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How to Rhinestone Costumes and Performance

At Rhinestones Unlimited, performance and dance costumes are our specialty. We carry different stone qualities to accommodate different budgets and application methods.

Hotfix rhinestones (sometimes called iron-on) are backed with heat-activated fabric glue, and are said to have the strongest bond to fabrics over any other adhesive when used correctly. We carry hotfix rhinestones in Swarovski® and LUX Austrian Crystal™. Mess-free hotfix crystals can be set individually with a precision hotfix tool, or the entire design can be applied at once with an iron or heat press. Apply your own design with the help of hotfix transfer paper, special order a premade design from Swarovski® or ask about having your own custom design made up for a group with a Swarovski® custom transfer motif. The hotfix adhesive is very resilient, and holds up well to environmental elements, chlorinated water and frequent washing. We have heard some customers prefer hotfix rhinestones for gymnastics leotards, swimsuits for synchronized swimming, theater costumes, ballroom gowns, dance sport costumes, Latin dance dresses, ice skating dresses and roller skating costumes.

Sew-on rhinestones may have the most secure hold, since you remove the issue of glue breaking down or not adhering from environmental factors such as chlorine, extreme heat (like a hot metal horse trailer), detergents, leather finishes, or of choosing a glue that is not a great match for your materials. Sewing on your crystals is a method that gives peace of mind to organizations considering regulations that restrict the use of rhinestones on costumes to a particular set of performers or a certain application method for the performers' safety, like ice skating. This security is especially beneficial with larger crystals, whose weight and shape may make gluing a risky option. Sew-on rhinestones include not only flat backs and crystal rings in creative shapes and a range of sizes, but also unique beads and pendants. Sewing is a mess-free method that gives a quality, couture finish. We have heard some customers prefer sew-on rhinestones for competition dance costumes, Irish dance, ballroom dresses, dance sport gowns, Latin dresses, synchro teams, Western show apparel, theater costumes, burlesque costumes, pageant gowns, ice skating costumes and roller skating dresses.

Metal settings and crystal-metal fusion elements also create a secure hold, and work especially well with heavier fabrics, leathers and suedes. Metal settings—rim settings which fit over the top of the crystal, and Tiffany settings which come up from underneath—encase both the fabric and the rhinestone together, and add a decorative element to the finished look. Though it is possible to apply metal settings by hand, a setting tool may increase efficiency. These are not recommended for flimsy fabrics, materials that snag easily or knits, whose stretch weave can make a hole in the garment when pierced. The crystal-metal fusion elements used with the Swarovski® Crystal Applicator Tool are unique embellishment notions, encasing Swarovski® crystal in pieces like rivets, jeans buttons and snaps—great for performance and costume pieces that see heavy wear. Both metal settings and the Crystal Applicator Tool elements are very secure with no gluing risks or mess. We have heard some customers prefer metal settings and Swarovski® Crystal Applicator Tool elements for Western wear, show jackets and show apparel, period-specific theater costume, horse tack, leather work, denim, handbags, jewelry and accessories.

In performance costume, there’s no doubt that non-hotfix flat back rhinestones are our best-seller. Because of the range of colors and sizes available, and the fact that flat back rhinestones can adapt to so many application methods, they are a customer favorite. Though these can be used with metal rim and Tiffany settings, one of the biggest advantages of non-hotfix flat back rhinestones is that they can be glued to your project—and this is exactly what a majority of our performance customers do. The glue-on method is easy to learn, requires little investment in tools, and is safe for delicate materials like chiffon, nylon and Lycra. Since parents and volunteers are often charged with embellishing a performer’s stage costume, gluing is a fairly risk-free assignment. Plus, it can be one of the fastest application methods. Adhesives are always improving, and there are many on the market specifically formulated to bond crystal rhinestones and embellishments to fabrics. Rhinestones Unlimited offers a variety of trustworthy adhesives to suit your preference—washable glues that hold up under most environmental factors—as well as tools to aid in tidy and efficient, precision application, making the glue-on method easy to master. We have heard customers from nearly all performance genres prefer flat back rhinestones: competition dance costumes, Irish dance dresses, dance sport costumes, ice skating dresses, roller skating costumes, gymnastics leotards, synchronized swimming team suits, cheer uniforms, burlesque costumes, school dance team costumes, marching band uniforms and majorettes costumes, pageant gowns, ballroom dresses, Latin dresses, figure posing and bikini competition suits, Western wear apparel and show jackets, circus and acrobatics costumes, exotic dance apparel, theater costumes…basically, everything. Watch our video, “How to Rhinestone a Dance Costume,” for gluing tips and tricks for any performer!

