ADDING BLING
From the Simple to the Sublime

Nothing sets your product and your business apart like a dollop of different. You can make a name for yourself with creative digitizing effects, add fabric (appliqué),  or invest in a machine with special capabilities.

Or you can add some rhinestones.

A trip to the local shopping mecca will underscore the popularity of bling. It’s on the garments in the windows of the stores; it’s on the shirts of the people meandering through the mall. And my conclusion is that rhinestones are bright and beautiful embellishment—but, like any other “add-on” from puffy foam to tassels, a little judicious decision making and some restraint can turn the “r” in crass to the “l” in class.

I’m not against whole words being fashioned of rhinestones (BLING BABY!) but a carefully thought out design with stones that accentuate and glamorize can mean the difference between a shirt or jeans worn once or many times. Even diamonds take on a tawdry look when they are used to brag instead of brighten. Perhaps this springs from my background as an embroiderer, where I am always looking for ways to punctuate the stitching. An example of this is a shirt where the league name was embroidered in an arch and then “ALLSTAR MOM” added in rhinestones. The stones added visual meaning to the word “allstar” and punctuated rather than overwhelmed the design.

Let’s look at how we can get those shinys from the package to the product.

A Little Glue

The late, great Billy Mays sold us Mighty Mendit—and threw in a bottle of Mighty Gemit (and fifty gems) as a bonus. The process is simple. Use the nozzle to place a dab of glue and add the bling. Make sure you use enough glue to reach to the edges of the rhinestone so that you are adhering the stone and not just the mirror backing. Applicator sticks are available for placing stones. These have wax on one end to grab the stone. A little twist after placing the stone will free the stick and you can keep working. These work better than tweezers as glue tends to build up on tweezers.  Do not place more glue spots than you can adhere stones to at one time. You do not want the surface to dry before you place a stone.

Other suitable glues are Gem-Tac and E 6000. Look for glue meant for working with gem stones.  It’s a good idea to test any glue by setting a stone on a sample of your target fabric.  Most glues are not dry-cleanable and hand washing is advised. If you want a machine-washable product, use smaller stones.Never use hot-glue, epoxy, white glue, or super glue on stones. These may discolor the fabric or destroy the finish of the stone. Glues intended for fixing gems hold better and dry clear.

Hot Fix Method

If you want to hot glue rhinestones, use a wand applicator (think soldering iron) and heat fix (HF) stones. The temperature required to set stones can vary by brand so read the directions. Don’t overheat the stones as glue can spread and stain the fabric. Avoid using dry-clean only fabrics as the chemicals in the cleaning fluid are not glue friendly. Swarovski has a hot-fix stone that they claim to be dry-cleanable. Do your own homework before decorating a dry-clean-only fabric and/or advising a customer that dry cleaning is acceptable.Before pre-heating the hot fix tool, attach the tip that matches the size of the rhinestone being used. Heat up the tool for 10-15 minutes. Set the HF rhinestone in place, face up and glue down. Press the tip against the top of the rhinestone. This will heat the rhinestone, causing the glue to melt, affixing the stone to the target surface. You can use an iron to attach HF rhinestones. Be sure to place a cloth over the stones and hold the iron against them long enough for the glue to melt. A heat press can also be used.

There is also a Vacuum Applicator that has a vacuum tip that will hold any size rhinestone. You can regulate the vacuum pump and the heater separately. To use it pre-heat for 5 minutes and then switch on the vacuum pump. Place a finger over the air hole to direct the suction to the tweezers tip and lift a heat fix rhinestone with the glass side up and glue down. Place the stone and release it by removing your finger from the air hole and pressing gently. The rhinestone will be glued to the fabric.

A much more sophisticated model is available called the LASTAR. It works with vacuum suction and applies the stones with ultra sound vibrations. Two tips are available for different size stones.

Mounting Hardware

Tiffany Setting—Four-pronged Tiffany settings are available for attaching stones to fabric, including leather. These are placed from the back of and extend through the fabric. The stone is then placed inside the setting which wraps over the edge of the stones. These are best applied with a Brisk Setter or BeDazzler (staple type took). There is also a Mini BeDazzler for adhering stones to pockets and other tight spots. There are also “hand” setters which do a nice job. Some stone craftsmen lightly glue the stone before mounting for extra insurance. When using the Brisk Setter (a plunger tool), mark the design on the reverse of the fabric, place the Tiffany setting on the pin of the Brisk Setter, prongs down and twist gently. Place the rhinestone face down in the center of the cup and then settle the fabric face down over the cup. Place the pin over the mark you made and then clamp the Brisk-Setter shut.

