How to Rhinestone a Burlesque Costume – and help Black Performers Shine On

21st Century Burlesque Magazine
Burlesque star Frankie Fictitious and her Rose AB stones. Image Anthony Notes

As the global burlesque scene tries to survive and adapt in this unprecedented and uncertain time, one Black-owned business is keeping the sparkle and showbiz alive.

Founded in 2015 by burlesque performer Nona Narcisse and her husband, Jason, rhinestone supplier Looking Glass Gems works closely with an exclusive, family-owned manufacturer which ensures exceptional quality, unique colors and limited edition items that can’t be found elsewhere. 

“I have been a professional dancer and actress for the last ten years, and an avid rhinestone collector and consumer for just as long!” says Nona. “Having taken art and fashion-design classes in college, I make most of my own costumes and props for the stage and screen. I found it incredibly difficult to find a high-quality rhinestone that didn’t break the bank, and I noticed how many colleagues and friends in my industry shared the same frustration.

“After years of unfruitful purchases and endless sparkle research, the obvious solution was to become the source for beautiful, affordable crystal rhinestones ourselves, and Looking Glass Gems was born.”

Nona Narcisse, co-founder of Looking Glass Gems. Credit pending.
Nona Narcisse, co-founder of Looking Glass Gems. Supplied by Nona Narcisse.

Nona and Jason planned on staying in her hometown of Santa Fe, NM for a few short months while shopping for a home in Las Vegas to work full-time on Looking Glass Gems. Because of the pandemic, they’ve now been in NM for six months. 

“We’ve spent this time workshopping our business while watching the housing market and longing for our possessions, which are waiting for us in a Las Vegas storage pod. We’ve postponed our move for now, hoping for some stabilisation of our sales, Las Vegas, and the world as a whole. We are blessed to have the support of family and friends through this time!”

Black Joy Sparkles!

Nona is passionate about supporting other Black performers through this difficult time, and is calling out for supporters of her Black Joy Sparkles initiative.

If you want to help contribute to the beauty, joy, and art therapy of the Black community while also supporting a Black woman-owned business, Looking Glass Gems is excited to pass along your generosity in the form of a $50 gift certificate to each Black creative on their recipient list who cannot afford rhinestone supplies for their projects.

You can donate on their website in any amount you desire.

“Looking Glass Gems are fully committed to transparency,” Nona assures us. “Each week we will update the donation totals and gift certificates given out.”

Looking Glass Gems co-founders Nona Narcisse and her husband, Jason, a sleight-of-hand magician. Supplied by Nona Narcisse.
Looking Glass Gems co-founders Nona Narcisse and her husband, Jason, a sleight-of-hand magician. Supplied by Nona Narcisse.

Nona passionately urges her peers to use this stressful time to make costume and prop repairs, upgrades and embellishments – for holistic as much as practical reasons. 

“Rhinestoning can be an incredibly meditative and therapeutic activity for some people. If you’ve never been comfortable rhinestoning, now is a great opportunity to experiment! It is a very special feeling when you step back and see a beautiful finished product.”

How to Rhinestone a Burlesque Costume

With a myriad of ways to apply rhinestones onto your next (or first) project, Nona gives her top five rhinestoning tips for applying and maintaining your bedazzled burlesque costumes.

1. Find the proper rhinestone adhesive

For most projects, we recommend Fabri-Fuse Glue, made by E6000. Water-based, non-toxic and drying perfectly clear, it is great for any fabric project, from shoes, to hard plastics, to glass. It’s also machine washable (though we hand wash and lay flat to dry most fabric projects). Many fully bedazzled stage costumes cannot be washed. 

There are rare instances when we recommend traditional E6000 glue, but please only use this glue with proper ventilation and wear a protective ventilator mask. It is highly toxic and can be messy to work with. We recommend using this glue on projects that receive highly rigorous wear and tear or stretching, and on some non-porous surfaces. It is quite permanent. 