Once you choose your attachment method, it will be easier to choose your quality of rhinestone. To help you record your design ideas, print out some of our design sketch templates—female fashion figures called “croquis”—to jump start your ideas. From there, you can choose your size. For the audiences’ benefit, stone sizes (ss) favored amongst performers are 12ss through 48ss, with 20ss in particular being the most versatile. As costumes are our specialty, each quality line will feature a range of the hottest colors in performance wear. Our Color Sample Cards, available for every quality, make it easy to choose your color. Slip your fabric underneath the clear viewing sheet of the crystal rhinestone cards, which feature a 20ss crystal rhinestone in every available color.

Planning your order may require some calculations. How many rhinestones do you need to fill the space? If you have 20 performers, how many yards of banding are needed? Our Estimating Guide can help you figure out the quantity you need to complete your project, and our Group Project Planning Worksheet extends those calculations through multiple pieces in a group or ensemble. Choose your quantity.

For those performance trend-setters marching to the beat of your own creative drum, don’t forget everything else we offer at Rhinestones Unlimited—everything we carry is here especially for you!

  • Appliques: This is a quick and easy way to add a shot of concentrated sparkle and design to your costume or create a custom accessory. Glue them or sew them on, group a bunch together, mix with different embellishments or glue some large Fancy Stones on top! PriceLess Crystal appliques are available in 13 colors, and feature a classic crystal and bead mix. We also carry Swarovski® Crystal Rock, Fine Rock and Crystal Fabric appliques. These intricate shapes and unique textures are made possible by the sparkle of very small cut and uncut crystals that cover the entire surface of the applique. With a hotfix backing, Swarovski® appliques can be ironed on or glued on. These are especially striking when layered, either over other Swarovski® appliques or underneath Swarovski® crystal rhinestones.
  • Swarovski® crystal: We can order in any Swarovski® crystal component in production, even if it is not part of our regular stock. More than just flat backs and hotfix, Swarovski® makes some beautiful crystal shapes. Flat back shapes, available in sew-on and glue-on styles, are as easy to apply and as versatile as the classic round rhinestone, and lend themselves to all design styles. They’re a great option when you want to bring in some flash in a size larger than the classic round options. Pointed backs, often used in jewelry, have a 3D cut like a diamond and come in even the tiniest of sizes. Fancy Stones are cushion back shapes, 3-dimensional on both front and back, and resemble large jewels. Sometimes all it takes is one of these stunners to create a truly dynamic costume piece.
  • Swarovski® ceramics and pearls: For an earthier element to your design, Ceramic Mosaic flat back shapes are glossy, polished cuts that resemble natural rock. Pearls in beautiful shimmering shades are available to sew or string—or glue or set, thanks to the innovative flat back pearl option.
  • Swarovski® buttons and zippers: Sparkling crystal-topped zippers, as well as crystal buttons in sweet vintage, classically elegant and modern contemporary styles can update any item in designer fashion.
  • Crystal buckles and banding: Slip a ribbon or sash through a decorative, functioning crystal buckle for instant customization. Or, trim your garment in crystal banding and cup chain—these can be ordered in multiple rows, stretch or non-stretch styles, colors, and unique decorative styles.
  • Metal trims and cabochons: Metal nailheads, hotfix metals and acrylic metallic spikes and pyramids add a little rock and roll to your project. Smooth, glossy cabochons are unfaceted flat backs, and are available in lightweight acrylic metallics as well as Czech crystal and earthy matrix styles.
  • Sequins and mirrors: Add mega shine on a dime! Both sequins and mirrors are dazzling on their own, but also create a lot of interest when used in collaboration with rhinestones. These are great for groups.

Oh—if that’s not enough, we also carry four lines of crystal jewelry to finish the look.

See other sections of our How-To library for more help with the design process or tips to help choose your quantity.

Visit our Inspiration Gallery and Pinterest page to see creative uses of rhinestones on costumes, costume accessories and performance wear!


Rhinestones Unlimited: Learn. Shop. Sparkle.