Beading and Sequins on Spandex
As someone who spent many, many hours in the early years of my career doing beading and sequins, I get it. It’s SO much quicker and easier, and really... instant gratification feels good, right?
... especially when that instant gratification comes with a LOT more sparkle!
Sometimes, though, it’s good to go old school.
Maybe you need to make a dress with a specific cultural influence, maybe you’re looking to recreate a well known dress from the past, or maybe you just want to make something with a more refined, subtle shine.
So, I figured I’d dust off the appropriate section from Sewing for Skaters, and expand on it a bit.
That’s the great thing about doing this as a blog - WAY more room for photos!
It’s been so long since I’ve done this, I actually had to go out and buy a set of beading needles to get these pics!
So, let’s get started.
Preparing Your Garment for Beading / Sequins
Stretching Your Garment
I’ve always found it best practice to stretch a garment for beading and/or sequining on it. This is for a few reasons:
Stretching it to a size that’s approximately the size of the wearer gives you a better idea of design placement, sizing, etc.
Beading on an unstretched garment doesn’t always give you an accurate vision of what your design will look like when stretched out over a body.
Appropriate Work Surface
Stretching your garment over a board/stretcher of some type holds the fabric nice and taut, giving you a good work surface that won’t move or wrinkle on you.
Stitching your beads or sequins to a garment stretched to approximately the size of the wearer means that the thread and stitching is being done to an appropriate size for the wearing, making it less likely that the threads will break while being worn.
By stitching onto an already stretched garment, you’re allowing the thread the space it needs on that garment.
Note: This only really applies when you’re beading entire sections without tying off. Also, your threads may look loose when doing this - more on that in a bit!
Stretching a garment physically separates the work surface you’ll be beading, from the other side of the garment.
That is to say, if you’re beading the front of a dress, stretching it spaces that front piece out from the back of the dress.
This *can* help prevent you from stitching through both front and back layers of the dress, while beading.
Whole Garment Stretch Options
If you’re planning to bead / sequin your garment in large sections, it’s best to stretch the garment to almost wearing size.
Whichever method you choose, you should aim for the measurements to be relatively similar to the body measurements of the wearer, maybe and inch or two in either direction.
There are a few different ways you can stretch your garments:
PVC Pipe Stretcher
This is my preferred method of stretching for beading, as it gives you the best access - especially if you have a keyhole back.
With a 10' length of 1" diameter Schedule 40 PVC plain-end PVC pipe and 4 x 1" diameter 90-degree Sch 40 PVC Elbow Fitting... you can make a pretty slick stretcher!
These are especially popular with my synchro swimmer clients, who use it when crystalling their suits.
To make one, figure out the length and width you’ll want to work with, and cut 2 pieces in each of those sizes.
As an example, for my adult XS size, I’ll use two pieces that are 15" long, and 2 that are 28" long
Assemble them together, and you have a stretcher!
While you can glue them together for a permanent setup, I like being able to take it apart to adjust sizing, or for storage.
When I’m beading around the collar of a sample size (Adult XS) dress, I’ll usually just toss it on my dressform and bead it there. For that matter, sometimes I’ll use it for a S or M-ish sized garment, and just pin back the slack in the fabric.
Note: This really only works if you’re beading pretty close to the neck / back openings of the garment, or you’re beading a smaller garment, like a sports bra.
This is because you’ll want access to the back of the surface you’re beading, from time to time. It can be hard to reach halfway down the front of a dress that’s on a form!
This is the cheapest, and one of the easiest ways to make a stretcher... and it’s one I use all the time when crystalling suits, particularly for synchro teams.
I’ll save heavy-duty cardboard boxes when I can get my hands on them. There was a really nice, super thick one that my sewing chair came in. Sometimes you can find appliance boxes, etc.
As with the dress form, this is a decent method for beading close to the openings of a garment, not so great when beading far from the opening.
Anyway, when it comes to sizing:
As they’re very flat, you’d just size them in terms of half body measurements:
Cut the length to be half of the full torso measurement.
The width should be half of either the chest or hip measurement, whichever is bigger.
If you’re feeling fancy, you can curve in a waist approximation - of half the waist measurement - but I generally don’t bother.
A nice thing about this method - as well as the foam core, pvc, and bought versions I’ll discuss next - is that it provides a nice flat work surface.
This means you can more easily use the “runnier” glues, than you can on a 3D dress form.
