September 19, 2012

Figure Skating Outfits Part 4: Considering Embellishment In Figure Skating Costumes

Welcome to part 4 of our 4-part series on figure skating costume design! If you're just joining us, make sure to check out parts one, two, and three, in the series! Having worked through the conception stages of figure skating dresses and men's outfits, today we'll be looking at those finishing touches that make dresses sparkle and pop out there on the ice: embellishment! To the Bead-Cave, my pretties! (OK so that sounded better in my head *ahem*)...
Embellishment is a complicated subject, so we're going to be breaking it down into three manageable sections today.

Types of Embellishment
There are many different ways to decorate a dress or costume, and here we're going to look at each in turn so you are aware of some of the main options open to yourself, the budding skating dress creator extraordinaire.

#1: Rhinestones
This is a sprawling industry, with the king of crystal rhinestones being, of course, Swarovski. Their rhinestones (often abbreviated to simply “stones”) are made of fine cut Austrian crystal, which has the highest “fire”, i.e. sparkle. They are also the priciest of stones on the market, but if you're looking to decorate that special outfit, they are the top-notch option.

You can also purchase generic, non-branded crystal or glass rhinestones. Many manufacturers now fabricate glass stones that sparkle well, and carry a much lower price tag simply for the fact that they are not made from crystal, and non-Austrian crystal stones are also on the market for lesser prices that those of the world-renowned Swarovski brand. Such stones are often cut from Czech crystal, which is considered of lesser quality than their Austrian counterparts.

All the above mentioned rhinestones come in a plethora of different cuts, i.e. the way of which the stone is faceted to reflect the light. This is a main factor in the stone's sparkle capacity. The more facets on the stone's surface, the more light will be reflected at any given moment, giving extra zing to your outfit.

Crystals, whether Swarovski branded or not, now often come in either flat-backed or “hot-fix” categories. The difference between these is the way that the stone will be attached to the dress, and we'll see more on this in the section “attaching embellishments”, lower down this post.

#2 Sequins
Although sequins may seem a bit 80's in the grand scheme of things these days, I really do believe they still have a place amongst us skaters! I love a good holographic sequin, and have been known to cover dresses in them before now (one dress may or may not have been entirely holographic gold... ^_^). Sequins, as you probably already know, come in a very large range of colours, shapes, sizes, and finishings (matte, metallic, holographic, etc.). Sequins will be much cheaper to buy, and can now even be purchased with the same sort of “hot-fix” backing as the rhinestones we discussed above. This makes application a lot faster than hand-sewing individual sequins through a central hole with appropriate coloured thread.

#3 Beads
Beads come in so many different shapes, sizes, textures, finishings, and colours, I would be a fool to try and list them here. You only have to visit your local craft store to see the huge variety of beads that are on the market, and forget trying to make any coherence of them if you are brave enough to go on the bead-lookout on-line.

Different beads will result in different looks on your end product: do you want minute detailing work created in small seed-beads? Do you want the shimmer and shine that oblong twister metallic-effect beads will create out there under the arena lights? These will probably come in as a more expensive option than sequins, and you should keep in mind the amount of time and work that is required to sew each individual bead onto the costume. If you're looking at embellishing the bodice of a dress, for example, you may have to spend several months attaching thousands of beads to your design.

#4 Embroidery
This isn't an obvious one, but it certainly exists. Embroidery on skating dresses is seen more and more these days, as more and more home sewing machines incorporate embroidery capacities and the software to design your finished product.
Most like for this type of embellishment you'll need to use a seamstress who offers this service, and depending on the creator you use, the embroidery may be added at different stages of the process (when material is just off-the-roll, when the dress panels are cut from the fabric, or even on the finished sewn garment). Obviously here you have the possibility to incorporate intricate designs into your outfit, but remember to keep things visible. Going too crazy with minute detail may cause your dress to look busy and undecipherable from a distance, which would be not only a shame, but also a waste of money on what is often a very costly process.

The Use Of Embellishment
How you use the numerous options established above will depend on what effect you want to give your final garment, and how that fits in with the style, colour, and mood of your dress (as well as your budget). If you have decided on a sober black velvet affair (I've always wanted to skate in a long-sleeved high-necked flat black velvet dress, to Chopin... *sigh*) it might not be in-keeping with the mood to cover it in red crystals, or silver sequins. By now you will have an idea of the finished look of your dress, and will know the role that embellishment will play in the look of your gown or shirt.

You can use embellishment as a replacement for fabric, as did Sasha Cohen for one of her gala performance dresses (she used it to skate her "Hurt" gala program). I always wished I had an opportunity to design a dress like this, but alas, those days have now passed! (P.S. If you have a dress like this, I'd LOVE to see a picture!). This is obviously going to cost a pretty penny in crystals, but the effect is, quite simply, sensational.

Stones, sequins, and beads can be used to create patterns and designs on your skating outfit, such as swirls, lines (I used rhinestones in vertical lines on a black bodice to create a corset effect for a French cancan program, for example), tear-drops, star-bursts, etc.. The possibilities are endless! Alternatively, such decorative elements can be used to simply “add sparkle” to a dress, without any particular rhyme or reason. A light (or heavy, for the glitter-obsessed, like myself!) scattering of crystals across a long wafting chiffon or organza waltz skirt adds a dimension of magical-dream that I don't know any girl could truly resist.

The way you use embellishment on your dress is completely up to you, so draw some sketches and play around with free crystals and beads on your finished (un-embellished) dress to see what floats your boat.