Rim Setting—This is a circular metal casing that encircles the face of the rhinestone.  Prongs go through the fabric and are bent to secure the stone. These are placed one at a time and a small amount of glue can be used to hold the stone. Stretch the fabric as you place the rim over the stone to avoid puckering the fabric. Use a suitable tool to bend the prongs on the reverse of the fabric (an old spoon will do.) You can also use the Brisk Setter for applying rim settings. You will need to purchase the Rim-Set adaptor which also can be used to attach nailheads. There is a different adaptor for each rhinestone size. After attaching the adaptor to the Brisk Setter, mark the design on the reverse of the fabric. Place the rhinestone in the adaptor face down and the prongs up. Place the fabric over the base of the Brisk Setter and clamp the tool shut.

Sew-on Jewels

Jewels and rhinestones can be sewn on fabric. Some have one, others two holes for sewing. When sewing on the one-holed variety, stitch through the hole from the back, sliding a seed bead on the needle and then stitch back through the hole. Use a beading needle for this task as a regular needle will be too thick to pass through the center of the seed bead. Monofilament thread, a clear or smoke-hued thread made of polyester or nylon, works well. Silk thread is also a good choice. Ask about the jewel’s resistance to dry-cleaning fluids as there is no glue to worry about and the right sew-on product may allow dry-clean only fabrics to be embellished.

Creating Templates to Make Rhinestone “Transfers”

Roland makes a rotary engraver that can be used to cut patterns/plastic templates for rhinestone application. The benefit of a template is that it can be used more than once (stock designs) and allows for precise, identical applications. Both the engraver and the software are required to produce the templates. If you already have the engraver to produce name tags, consider using expanding its use and your offerings. The same plastic is used for the templates and name tags. The down side to this process is that if a template holes are the wrong size for your rhinestones you have to produce another one—not all rhinestones are the same even if they have the same dimension rating. The Roland program allows you to take any font and change it to a single-line engraving font which work well with stones. Simple shapes and patters are included in the software, making it easy to create fast, simple designs such as stars, circles and squares.

Digital Art Solutions has developed a rhinestone and stud system for making templates that works in tandem with a cutter. DAS offers the option of a cutter so if you already have one, you are half-way there.

This system comes with intuitive software and a superior manual which makes the learning curve less steep for the novice. DAS has a catalogue of pre-programmed template patterns that can be cut and used in your design creation. You can also use any vectored graphic to create a stencil with this software.

The design template is cut from special stone-stencil material. Multiple templates can be cut for different sections of the same design allowing multiple size and color stones to be used.

After the template is cut, it is placed in a tray where it is flooded with the stones of your choice.  The unique shape of the stones causes them to fall into the stencil right side up. The pattern is then transferred to a clear carrier which holds the stones in place. The carrier and stones are then placed on the target garment and the design is applied with a heat press. Backer board can be used to make a stable, reusable template that can be carefully stored in your growing library of stone stencil designs.

Eagle is another company that sells software for creating templates but it is tied to the purchase of a cutter.

Do remember that if you have a system for cutting templates, you can not only expand your decorating capabilities, but also offer to make templates for those who are not ready to make the equipment investment.

Automatic Rhinestone Machine

If your budget allows or you are eager to add production rhinestone work to your menu—or making templates for other decorated apparel embellishers—an automatic rhinestone setter might be for you. These machines can set rhinestones on transfer paper at rates of 170 stones per minute. Use your heat press to apply the design to the target fabric.

This Cadillac of the rhinestone arena makes slow production a thing of the past and offers design uniformity. The machine can take size and color into account for intricate and multi-colored designs and create that same design multiple times. Rhinestone design software is included which allows designs of up to 6 colors and sizes to be created using rhinestones or metal studs.

Optional models for even more diverse customization are available. Be sure to ask what other equipment is needed to operate this system.

Some Final Thoughts

As with all equipment and processes, remember that what works best is what works for you. Be sure to check warranties and get some insight into tech support by networking with others that have added “stoning” to their repertoire. Do your homework on the Internet, at trade shows, and by asking questions on your favorite educational forum. Remember that it costs less to offer more to your current customer base than to seek and add new customers.

A word about suppliers: Being a loyal customer will allow you to purchase stones that are consistent in size as well as build a relationship that may grant you better pricing or notification of any special sales. “Cherry-picking” for best prices will leave you with the dilemma of the natural size variations that occur even in the same dimension rating of stones.

It is exciting to watch the decorated apparel industry grow and give us new embellishing methods to wow our customers. This one gives new meaning to “getting stoned.”