarovski stones really stay stuck on with Gem-Tac. I have tried ordering rhinestones from Elite Crystals (they use glass instead of crystal), and they’re not as good. If you’re really in a budget crunch, wait and save money or use fewer rhinestones. I think, if you’re going to spend the money anyway, just buy the best ones and be done with it. Swarovski forever!

Also buy extra because you’ll end up needing more rhinestones than you think, and there’s nothing worse than running out the night before you need a costume finished with three damn inches to go and no more rhinestones. You’ll drop a bunch on the floor, and you’ll find them weeks (and even years) later, and think to yourself, you are an expensive, tiny, glittery bit of mess. I love you, but I also hate you.

True story – I have found rhinestones stuck to the soles of my feet, I have woken up with them stuck to my cheek, and I have found them in the parking lot underneath my car. That is what you are signing up for. Once you buy a bag of fabulous elusive sparkle, there’s no going back.

Oh my god. This is really expensive!

Yes, it is. 10 gross of Swarovski Crystal AB size 16ss will run you about $70. (That’s 1440 stones). Definitely take the time to shop around on the internet and see whose prices are the cheapest at the moment. Just wait til you start gluing the little suckers on – you’ll see why those finished ballgowns have such high price tags. There’s a pretty high PITA (pain in the ass) cost factored into that.

What is all this flatback, hotfix, 16ss business?

Okay. So you want to glue on rhinestones, which means you want flatbacks. (The backs, uh, are flat.) Hotfix rhinestones you heat up and attach – nobody likes that. They have an adhesive back that melts onto the fabric when heated. It’s impossible to move them if you mess up, it’s difficult, you need a hotfix tool…just forget it. Glue glue glue.

Flatback rhinestones come in a bunch of different sizes, measured in “ss” (stone size) – all the way from ss5 (1.9mm across) to ss48 (11mm across). My go-to size, like everybody else, is ss16 or ss20 – anything smaller than that, like the ss9 in the picture below, is just way too time-consuming to glue on unless you’re doing a small highlight, and you don’t get that much bang for your buck.

Swarovski also has different cuts, or facet options – from their new “Xirius” cut (2088) to their previous “Rose Xilion” (2058). Unless you’re a dress designer or a huge rhinestone aficianado (in which case you probably do not need this how-to guide even a little bit), there’s no great difference between these. Some people think that the 2088s are sparklier, and they probably are, but I doubt that it’s going to be something that noticeable.

You can also get rhinestones that you can sew on, which is great for highlights, big fancy blingy things. Of course, you can glue those on too, and many people do. It’s just a question of what will be easier and work better once you actually start moving in the garment.

Rhinestone Size Guide

What does AB mean?

It means “Aurora Borealis” – it means that this particular rhinestone, should you choose it, will sparkle and shine like the very Northern Lights draped upon your body, shifting and shimmering in endless fascinating patterns, and causing men throughout the ages to look up to the sky in wonder.

It means they’re extra sparkly.

Swarovski invented this technology about fifty years ago – they coat the crystal with a thin, metallic layer that is extremely iridescent and reflects whatever colors are near it. This is why you can use Crystal AB on pretty much ANYTHING – it will reflect the colors around it.

What kind of glue should I get?

Any vendor that sells rhinestones will also sell adhesive, so pick that up at the same time. You’ll have several options, but I recommend Gem-Tac. It’s less noxious, sticks great, and is pretty forgiving. Plus it’s cheap. You can usually find it at Michael’s or Jo-Ann Fabric, or even Walmart. Some people stone with E-6000, but that stuff is super toxic and dries clear and hard as a rock, so if you have something you really don’t want to move, it’s your guy. (Another true story – Shawn remounted our toilet paper holder in our bathroom into the drywall with E-6000 and it’s been great for years, so, you know, take that into account.)

What is this weird stick with a ball of wax on the end?

It’s a rhinestone applicator. The theory is, you can use the little ball of wax to pick up individual rhinestones and place them on the fabric, thus saving you many years of your life. I have not found that to be true. Some folks like these things, but I’ve never found that they help me that much. I have a very technologically advanced system of glue, my fingers, and some cheap-o straight pins that I use for making dots of glue on my fabric. It’s pretty uncomplicated, but it works! Sometimes if I’m really working in tight quarters or I’m having a rough time, I’ll use a pair of tweezers. That’s about it. We’ll go into this process in more detail in Part Two, so just hang tight.

All right, friends! That’s the end of Part One. Stay tuned for Part Two, where we actually glue some sparkly crap onto some fabric! 

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