We generally do not recommend Gem-Tac glue. Gem-Tac retains a level of stickiness even after it’s fully cured (especially in humid climates). It also yellows over time. 

Looking Glass Gems recommend Fabri-Fuse Glue, made by E6000.
Looking Glass Gems recommend Fabri-Fuse Glue, made by E6000.

2. Learn how to use your chosen rhinestone adhesive properly

One reason we prefer Fabri-Fuse is the built-in applicator tip. It is precise enough for almost all applications. With extremely detailed projects, or those utilising very small stone sizes, you can use a craft syringe as your glue applicator (more on that below). 

Different adhesives have different viscosity and dry times. Make sure to read the label so that you are properly curing your glue. Most glues come out of the bottle in a less viscous fashion than you want to apply a stone on to (traditional E6000 is maybe the most viscous of the rhinestone glues and begins to dry quickly). 

I recommend laying out a few dots of glue at a time and allow thirty seconds to two minutes on the fabric to begin setting before placing your stone on them. If you place a stone immediately on to a fresh glue dot, the glue tends to soak right through to the back-side of the project. This is a trial and error process that takes some practice.

How to Rhinestone a Burlesque Costume, by Looking Glass Gems

3. Proper rhinestone glue application

This is also a trial and error process, where you find the perfect amount of glue to hold your stone without drowning it in adhesive and dulling its sparkle. We have found that a very small amount of glue wrapping around the very edges of the stone helps to hold it in place. It’s a balancing act to achieve this without the glue wrap covering faceted areas. 

See Also
10 Burlesque Costume Tips for DIY Performers

You can purchase crafting/glue syringes from your local craft store. They range in gauge size and often come in variety packs, so you can use different gauges for different precision applications. 

When inserting glue into the syringe, err on the side of caution (you can always refill it if more glue is needed). While the curing process is slowed, once in the syringe it does begin drying and can fully dry if left in the syringe too long. This is another reason we prefer non-toxic glues; you can rinse out your syringes without polluting the planet!

Burlesque star Frankie Fictitious and her Rose AB stones. Image Anthony Notes
Burlesque star Frankie Fictitious and her Rose AB stones. Image Anthony Notes

4. Clean-up and messes

Mistakes happen, especially during the learning curve of your first projects. I’ve been an avid rhinestoner for over a decade and still find new challenges with almost every project, so don’t be too hard on yourself! 

Having an uncluttered area to work in and a dedicated surface that you can safely get glue on is hugely helpful. 

Fabri-Fuse can be cleaned up with water while it is still wet. A damp Q-tip can be great for cleaning up little messes. Once Fabri-Fuse is fully cured, the only thing that will remove it is acetone (which also ruins most fabrics, so try to clean up messes as you go!). 

Some adhesives are water soluble, meaning they are easy to clean up but also much less permanent. We’ve found traditional E6000 generally difficult to clean up! It is very permanent glue. 

Precision is key for a clean, finished product, but another thing to consider is that many small mistakes or glue spillage often goes relatively unnoticed on stage!

Jaqueline Chaton's Sapphire AB ss40 rhinestones, by Looking Glass Gems
Jaqueline Chaton’s Sapphire AB ss40 rhinestones, by Looking Glass Gems

5. Rhinestone maintenance

Wait until your glue is fully cured and polish your projects! Hair spray residue, skin oils, and even extended exposure to smoke can dull the shine of your gems. We like to use a cloth for eyeglasses to rigorously polish our projects. This technique will also reveal any stones that are not fully adhered to your surface. 

If using Fabri-Fuse, you can use a Q-tip dampened with acetone to remove glue residue. We also recommend dry polishing with a cloth on a regular basis. You’d be surprised at the difference! 

You are bound to lose stones at some point. If your stones are on stretchy fabric or in high friction areas, some will come off over time. Try to keep sweat away from your stones – it corrodes even the fanciest of stone backings. Gently hand wash garments that can handle it and lay them flat to dry. 

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