Gettin’ Crafty: How to Add Rhinestones to a Dress

A good ballroom dance dress can cost upwards of $1000 – and dancers who compete in more than one style will need more than one. I dance in American smooth and American rhythm: the former requires a long dress and the latter a knee-length. I don’t have a grand or two laying around, so I set out to find a cheaper option and stumbled across a figure skater’s how-to guide on a process called stoning.

Haha, I know, very funny.

Moving on, stoning is the process of adding rhinestones to a dress. Sarah’s guide left me hopeful: like her, I’m not super crafty. Her guide made stoning sound easy, so I searched Ebay for plain costume dresses. I couldn’t argue with the prices I found.

So I ordered two dresses (pictured below). I chose to complete one at a time instead of working on both simultaneously. I set up a table in my kitchen and organized my supplies.

Materials:

  • Rhinestones – I used four different sizes: 3mm, 5mm, and 7mm, and a few large, oval gems. Consider adding multiple colors, too! I bought the plastic kind, not Swarovski — though they look nicer, Swarovski crystals would have cost me over $200. Instead , I paid about $50 for 300 plastic stones.
  • Gem-Tac – To glue the rhinestones on. Gem-Tac dries clear.
  • Wax Paper – I put a puddle of glue on here.
  • Tweezers – I dipped the rhinestones in the glue on the wax paper and then adhered them. This will keep your fingers clean.
  • Paper Towel – To clean up any messes (I made a few).
  • Cardboard – Any size or shape will do. I used an 8.5″ x 11″ piece to flatten the section I was working on.
  • Weights – I used giant clips, but anything 2 lbs. or heavier will weigh down the dress. You don’t want it to move while you’re gluing!
Black, knee-length dress with red middle

American Rhythm Dress: $40 with shipping

I chose to complete one dress at a time instead of working on both simultaneously. The rhythm dress arrived first. Before bringing it to my kitchen workstation, I played around with the stones. I created patterns and tried different colors and sizes without any pressure of gluing them down. Internet searches suggested outlining a hem, scattering gems randomly, or creating a geometric shape. You can also Google similar dresses and see if there are any embellished versions to inspire you. I Googled prom dresses and other ballroom costumes for ideas.

Important Note: There’s a fine line between over-the-top and invisible. In the opening round of a bronze competition, there may be 20 couples on the dance floor  (and that’s just one heat!). In silver and above, costumes are required in collegiate competitions – if the dress lacks pizzazz, they may not count it as a costume. That said, if you put 400 gems in one place, you’ll look crazy. My advice? Start with less. Let the glue dry, then try it on. Have someone take photos from a few yards away and see if the dress leaves an impression. Remember, you can always add more, but Gem-Tac is permanent — it’s almost impossible to remove without damaging the fabric.

I decided to do a funky geometric shape on top, line the red strip, and scatter them on the skirt (which looks cool when I spin):

Black, knee-length dress with rhinestones added

I utilized three patterns in three different places: the top features a geometric shape, I outlined the middle section, and the skirt has a random sprinkling.

Altogether, the finished product took me about nine hours — the glue takes 24 hours to dry and can’t be moved before that, so I completed one section at a time. I’m a slow and meticulous worker – I put in about an hour a day.

Green, floor-length gown

American smooth dress: $62 including shipping

Next was the smooth dress. The first thing I did, again, was play with the stones. I tried a few different patterns before opting for big swirls in three different colors. I started at the shoulder, gluing on the six large, oval gems. After that, I took three sizes of gold gems and created swirl one. I began the silver swirl next.

That was my first mistake. I bought all of them gems at the same store — except for the smaller green ones. They didn’t sell packs of green gems and I figured I’d buy them elsewhere. When I searched for them, traversing a dozen craft stores taught me that no one sold green-only packs.

This could have ended badly. The competition in which I planned to wear this was only three weeks away, and I’d already glued two big green gems on the shoulder. I couldn’t remove them. In the end, I bought the last mixed pack from Walmart that included ten 2mm green gems and a 6mm, blue-green pack from Joann’s. Make sure you buy ALL your gems before adhering any of them. Luckily, no one can see the slight size and color difference (except me).

Torso of the green dress with a silver swirl in the middle

The silver swirl comprises the middle of the torso. The blue and gold swirls look the same, just in different directions. (and yes, those ARE pillows stuffed in the dress!)

Because of the intricacy of the design, the smooth dress took me at least twelve hours. Again, I could only complete a section at a time because the dress can’t be moved while the glue is drying; I spent about an hour a day.

On the smooth dress, I now wish I’d used more stones; compared to some other costumes, which have feathers and sequins and a huge cache of stones, mine isn’t eye-catching. I might add more gems, maybe an outline where the bodice meets the skirt, in the future.

