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.
- 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!
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):
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.
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).
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!