How to Design for a Dance Costume (Part 1)

How to Design for a Dance Costume (Part 1)

Posted by Rhinestones Unlimited on Jan 21st 2014

Do you want to know the secret of the best costume designers? They pick a direction and stick with it. That's it. Design- in any medium- is just the individual's perspective, manifested. Yes, some people have innate abilities to make the process easier, or the energy to research how to appeal to the masses...but, I can't count the amount of times I've heard someone wrongly utter, "I don't have a creative bone in my body" as they make up an adventurous bedtime story or crookedly sketch an inventive diagram. 

All you folks- you problem solve every day, weigh decisions every day, use your intuition and flex your personal preferences. Hey- that's what designers do, too! You're already qualified for the job, so take a breath and let yourself enjoy it. I won't leave you hanging, though. I've highlighted a few general guidelines to focus your creative lens and identify the most harmonious options. Check back for more photos, as design inspiration will be a recurring theme during competition season. If you still have trouble narrowing your focus, remember that the process of elimination is a great place to start. 

Follow the lines. This is one of the first characteristics of the costume you will naturally pick out through your creative lens. Look for unique seams, a pattern in the fabric, cutouts, straps or an edge that needs more visibility, and apply stones along that line. Size 20ss rhinestones will work well here in most cases, though by no means should you feel limited to just that size. 

Repeat a shape. A similar concept to the one above, allow the lines and shapes in the costume to dictate your design. For example, if your fabric features polka dots, embellish with curved lines and circular shapes. If your skirt hem ends in an asymmetric point and your leotard features a deep V back, diamond shapes and sharply angular lines will compliment it well. If the large appliqué you'd like to put on the bodice front has a paisley shape, loose swirls and S-shaped crystal lines will blend the look throughout the rest of the costume. 

Scatter! This one has lots of variables, but is great when filling up a large space and is suitable for anyone from beginners to veteran crystallers. You can glue the stones on at random -saving you time with the absence of measuring- and if you choose to add more stones later, the free style accepts the addition easily. Or, you can create a tidy look with an evenly spaced plan of alternating rows or grids. You can even get a little creative and make an ombré effect or a pattern within the scatter: sparks, clusters, constellations, Morse Code, dots and blobs (I just kind of made that one up, but it sounds artsy enough to work)... 

Do your own thing. Sometimes it happens that your canvas is so blank that you have to create your own guidelines. If you've got a blue t-shirt that needs some star shapes or a stark white panel that you'd like to make zebra-striped, that's okay! Just plan it out first: you can easily make a star with half a gross of these stones- but if you only have the budget for a quarter gross, how can your original idea be modified to suit those requirements? Key points when you're ready to attach your freestyle design onto the costume: 

1. Keep a ruler and calculator nearby. 

2. Map out your design on the costume before permanently attaching. If in doubt, create a guide. 

3. Begin with your key element. Align your center first, then work outwards. 

4. Ration your stones until you are confident you can complete the entire costume with the amount you have planned for. 

Don't stress too much about the rhinestone design (it is, after all, just rhinestones). Your intuition is a valuable compass, and a good indicator of your own skill level. If you imagined a few crystals along the neckline, a graduating scatter on the skirt, but you got lost in the complication of the instructor's vision, ("12ss...Padparadscha...dots and blobs meets pysanky eggs...pi equals 3.141592...") it's because you're not ready for that. 

Everyone- and I mean everyone- will have a different opinion on how to embellish your costume. Gather a few of them if you'd like, but don't feel like you have to agree. Honor your gut- your initial idea, if you paid attention to it, is probably the one you'll be happiest with when the job is done. Together we can keep our sanity this season. 



Rhinestones Unlimited blog author Jemm Stone is a multifaceted girl navigating our sparkly world with on-point insights. Visit to follow her thoughts as she highlights design trends, turns the spotlight on industry influencers and breaks down how-to tips like light through a crystal prism. 

P.S.- We have printable tools for you! Sketch out your brainstorms on our design figures, and get a quick view of the space you can fill with our estimating guide. Right click, open image in new tab, and print out the estimation guide. The Rhinestones Unlimited Estimating Guide is FREE online! Remember to check your print settings before printing- the images are realistically represented when printed at the Landscape setting at a size of 100%. 

12 ss Estimate Guide

20ss Estimate Guide

12ss Estimate Guide

20ss Estimate Guide