I stoned these dresses in September 2015. I have since danced in two competitions and not a single stone loosened or fell off between storage, travel, and dancing. Success!

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29 thoughts on “Gettin’ Crafty: How to Add Rhinestones to a Dress

    • Thanks! 🙂 It gave me a bit of a headache, too – that’s why I stuck with one hour a day! If you decide to try it out, good luck! I’d love to see pictures afterwards.

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  1. Pingback: The Black Thursday Compulsion | But Why?

  2. Wow!…you should have no problem refurbishing outfits like wedding gowns and stonning them. Geezs! I wish I have the patience…lolx.. But then when you really want something…you would have full reserve of it without even realizing it.

    Thanks so much for these tips on stonning…was truly inspiring.The dresses are beautiful and goodluck in the dances!

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  3. I found this blog by tollowing a different blog regarding stoning a skating costume. I too am a ballroom dancer (boy, it feels cool to say that!) and am stoning my first dress, with my daughter’s help for my first comp. Your tips are really appreciated. Today is the first time I’ve ever subscribed to a blog, and now I’ve signed up for two. I see you also follow “The Girl with the Tree Tattoo”. I’ve read her information on a dance website I follow, small world. Wish me luck, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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    • Please let me know how it goes, and best of luck in your first comp! 🙂 What sort of design have you decided on?

      The Girl with the Tree Tattoo is a great ballroom dance blogger – she was one of the first people I met when I started my blog, and she’s always been kind and helpful. Small world indeed!

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  4. Design…well sort of a mix. Thank heavens for the internet, I know so much more than I did just 36 hours ago. Luckily my daughter’s VERY good at this type of thing; she created it, then I tweaked it after hours of attempt. The dress is a typical smooth gown in fuschia, with gores, a fishing lure double layer skirt. peek-a-boo shoulders and ruching criss-crossing across the bust and hip. The back of the dress has nude colored stiff spandex with boning. If you got to Venus Dancewear, it’s typical of that style. I bought it “pre-owned” from a contact in a dance forum.
    We had to work with the ruching so we focused on accenting the gores larger stones at the top of two front and two back gores mixed with two other sizes, sort of in an arrow shape. That detail has about 20 stones, in a double row. We went with Swarovski’s mainly, with a packet of 100 cheaper AB’s for a scattering across the top and back. We inter-spaced a sprinkling of crystals (fuschia and AB’s) across the abdominal area, between the ruching and the “arrows”. There were 3 sizes, 34,20 and 16 in two colors. As I MAY sell the dress again I wanted to use Swaorvski’s for resale-value. My main issue is my daughter was here from out of town for just this weekend so we really had only one day to get as much done as we could. I can now follow her lead to to the back of the dress. (oh bad dance pun, unintended!)

    I hope it looks as good on as we think it looks now. I love the more elaborate patterns you and Sarah had, but because we had a bright color, long flowing sleeves and the ruching, we had to keep it relatively simple–in Ballroom Terms, if you know what I mean.

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  5. I actually should be working on it right now! I just did the minor repairs and now am ready to do the other side as the glue’s been set for 24 hours. Again, thanks for the tips. At first I couldn’t figure out why it took so long to finish your dress, now I know! Because I’m doing the front and back and top and bottom, and have to shift the pillow or covered boards, I can’t do too much at once.

    I got so lucky with I found this dress. Kerry has an FB page with quite a few dresses. When I checked eBay the prices were ridiculous or otherwise all the Asian companies. How would I get you pictures? Should I reply to your notification emails with an attachment?

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  6. My comp is in two days and the dress is done. I’m trying to send a finished photo to your FB page, but right now FB is funky. I was thinking of you the other day. If you still love dancing (which I imagine you do) and you’re considering lessons, seriously consider private lessons. I’ve cut back on eating out and shopping for them and it’s worth every penny. Go to a private studio, not one of those chains, see if you can take just one or two and see how it goes. I am dancing SO much better than a year ago and the 8 private lessons I took at a different studio while on vacation probably advanced me by about 6-12 months in my skills and confidence.

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  7. Fab detail! Especially for someone who isn’t necessarily naturally inclined to craft!
    Anything creative takes time, but it looks like it was well worth the wait! 🙂

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  8. Here’s an update (not trying to take over Natalie’s blog) on my competition. I got two firsts and a second in my first ever attempt! One of my instructors said that the dress is PART of the dance, its flow completes your figure. Therefore, Natalie and her nifty info helped me get those results. Also, now that I look at your smooth dress, I’m really jealous. That was a terrific price and a beautiful dress and detail.

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    • Congratulations again 🙂 I’ve heard that advice/notion before — that the dress is part of the dance — and so I spent a lot of time carefully designing and choosing the dress. Definitely a labor of love 🙂

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