Why add rhinestones to fabric?
We all have that one plain dress, one boring jacket or a simple white t-shirt that just needs an extra touch of something special to elevate it to the next fabulous level. And here is the answer! Attaching rhinestones to clothing can really make what you’re wearing unique, and with upcycling being a huge trend at the moment, embellishing your clothes has really taken off.
And it’s no different in the performing arts industry, whether you’re a dancer, burlesque performer, costume designer, dress maker or drag artist, adding rhinestones to your outfit is sure to catch the eye of the audience and judges.
Where to start
Here are some basic guidelines to stick to when attaching rhinestones or gems to fabric:
- Always work in daylight – artificial lighting makes it difficult to see and can be damaging to your eyes.
- Whichever method of application you choose, always try to have a practice on a spare piece of fabric first.
- Have all of your tools neatly organized in your workspace.
- Always work on a flat, smooth surface if possible to avoid creasing or damaging the fabric.
- Keep your hands clean – grease really shows up on crystals!
Hotfix or Iron-on method
Attaching rhinestones to fabric using a heat fixing method is generally quicker and less messy than using glue. However it does require certain tools such as an Applicator Wand or heatpress, so these methods are often used more frequently for embellishing in bulk, such as a costume designer, wardrobe mistress for theatre, dressmaker, bridal designer and so on. It is worth investing in these tools if you know you will use them over and over again. If you’re only planning to use the hotfix method for a one off project, we would recommend using a household iron to fix the hotfix rhinestones, or using our hotfix rhinestone sheets. These are both less costly but still quick, easy and mess free.
- Applicator Wand – this is a fantastic tool for picking up and applying hotfix rhinestones to fabric without the need for glue, as the glue is already incorporated into the stone and is activated by the heat. Simply turn on the wand, wait for it to heat to temperature and start picking up and placing the rhinestones. You will see the glue on the back of the stone start to bubble – this is how you know it’s hot enough to apply.
- Iron on transfers – This is a simple technique which requires a household iron, transfer film and some hotfix rhinestones. Firstly, peel back the sticky plastic of the transfer film, then using a stencil or just by eye, place the rhinestones onto the film shiny side up in your desired pattern. Once complete, place the sticky plastic sheet back over your design to pick up the crystals. Then peel it off altogether and apply over the top of the fabric. Next, use your iron to gently go over the design – the glue will melt and adhere to the fabric. Peel back the sticky plastic and you’re left with the final image glued onto the fabric. This is a common technique for making team logos, sportswear, bridal shower gifts or personalized clothing.
- Hotfix rhinestone sheets – A similar iron-on method is the hotfix rhinestone sheets, this is great for applying many crystals in a block so better for larger surface areas. These sheets are available in many different colours including AB, red, blue, black and hot pink. Here we have used the crystal clear sheets to add some sparkle to a plain denim jacket.
Non Hotfix or Glue-on methods
Another popular way of decorating fabric with rhinestones is by simply gluing them on. We always use Gem Tac or E6000 glue depending on fabric (for more information on the different types of glue, read our expert guide to glue blog here.) Plus a pick up tool and a dolly board if embellishing a large item of clothing. Using an application syringe, squeeze out your glue in tiny dots onto the fabric and apply the crystals individually using the pick up tool. This method is ideal for one off or smaller projects.
If you want a completely mess free method for attaching rhinestones to fabric, we advise going down the route of sewing. Many embellishments now have holes to enable this, and it is a much more effective way of application as you are guaranteed the rhinestones won’t fall off. Also, you don’t have to worry about getting in a sticky mess with glue.
- Sew on stones – Sew on rhinestones are larger gems that have a hole either side enabling you to sew them onto the fabric. They are generally used for theatre or dance costumes, drag outfits and in particular Irish dance competition dresses. Simply sew the rhinestones onto the fabric using a thread that matches the colour of the material. This is more time consuming but you are almost guaranteed durability.
- Pearls – Our Preciosa pearls have a hole running through the centre which allows you to sew them onto the fabric. Round sew on pearls are often used to decorate bridal wear and are also very popular among crafters, sewers and embroiders. Crystal bicone beads can also be applied in this way, they bring a lovely sparkle to textile fabric for home furnishings such as cushions, curtains or lampshades.
- Cupchain – Crystal cupchain or banding is also a great way to jazz up an old item of clothing or accessory. Again this is usually sewn on but can also be glued. Cupchain is often used to create movement or to cover a large area quickly as the rhinestones are not applied individually.
- Rhinestones in settings – Stones in settings are the individual components that make up cupchain. These are single rhinestones cased in a metal setting. They are very glamourous and often used for high end fashion or bridal wear. The metal settings have holes either side so they can be sewn into the fabric.
Rivets are a great way to apply rhinestones to fabric if you have the correct tools – you would need a fly press or manual rivet press. So this method is mainly used in the fashion industry as they produce clothing in bulk. The rivets can be used on most fabrics but is particularly common on leather belts, handbags and shoes etc. For more detailed information on how to safely use rivets in your project, see the Preciosa Application Manual.