Lizzie Carr, director of RhinestonesOnline, explains how rhinestones can introduce a new dimension to any garment decoration.

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Want to add some sparkle to your fashion and sportswear garments? Then Lizzie Carr of RhinestonesOnline is the person to speak to. An expert in all things stone-related, Lizzie started her business ten years ago at a time when Swarovski dominated the rhinestone market. “There were no alternative stones, but then I discovered the economy rhinestone,” Lizzie explains.

The economy stones came from Asia, with Korean stones representing the best value in Lizzie’s opinion. “People don’t really understand about rhinestones and their quality,” she comments. “The difference in quality is massive, so in the past we’ve tried to avoid Chinese stones because they’re inconsistent. They come off in the wash and so on, whereas we found that the Korean stones were superior.”

Lizzie adds that currently things are progressing very fast in the world of rhinestones. The technology is improving and Chinese stones are catching up in terms of quality. However, they still have some way to go, she believes, and for now she is sticking with her trusted supplier of Korean rhinestones.

Today, there are two elite rhinestone brands – Swarovski and the lesser known Preciosa from the Czech Republic. Both brands supply “absolutely beautiful stones.” The Preciosa stones are about two-thirds the price of Swarovski’s stones, offering a lower cost alternative for customers requiring top quality stone motifs. Nevertheless, garment decorators are still more likely to opt for an economy stone in most instances, Lizzie notes. “People still don’t really want to pay big prices for stoning. It can make garments more expensive so a good quality economy stone is mostly what the public wants.”

For decorators that are looking to offer rhinestones as a service, one option is to buy specialised machinery, which Lizzie admits is hard to find: “I imported my big machine from Korea. I think there are only a few in the country and they’re über expensive so a regular print company is probably better off buying the motif they want from a company like us than actually buying a machine and doing it themselves.”

The team at RhinestonesOnline’s workshop in Brighouse, West Yorkshire, can either create designs for motifs or follow a design sent in by a decorator. “We’ve got lots of designs online but normally they will come to us and they’ve already got their own ideas, so we’ll take those ideas and we either help them develop them or create an absolute duplicate of what they want,” she advises. For example, one of Lizzie’s clients was working with a motorbike company recently and sent her the approved designs. “They sent them to me and I programmed my BAM – that’s short for my Big Arse Machine – with the patterns and designs they wanted and it churned them out. Then I sent the motifs out to the client who applied them to the garments themselves using their heat press.”

She prefers getting artwork as vector or pdf files although the company will attempt to work with anything, even working from sketches if necessary. Pictures that don’t have enough of a defined edge or subtle shading can cause problems although Lizzie is happy to work with the client to reach a compromise whenever possible.

The attention-grabbing Tutankhamun and Red Indian chief designs, which were shown at Clothes Show Live and are valued at £1500 each!

Secure attachment

The largest rhinestone is an SS48, which measures about 1.1 cm in diameter. The smallest stone the company’s BAM can handle has a 2 mm diameter, (although it is possible to buy 1.5 mm rhinestones, which are “like a flea,” according to Lizzie).

The minimum stone size does dictate the type of designs that can be successfully realised as a rhinestone motif. Lizzie comments: “Somebody sent me a coat of arms and they wanted it four inches tall, and you just can’t do it because you can’t get the definition. That’s hard for people to understand, so sometimes what I’ll do is mock it up just to show them.”

The production process for making rhinestone motifs is pretty straightforward. The BAM plants the stones, top-down onto sticky backing paper in the required pattern: the stones have glue on the bottom. The backing paper is then laid over the garment so the bottom of the stones is in contact with the fabric. A heat press is used to melt the glue on the bottom of the stones causing them to stick to the fabric. The backing paper is then peeled away to reveal the motif. “It’s nice, easy and very secure.”

Lizzie regularly washtests sample rhinestones, sticking them on T-shirts and then putting them through at least five wash cycles, to confirm they are securely attached and to gauge their durability. It’s worth the extra effort, she says, because “superficially they might look good, but you don’t want returns.”

Badge-sized motifs and those that go across the chest are the most popular sizes, and with a pocket-size motif costing roughly the same as embroidery of the same size, rhinestones won’t break the bank, explains Lizzie. She does have two specially made hoodies that she decorated with elaborate designs – Tutankhamun and a Red Indian chief – which were exhibited at the Clothes Show Live several years ago: “They definitely brought in the crowds!” she recalls. While they will never be for sale, they have been valued at a staggering £1500 each.

Lizzie notes that some printers apply rhinestone motifs using cutters to create their own stencils. This is called the brush method. “They use their cutter to cut little holes in this special material and then they brush the stones in and then use the plastic to pick up the motif and then put it on a garment.” She suggests that while this does give autonomy to the decorator, it is only good for small scale jobs: “When it comes to someone wanting 10 or 15 of them, or more than one colour, or more than one size of stone, then it’s not really viable,” she advises. But Lizzie concedes that this approach does offer quicker turn-round, cutting out the time it takes to send a design to a rhinestone designer and for a motif to be sent back.

The rise of the gymnast

In spite of high street shops appearing to have moved on from the bling phase that saw clothes liberally scattered with decorative stones, RhinestonesOnline is seeing its workload steadily increasing along with a sharp rise in the demand for rhinestones from certain market sectors. “There are definitely certain sectors that the printers are wanting me to make motifs for. The alphabets have always been popular but it’s things like gymnastwear now: they seem to be on the increase. I think gymnasts started to use them [rhinestones] on their competitionwear, where they would use more elite stones, but now they want them on their practicewear, where they’ll use the economy stone.

“I’ve got print companies from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland wanting more and more for gymnasts. Ice-skaters are also on the increase, and cheerleaders are going for lots of it at the moment on their practicewear too.”

For any business that’s thinking of adding motifs to its garment decoration services, all that is needed is a heat press and some advice, which Lizzie will happily share. “If they just ring us, we’ll take them through it: the heat settings, how long they press it for… It’s not rocket science.”

She does encourage people to be more creative and use rhinestones as part of a mixed-media design. Lizzie points out that print and embroidery emphasised with rhinestones here and there can be a very effective way to bring a design to life, and as rhinestones can be heat-fixed to any porous material then the possibilities are huge. Her best tip is to always apply the vinyl before the stones, and to apply the stones before the embroidery. And to ask for advice! “Whatever you want to know, there’s always an answer,” she promises.

The most complex request yet…
A client recently asked Lizzie to create a Predator image – from the 1987 sci-fi film of the same name. “It was an awesome commission,” she says happily. “It took me eight hours and I did it from a sketch – a pencil diagram with lots of shading. I used Photoshop to try and accentuate the lines. It took me what seemed like forever but I really enjoyed doing it.” The design used 1467 3 mm matt silver rhinestuds, 1559 2 mm matt silver rhinestuds, 3285 2 mm matt grey rhinestuds, 59 ss10 peridot rhinestones and 214 ss6 gold rhinestuds.