Foam Core Board
Just like the cardboard, just more expensive and slightly more annoying to cut to shape.
Commerical Stretch Boards
The most expensive option for stretching your garment is to buy a board that was specifically created for that purpose.
I wouldn’t recommend buying one just for beading - as it’s not ideal for this - but if you do a lot of crystalling as well, it’s a great investment.
I have a Rhino-Stone Board to try out, and it’s fantastic!
As with the previous few options, this is best for when you’re doing some beading around the collar and/or keyhole entries, as it doesn’t allow for a ton of access all the way down the body.
Adjusting for a Smaller Stretcher
Sometimes, you may find yourself with a garment that is slightly too big for your stretcher.
When this happens, all you need to do is to pin back excess fabric - both lengthwise and widthwise - to make the garment lay taut on the stretcher.
I’ll usually pin excess at the crotch, for length.
When it comes to width, I’ll usually pin up the centre back, when crystalling the front... or the sides, when crystalling the back.
When you’re just beading a smallish section, even if it’s part of a larger section (say, a repeating motif that covers a large area), I find it easiest to use an embroidery hoop.
This gives the absolute best access for beading a finished garment, but it also gives you the option to bead sections of the garment BEFORE sewing the finished garment together.
Embroidery Hoops are available in a bunch of different sizes, and I like to keep a variety of them on hand.
Basically, I like to use the biggest size I can get away with, for the piece being stretched.
Ideally, this means that the entire perimeter of the area being worked on is contained in the hoop... but when you’re working with areas that are close to an edge of the garment, this can be difficult.
Rectangular or oval hoops can help with this, though!
Marking Your Beading Pattern
When you know what you plan to do for embellishments, you may decide that you need to transfer a pattern onto the suit as a guide.
There are two main ways that I’ve done this:
Marking The Garment
Make sure you practice working with this method on a scrap piece of fabric first.
Other things you can try are washable pens & transfer pencils.
Always test methods on scrap fabric to ensure it will wash out, etc. Transfer pencil marks become permanent markings, so be careful!
Note: This pattern will be destroyed as you go, so be sure to use a *copy* if it’s something important!
To do this:
1. Draw your pattern out on the tissue or exam table paper.
2. Spray the wrong side of the pattern LIGHTLY with Odif's 505 Temporary Fabric Adhesive, allow to dry for a bit.
I like to dab the “dried” pattern on some scrap paper, a work surface, or even my pants leg, just to fuzz-up the glue surface a little.
3. Affix the glued pattern piece to the stretched garment in the appropriate location.
4. Bead through both your pattern and the fabric, as desired. Tie off when finished.
5. Carefully break the paper in pieces and remove from under the beading. Tweezers can help pick it out from tight areas.
Sequins on Spandex
Sequins add sparkle and glitter to a garment and are available in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colours from needlework shops, craft stores, and by mail order from specialist suppliers.
Sequins are usually stamped out of plastic and have a very shiny, metallic finish, but are also available in a transparent, clear, or iridescent “aurora borealis” finish.
Traditionally, beading and sequins were sewn on by hand, one by one. It was tedious work, but added a lot of shimmer and shine to finished skating dresses.
There are two main ways to secure sequins to spandex:
Gluing Sequins On To Spandex
Shortly before crystals became the default, most people moved to gluing sequins on. This is the quickest and easiest method.
Also - speaking as an autistic skater myself - a garment with glued sequins is a LOT more comfortable to wear, than one with sewn on.
Back in the day, I glued sequins on exclusively with a product called Jones Tones' "Clear Plexi", while many others used E6000.
Personally, I preferred the clear plexi, as it was easier, less messy, didn’t give headaches and didn't smell as awful. Also, as I mentioned in my post about Crystalling, E-6000 is incredibly toxic, so I avoid it in general - always have.
Unfortunately, Jones Tones went out of business several years ago. RIP.
Fortunately, E-6000 came out with a new product a few years back - it’s much easier to use than their original adhesive, not as toxic, and works EXACTLY like “Clear Plexi”. I honestly wonder if they either purchased it when Jones Tones went under, or just straight up knocked it off.
Anyway. Yes. E-6000 Fabri-Fuse is not only my glue of choice for crystals, it’s also fantastic for gluing sequins.
How to Glue Sequins On to Spandex
To glue sequins on, simply dot your suit with adhesive, wherever you want the sequins to go.
Carefully place a sequin - cup side up, if applicable - on the glue and press down.
