If you have ever watched any dance, skating or gymnastics competitions, you would have been blinded by the vast array of beautifully decorated and stoned leotards on display. Some of these costumes can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and can take weeks to make. Learning how to attach rhinestones to leotards will save you a lot of money and creates a tremendous amount of satisfaction as you see your creations sparkling on stage.
Here are some tips and basic techniques to get you started on how to attach rhinestones and the best glue to use for rhinestones on fabric.
Types of Rhinestones
Swarovski: These stones are made of crystal and are in a class of their own as they have an unbeatable quality. Naturally, they are also the most expensive. There are a lot of fake Swarovski on the internet so if you are paying top dollar then make sure you purchase from a genuine supplier.
Crystal Rhinestones: You can find many crystal rhinestones of great quality that are a bit cheaper than Swarovski. One of the most common brands is Czech Preciosa.
Glass Rhinestones: These are made of glass and are a medium quality rhinestone.
Acrylic Rhinestones: These are the cheapest but lowest quality. Because they are made from a plastic substance, they can scratch easily over time and once dirty, they have very little sparkle left. Before you use acrylic rhinestones, make sure you do a test to ensure the foil at the back of the stones is not affected by the glue you are using.
TIP: Mix featured Swarovski rhinestones with cheaper brands to reduce overall costs
The basic shapes your rhinestones will come in are round, square, rectangle, pear (sometimes called tear shape), heart and oval. There are endless cuts and variations of these and new styles and trends will continue to evolve.
In addition to the different shapes, rhinestones are classified by the shape of their back.
Rhinestone Back Types
- Flat Back: When attaching rhinestones to clothing you will need those with a flat back. The flat back usually has a silver foil lining to add extra sparkle.
- Pointed Back: Rhinestones with a pointy back are more suited to jewelry applications.
- Claws: You can also get rhinestones mounted in a claw setting. These are often larger stones. Only use good quality claw settings as cheaper ones often have the stones fall out and the rough edges can get caught on delicate fabrics. You don’t want to spend hours sewing an outfit and decorating it only to have the stones catch and fall out.
Rhinestone Finishes and Effects
These are some of the most common finishes you will see. Most companies follow Swarovski in the naming of their finishes.
- Clear – As the name implies clear rhinestones do not have any coating on them and are clear and sparkly.
- AB Finish – This is a coating applied to the rhinestone that gives a rainbow or oil slick like appearance to the stone.
- Opaque – These rhinestones have a milky appearance and the aqua ones are one of my favorite stones.
- Metallic– Modern crystals are often available with a metallic effect. Beware of metallic rhinestones made of acrylic as the finish often scratches off.
Rhinestones are generally measured in millimeters. Round rhinestones additionally are referred to by SS which stands for “stone size” and range from 5SS (1.8mm) to 48SS (11mm).
The image below shows you the relative sizes of some of these. Most companies offer many in between sizes as well.
Unless you have amazing eyesight and dexterity, I wouldn’t recommend going under the 20ss size.
How to Attach Rhinestones
Rhinestones used for clothing and leotards usually have a flat back which is foiled in silver. They can have glue already applied (hotfix), non-hotfix or have holes for sewing.
One of the most popular methods for attaching rhinestones is to glue them on. Imagine having to sew thousands of tiny rhinestones on a costume! If you use the correct glue and technique, they are amazingly strong when glued on. It is also next to impossible to sew rhinestones on thin or mesh fabric so glue is often your best option.
Best Glue for Rhinestones on Fabric
The best glue for rhinestones on fabric is clear, washable and easy to use. These are the 3 most used brands:
1. E6000 Glue
This is the glue that most costumers use.
- Make sure you purchase the clear variety.
- When gluing small stones try to get some precision tips.
- Believe it or not, there are fakes of this glue on the market, so purchase from a reputable dealer.
2. E6000 Fabri-Fuse
This glue created by the same company as the regular E6000 glue but is specially designed for gluing on fabric and is washable after 3 days. Make sure you let your garment dry flat for at least 8 hours before you try the garment on.
Although it looks a little cloudy when it comes out, it will dry clear. The manufacturer says dry cleaning won’t affect the glue.
3. Beacon Gem-Tac
This glue is specially made for gluing gemstones and rhinestones and has a good reputation. It dries clear and is washable.
The manufacturer says that the bond is made stronger by the heat of a dryer but I’ll leave that to you to test! I wouldn’t put any leotards in the dryer as the Lycra fabric is likely to be negatively affected by the heat.
Extra Tips for Gluing Rhinestones
- Most glues have bad fumes so you will need to use it in a well-ventilated area.
- Store bottles or tubes upside down so the glue is in the nozzle ready for next use.
- You can transfer glue into a syringe with a small nozzle to make it easier to handle and keep fumes to a minimum. These are called hobby syringes and come with different sized nozzles. Look for ones made for gluing rhinestones.
- Alternately, put a small amount of glue on some cardboard and dip in a skewer. Then pick up the stones with the skewer.
- Dry the glued garment flat so the stones don’t slip before they are dry.
- Use foam board or strong cardboard inside the garment to hold it flat for stoning and to prevent glue going through to the other side of the garment.
- For stretch fabrics, don’t have stones touching as it will affect the stretch of the garment around the body. This is especially important for leotards.
- Practice on a scrap before you start gluing your garment. The glue should just cover the outside edges of the stone. If you just place a small drop underneath, the foil may detach leaving a round metal dot. It takes a bit of practice to get the amount of glue correct.
Hotfix Stones and Applicator
Hotfix rhinestones have a glue already attached to the back and are applied with a special tool or regular iron.
A regular iron can be used to melt and attach the glue on the back of hotfix stones where your fabric is made of natural fibers and won’t melt. You will still need to put a pressing cloth between your stones and garment. This method is not suitable for Lycra fabrics in leotards and other synthetic materials.
Electric hotfix applicators (sometimes called heat guns) come with different sized tips which fit over the stone and heat up the glue underneath. It usually only takes 15-20 seconds to attach each stone. Be careful not to touch the tip on delicate fabrics.
Like the regular glue methods, make sure you put a piece of cardboard or foam between the layers of your garment.
If you are buying online, make sure it has the correct voltage for your country.
Some rhinestones have holes for sewing. This is obviously the most time-consuming method of attaching the stones and is not recommended for small stones or delicate fabrics.
Sewn rhinestones can be mixed with sequins and beads for maximum impact. (Read how to sew sequins)
Tips for Sewing Rhinestones
- Use a strong beading thread
- Knot off in between each bead so you don’t have rows coming undone at once.
- Sit in great light and grab your strong glasses!
- A craft magnifying light may also help,
Storing your Rhinestones
Lastly, you will need to store all your rhinestones. Choose clear containers so you can easily see the contents and how many stones you have left.
- Bead storage boxes
- Zip-lock bags