Stretch fabrics such as spandex, lycra, stretch velvet and stretch crepe are popular in the costume making world, and are often made into leotards for the base of an elaborate theatrical or dance costume. As well as performance costumes, gymnastics, ice skating, swimming and many other sports require a leotard or other base costume made out of stretch fabric. These stretch fabrics usually require some kind of embellishment work such as beading, sewing, rhinestoning or appliques.

Stretch fabric, whether it’s a 2 way or 4 way stretch, can be tricky to work with, especially when it comes to rhinestoning it, due to its flexibility and springy nature. If you pull it too hard one way, your pattern might go askew, but if you don’t stretch it out fully you may end up with wrinkling. It can be a nightmare!

But thankfully we’ve got some top tips for how to crystallize a leotard or other stretch fabric using rhinestones, including application methods and design ideas.

  1. Decide on your preferred application method

When embellishing stretch fabrics with crystals, you can use either the hotfix method or non hotfix method. The hotfix method requires a hotfix applicator tool or you can use a household iron at home, although this would be more complicated. The non hotfix method involves gluing the crystals onto the fabric one by one, using a gem glue such as Gem Tac.

  1. Make sure you’re using the right tools for the job

Always use tools that have been specifically designed for rhinestoning, such as a rhinestone picker, rather than tweezers which can be fiddly and time consuming. We recommend using a crystal Katana or Tanto pick up tool. These rhinestone pickers are ideal when using the non hotfix method, they make the process a lot faster and easier. For glue, there are many options, but we would recommend Gem Tac glue which is easy to work with and dries completely clear. A great tip for adding the glue in a small quantity and precise manner is to apply it from a syringe with fine tip. This allows you to use only small amounts, meaning no wastage or spillages. By using the correct tools for the job, you will save time, money and mess.

  1. How do I keep the fabric flat?

For a neat design, and to ensure the rhinestones are properly fixed to the fabric, it is important to keep the fabric flat and stretched out. The best way to achieve this is by attaching the fabric to a Dolly Board. Dolly Boards are flat wooden boards in the shape of a torso, so they are perfect for keeping your leotard in shape. You can also purchase arm or leg shapes for crystallizing sleeves or trousers. Read more about how to use a Dolly Board.

4. Which crystals should I use?

• Hotfix or Non Hotfix? - Once you have decided on your preferred application method, you will need to use the corresponding rhinestones i.e hotfix or non hotfix.

• Which size? - The ideal sizes for decorating a leotard are ss16, ss20 and ss30. These are big enough to create some serious sparkle, but small enough to stay attached and not weigh the fabric down. A popular method of applying the different sizes is to scatter small crystals in between the larger crystals. The smaller sizes act as gap fillers and create a pretty ‘rainfall’ effect.

  • Which colour? - Many of our customers like to work with Clear and AB crystals, which are the two most popular colours in the range. A great way of bringing out the bold colours in the costume is to use matching coloured crystals, i.e red crystals on red fabric. This really brings the costume to life. Or for a really bold effect, you could use contrasting colours to make the rhinestone design stand out more.

• Which brand? – Preciosa and Zodiac crystals are the go-to brand for embellishing leotards and costumes. Both have an amazing sparkle and are much more affordable than Swarovski. Zodiac offer a much larger range of sew on crystal shapes which are a popular choice for decorating ice skating, gymnastics and dance leotards. They are great for covering a large area and bring stunning sparkle too.

5. Pre-plan a design and stick to it

If you are able to sketch out a simple design idea before you start gluing rhinestones on, this will help with creating a neat and consistent design. You will find it much easier to follow a pattern you’ve already thought about, than make it up as you go along – this is where mistakes can be made.

6. How to come up with a design

There are lots of different styles when it comes to rhinestoning a leotard. You could go full bling and apply many crystals, covering large areas of the fabric. Or you could be more subtle and just choose to embellish key areas like the neckline or sleeves. Or you could use sew on crystal shapes to create floral or geometric patterns. It really depends on your budget and time.

Here are some examples:

These two costumes have been heavily embellished with Zodiac crystals and sew on stones. In both cases AB rhinestones are dominant, and a lot of the focus has gone onto decorating floral appliques, which are then sewn onto the fabric. Each of these leotards are highly detailed around the neck and waist, drawing the eye to these areas.

In the below examples, the designs are mores simple, using fewer crystals. In the red costume, the AB crystals have been applied in an abstract grid formation, while the smaller red crystals have been scattered to fill the gaps. This is a great way of spreading the sparkle all over the leotard without spending a fortune to do it. On the white costume, AB and gold crystals have been neatly placed to accentuate the neckline, waist and bust. Again this simple design highlights key areas and ensures there is sparkle across the entire piece.

  1. Maintenance and care

As these costumes are subject to a lot of movement, it is possible that some rhinestones may fall off. This is not unusual but there are some things you can do to help prevent this. When washing the fabric, be sure to gently hand wash only using cool water, and do not use fabric conditioner. Where possible, use sew on crystals for that extra durability. When gluing or heat fixing the rhinestones to the stretch fabric, make sure the material is flat but not over stretched.

Why it’s important to have a beautifully decorated costume.

In sports, competitions, events or performances where leotards are worn, it is always worth the extra effort of adding a touch of sparkle. For ice skaters, dancers and gymnasts this added glitz and glamour will make the costume, and therefore the performance, feel extra special, plus the more decorated the costume, the more they will stand out and be remembered. Rhinestones give performers that boost of confidence which is so important.

Get creative with us and have a go at adding your own touch of sparkle to your leotard or costume. We have everything you need to create stunning designs and bring your ideas to life.

Rhinestone application