Attaching embellishments
Now we've seen the options that are available to you, and we've also looked at how you can use embellishments to create different effects on your finished garment. So how to actually get those little beauties to stay on your outfit? Read on, my dears!

Different types of decorations will obviously necessitate different techniques of attachment. Let's now look at each type in turn, and the ways in which you can make sure they stick fast to your dress or shirt.

Rhinestone Attachment
As mentioned earlier, rhinestones nowadays either come flat-backed, or “hot-fix”. Flat backed means the back of the stone is simply a flat foil surface (this silver foil is what you see through the front side of the crystal, and the surface off which light is reflected when it passes through the faceted crystal, giving you that lovely zing of sparkle!). These stones are fixed to a garment by means of glue application to this foil surface, and then being carefully placed directly on to the fabric. After having experimented for many years with the different glues available with which to do this, I have come to the conclusion that good ol' super-glue is the way to go. Make sure you use a set of tweezers (buy a cheap pair from a pharmacy or drug store solely for your stoning projects) as you don't want to get super-glue on your hands. Pay more for non-toxic products, as you will be spending hours working with it, and your health is the most important thing to look after!

“Hot-fix” stones come with a glue already applied to the back surface of the rhinestone by the manufacturer. It is in a solid state, and looks like a mottled grey layer on the back of the stone. When this layer is heated, it will melt (as it is glue) and become the means by which the stone will attach to your fabric. You can either use such stones with a conventional house-hold iron (instructions below), or buy a purpose-built “Kandi Kane” rhinestone applicator, which picks up the stones in a heated metal tip (the heat which is conducted through the metal tip transfers through the crystal and causes the glue to melt and bubble). You then simply dab the area you want to embellish with the applicator, and the stone will release from the tip.

Sequin Attachment
Sequins conventionally come with a hole in the middle of them, or else offset to one side on, for example, tear-drop shaped sequins. These holes are provided for you to sew the sequin on, using thread and a lot of your time. You can sew sequins on one-by-one, or in strips (I used YouTube videos to learn how to do this, just type "sewing sequins in a line" or some such catchphrase), but you should make sure to keep your strips fairly small, in order to not limit the stretch of the fabric with the non-stretch of the thread you've used to sew on long strips of sequins (I made this mistake once and struggled to get the dress over my hips when pulling it on, as I'd attached too many sequins to the bodice which restricted the stretch of the material).
Alternatively, you can now buy “hot-fix” sequins too. These are applied using your house-hold iron, by laying out your dress, arrange the sequins on in the design of your choice, then covering the whole ensemble with a towel or tea-towel, and ironing over it with your iron on a medium-high temperature setting. This will melt the glue on the back of the sequins, sticking them to the dress, just as “hot-fix” rhinestones work. Again, beware to leave space between sequins here and there to keep the fabric's stretch, or else stretch out the dress before applying the embellishment.

Beads need to be hand-sewn onto your garment, as no “hot-fix” beading currently exists. You could use a coordinating thread colour, or invisible thread, which can be found in any good haberdashers, craft store, or fabric shop. I find it easiest to work in areas when beading rather than working erratically across the entire dress: you will stay motived when you see an entire panel finished, which will ultimately help you get the job done! Make sure you triple-secure the thread once you've finished attaching a given bead, and snip the thread in short, so that the ends don't irritate the skaters' skin out there on the ice.

Now you're ready to go forth and buy your embellishments! I hope this guide has been useful to you in understanding your options for beads, rhinestones, and other figure skating costume decorations out there. If you have experienced decorating your own (or your child's!) costumes, I'd love to hear all about it, so please leave a comment in the box below to tell me and our readership what you used, and how it turned out!

This was the last part in a four-part series on figure skating dress and costume design! I hope you enjoyed the series, and if you missed the other parts, use the links below to read all about the costume design process, from simple sketches to razzle dazzle rhinestones!

Until next time, happy skating!

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  1. Geesh awesome set of posts. I'd just add a pointer to my recent tiny observation on the subject:

    Also do you have any ideas about recommending how one goes shopping around for a custom dress designer?

    Best Regards,
    L.A. Skatedad

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  2. Hi Jeff, thanks for your comment! Glad you enjoyed the posts!
    Yes your point on movement is also a very valid one, thanks for pointing that one out!

    With regards to employing a custom designer, I'd say try and get recommendations, make sure you see prior work, and perhaps most importantly (although very boringly...) make sure its in budget. It's really easy to go off the proverbial financial rails in skating, so its important to be strict with yourself and be realistic.

    You can always explore the joys of making custom outfits yourself, of course... ;-)

    Warm wishes, and happy skating,

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  3. This post was extremely helpful to me -- thank you for the level of detail and suggested approaches. I'm a newbie skate mom who can't sew a button, but somehow managed to decorate my daughter's dress with rhinestones with success. To my delight, she loves the new look of her dress.

    Your blog is a terrific resource!

    Ancaster, Canada

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  4. @Donna17 thank you so much for your wonderful comment! I'm really glad this post helped you, and hope you'll be back for more tips and tricks soon :)

    Happy skating XOXO

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  5. I have also used stretch fabric paint (Jones Tones) usually for lines of colour and used applique (flower and leaf shapes cut out of lycra) which really stood out even when on ice. I used washout fabric adhesive to hold the shapes in place and then sewed them on with a small zig zag stitch close to the edge. I covered the edges of the applique and stitches with a line of glass and swarovski beads.

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