You'll want a "bead" of adhesive to come up through the middle of the center hole of the sequin, as this is what holds it on.
Continue to apply sequins in sections, and allow the glue to dry completely before taking the garment off the stretcher.
Note: If you're not left with much of a "bead" after the glue dries, you can always add a little more, after the first round dries. Go easy this time - the first round of glue will block any seepage from happening, so what you pipe is what you'll end up with!
Also Note: I do not recommend gluing spangles, very large sequins, or multi-hole sequins.
Sewing Sequins on Spandex
There are 3 main ways I’d sew sequins on spandex, with the method used depending on what I was using, or what I was intending it to look like. More on those methods in a minute, though.
What You Need to Sequin Spandex
Obviously, you’ll need sequins to sequin your garment. There are many colours available, and - unlike crystals - brand name doesn’t really matter as much. Pick what looks best for what you want to do.
The type of needle you’ll need will depend on whether or not you’re using seed beads for the style you’re working on.
If you’re sewing rows of sequins with no beads involved, a normal hand sewing needle will work fine.
If your work will involve seed beads, you’ll need to use a long & fine “beading” needle, as they’re narrow enough to fit through a seed bead.
A Needle Threader
If you’ll be using a beading needle, you’ll absolutely want to use a needle threader - have several on hand, as they’re extremely easy to destroy!
If you’re using a normal sewing needle, a threader is optional.
- Poke the bent end of the threader wire through the eye of your needle.
- Place the end of your thread in the loop of the threader that is now sticking out the other side of the threader.
- Gently pull the threader back away from the needle, pulling the thread end through the needle.
The thread colour should match either the garment colour, or the sequin colour. Generally speaking, I find it best to match the garment colour. For the sake of demonstration, I'm using black thread on pale pink, so you can better see what I'm doing.
Spot / Scattered Sequins
For a spotty effect, attach sequins individually using a clear seed bead to secure the sequin to the garment.
With a knot in the end of the thread, stick your needle in through the wrong side of the fabric, and out the good side.
Thread the needle through one sequin. This should be done through the flat side, coming out through the “cup”.
Thread the needle through a single seed bead, and back down through the sequin and fabric.
On the wrong side of the fabric, secure the stitch with a few good knots, and trim the edges.
Sew each sequin on individually, tying off the thread and trimming after each sequin.
If you’re more of a Diagrams person, here’s the crappy hand drawn diagram I first published in “Sewing for Skaters and Gymnasts and Dancers... Oh My!” ... 20 years ago.
No, I haven’t gotten any better at drawing in that time, so here we are!
Note: If you're coordinated enough to deal with extra threads, you can leave long loops between each sequin, on the back - cutting and tying off in batches. Do 10 sequins, cut and tie all the loops, repeat.
Beaded Rows / Tight Sections of Sequins
- Apply a sequin as described above, but do not tie it off.
- Pull the needle through the thread approximately one-half sequin’s width away from the edge of the first sequin.
- Thread another sequin, then a bead, and back down through the sequin as described for individual sequins
- Repeat as necessary, tying off when you are done.
Please keep in mind that when sequins are NOT individually tied off, the threads in between them will affect the overall stretching capability of that area of the garment - if not adequately stretched when beading.
Another very old diagram:
Backstitched Rows of Sequins
Although using beads to secure the individual sequins in a row is the way that I prefer to do it, you may also work rows of sequins on using a backstitch.
- With a knotted length of thread, thread the needle up through the wrong side of the fabric and out the right side.
- Thread the needle through a sequin so that the cup side is facing up from the right side of the fabric.
- Pull the needle down through the fabric on one side of the sequin, along whatever line you are beading.
- Very close to where you brought the needle down, bring it back up through the fabric.
- Add another sequin, bringing the needle down at the edge of the sequin, following your path/ line.
- Continue this along your path.
- At the end, tie it off with a few secure knots on the wrong side of the garment.
Large and/or Multi-Hole Sequins
Large circular sequins and spangles have one or more holes near the edge instead of a central one. Additionally, their holes tend to be a bit bigger than regular sequins, and aren’t usually adequately secured with a seed bead.
The best way to attach these sequins is to:
- Lay the large sequin on the desired spot on the garment.
- Bring the thread up through the back of the garment, through the hole in the large sequin
- Pass a small sequin onto the needle, then a seed bead, as per individual sequin instructions
- Bring the thread down through the small sequin, large sequin, and fabric.
