Burlesque b*

Le Rose Chaton

a sparkling guide

by Torchy Taboo

Origin of the Stone

By definition, we know "rhinestones" as imitations. Originally known as paste, diamante or strass, these treats were painstakingly hand made as substitutions for unaffordable diamonds. In 1676 came the innovation of adding lead to glass to optimize its shine and reflectivity and in the mid 1800's the French jeweler George Strass added the silvery coating to the back of the glass to better reflect the light out of the "gem," first approximating what we would call a rhinestone. But it was Swarovski whose precision faceting and mass production made them something special in the early 20th century.

Knock-offs from the jewelry and fashion industry were not far behind, including designers Eisenberg and De Mario whose glamorous European garments were actually manufactured in Rhode Island. But by far the most notable to the Burlesque connoisseur would have to be Elsa Schiaparelli, gifting us with innovations in the 1950's such as shocking pink, zippers and rhinestone jewelry inspired by the circus, the zodiac and artists like Salvador Dali.

In the 1960's the rhinestone became religion to the great show-people of Las Vegas. Liberace reveled in the flash of the largest rhinestone collection in the world which included his glitz covered cars and his famous Swarovski encrusted grand piano.

The Real Nitty-gritty

With its highest grade lead crystal and unmatched cutting techniques, Swarovski really is the gold standard for rhinestones. Put simply, they sparkle far better than any of the others. All other makers measure their product by the Austrians. But there are plenty of worthy contenders to the world-title of twinkle. For well over a century the Czech Republic has been known for its beautiful glass creations. And so in line right behind Swarovski or Austrian grade, are Czech Machine cut crystals, the highest quality of these being made by Preciosa. The difference you ask? To the industry, things like cutting precision and lead content are meaningful. For you or I to tell the difference, Swarovski's flatbacks have 12 or 14 side cuts and Preciosa have 8. So small a difference, many suppliers won't tell you if they sell Czech stones. And frankly the price is so close, and the product so lovely, I'd never press the subject with my supplier. By using different manufacturers, my favorite supplier broadens the range of colors she offers me…so she makes a few pennies more, good for her! There are many sources for buying on-line, including dealers on E-bay. However, I do recommend that until you know your colors by heart, you buy them in person, just like you buy fruit.pictureAfter Czech Machine cut crystals come the molded or fire-polished Czech crystal stones. Have you ever noticed that many of the pretty European style beads you see in necklaces just don't shine as well as a good rhinestone? It's because their facets are molded instead of cut. A decent rhinestone of this quality is still crystal and will have molded sides, but the top and bottom are sliced off. When using lots of stones very close together, the sides show much less and these stones do nicely and will save you some money.

Cut glass, rather than crystal, rhinestones are next in quality. These can be a very affordable alternative…I find inexpensive Korean made stones of this quality in my nail and eyelash shop! I've also found molded glass stones in these shops, and they are very, very cheap…the difference is immediately noticeable. However, if I'm using a collage effect, these make good filler.

Coming in last on the list are acrylic stones, the type used for kid's crafts. The colors available rarely meet my needs and proper adhesives crackle the silver backing on them, greatly affecting the already low reflectivity. I avoid these unless I intend for the result to look cheap and not very shiny. But it is Burlesque and there are times when that seedy look is just right!


Does size matter? But of course! SS stands for stone size and does not correlate to an exact millimeter, but instead a narrow range of size variance. 20ss and 30ss are easiest to find because they are the best for stage costuming. A 20ss is just under 5mm; it takes 37 of them to cover a square inch when glued right next to each other. A 30ss is roughly 6.5mm and 20 will cover a square inch. You may notice that size can effect the color, especially in the special effects colors.

Should you mix sizes, types and colors? Yes, experiment! Swarovskis are available in around 90 colors at the moment and new colors are introduced about twice a year. Different shades of Aurora Borealis or AB rhinestones mix beautifully. I frequently use the afore mentioned collage effect for a lavish, vintage look. The more consistent the size and color, the more formal and new the effect will be.

Pointed or flat: pointed backs or "chaton" are primarily for making jewelry. You must use those with a setting, and settings have a whole set of problems of their own. For garments, you want flatbacks or "rose chaton."

Those of us with an eye for vintage rhinestones are attracted to the various shapes…tear drops, squares, and navettes or marquis shaped. But really, Swarovskis in shapes, why bother? They are very, very expensive and who can tell they are anything other than round from over 5 feet away? However, up-close, as in studio photos, they can be delicious. If only a tear drop the size of your toe will do, a good one will run you around 2 or 3 dollars, so place it wisely. My trick: pop on a vintage broach, then I can wear it on my cocktail dress later!

Making It Stick

There are 4 ways of adhering your stones to your costume. I highly recommend using glue. Using the right glue is by far the best way to insure that your stones will stay on through the rigors of dancing, disrobing, packing and cleaning. Don't even think of using hot glue; save that for porous materials. Use either Gem Tak or E6000, and use just enough glue so that the excess comes up around the edge and clutches the stone, but just barely. This clutching technique is the key. Glue that only touches the silver backing on a stone will sometimes allow the stone to come loose from its backing. This happens a lot with heat-fix or iron-on stones, second on our list, which I don't recommend for this reason.

 I don't use settings because they snag everything from fishnet and chiffon to long hair. You can convince yourself that because you've seen them on vintage costumes, it's the right way to do it. But chances are that good, flexible, wash resistant glues had not been invented when those pieces were made. If you're one of those historic recreationists or just want your huge focal point stone to look like the crown jewel, a setting may be for you. If so, use a rim setting instead of the prong variety. Put a dab of glue on the back side to cover the prongs to keep them from snagging your skin. If you want the chain or ribbon variety, good stones come in plastic settings on heavy net. But sew the edges of the net into your hem; it snags as well.

Sew-ons or edge hole stones are the other choice and are extremely time consuming. However, that afore mentioned tear drop the size of your toe is a good time to sew one on. Its weight can pull the glass off its backing. Also, sew if you must dry-clean a piece; no glue will withstand the solvents in dry-cleaning. The type of stone with the hole in the middle or Lochrosen, are used a lot in Bridal fashions. I suppose glue is inappropriate for such solemn occasions (?) Burlesque is not one of those occasions…I say start gluing and use all that extra time to practice your act or have another cocktail!

images: 1) Swarovski Merecedes Benz, 2) Dita Von Tease on Swarovski covered Carousel horse, 3) Beyonce's pink Swarovski baby bathtub 4) the first luxury high rise by Swarovski being erect in India

Written by Torchy Taboo

This Article was published in the Burlesque Bitch Ezine on Apr 10, 2013.
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