- If there are more holes in the large sequin, repeat this for the other holes.
- If this is the only hole, simply tie it all off with a few secure knots.
Alternatively, you can use a large Rocaille bead by itself - no small sequin needed:
Here's another old diagram, showing the sewing of spangles with a single attachment point :
Depending on the look you’re going for, you can consider stacking sequins - this works best with faceted sequins, or at least a faceted on top of a flat one.
You can do this with two different colours / sizes of solid colour sequins, or do one as a clear / iridescent sequin.
When using two solid colours, you’d put the larger sequin on the bottom, and the smaller on top. This will give the effect of mostly the top colour sequin, but with a hint / flash of the bottom colour.
When using an iridescent clear sequin, you can either use two sizes - as described above - Or use two of the same size.
A clear iridescent sequin over a solid sequin of the same size will slightly mute the colour of the bottom sequin, while adding an “Aurora Borealis” finish to it.
Sometimes I’ll do a larger iridescent sequin over a smaller solid one, to give the AB and muting effect, and ALSO having a border of the clear/AB.
A smaller clear iridescent sequin over a larger solid will mute / AB the bulk of the sequin, while allowing for a flash/border of the base sequin colour.
Beading on Spandex
Beadwork can be done in a multitude of colours and designs to enhance and accent.
Types of Beads
There are three main types of beads that are used for show, which are usually glass or plastic, and
sometimes have a silver metallic lining.
The bead types are:
Tiny round (sometimes spherical) glass beads. These can be used individually, or in rows. Clear (or matching) seed beads are also used to secure sequins to garments.
These are long and thin cylindrical beads. These can be used individually, in rows, or to make patterns.
Rocaille beads tend to be a bit bigger, a little chunkier than seed beads.
They’re good for adding variety to a pattern, for doing line work that’s more visible than seed beads, or for acting as a stopper for a sequin hole that’s larger than a seed bead will secure.
Use a good strong thread in the same colour as the fabric you are working on. If you’re using beads that aren’t foil lined, you may want to use a thread the same colour as the beads - but it may show between the beads.
Because the holes in beads are so tiny, you will require long, fine “beading” needles in order to do this.
Along with that, be sure to have several needle threaders, as they’re necessary AND extremely easy to destroy!
Marking Your Design
Before starting, it’s a good idea to lightly mark your intended design on to the fabric with a Disappearing Ink Pen. Bead quickly!
Two Needle Method for Beading Lines
While I'm demonstrating with bugle beads, you can do this with seed or rocaille beads also!
- Thread two needles with appropriately coloured thread. One will be threaded with beads, the other will be used to stitch the beading strand into place.
I’ll usually use the same colour for both, but if your beads are unlined, I’d use thread to match the beads for threading beads, and thread to match the fabric for stitching it down.
- Bring one needle up through fabric at the desired location. (This will be the bead coloured thread, if you’re using 2 different colours).
- String on as many beads as you think you will need, or for the sake of handling, as many as you can comfortably work with.
- Lay the strand of beading out on the garment along your marked design.
- Bring the second needle and thread up through the fabric beside the beading strand, near your starting point.
- Stitch over the beading strand, and back down through the other side.
- Continue this until you come back to your initial start point. Straight lines of beading can be stitched down between every 2 or 3 beads, curves should be stitched between every bead.
Also, if you are just learning to bead, you should stitch between every bead, even on straightaways.
NB: When you are stitching between the beads, make sure that the beads are all snug together, with no gapping.
When you come to the end of your design, securely tie off both ends of thread, on the wrong side of the garment.
Here's another crappy 20-year-old diagram for nostalgia sake:
Single Needle Line Beading
The double-needle row is the best way to ensure you’re able to space your beads well along the whole pattern, but for smaller areas, you might want to do Single Needle Line Beading.
While I'm demonstrating with Rocaille beads, you can do this with seed or bugle beads as well.
For this method:
- Set up your beading needle with the appropriate thread, knot the ends together.
- Bring the thread up from the wrong side of the fabric, in the spot you’d like to start your line.
- Thread as many beads as you’ll need for this section onto the thread.
- Bring the needle back down through the fabric, in the direction you’ll want that line to go.
NOTE: When you’re bringing the needle back down through, it won’t be *right* where the beads end, when stacked together.
You need to go a little further out, as stitching between each bead will space the beads out a little - requiring a bit of extra length!
- Bring your needle back up through the fabric, near the point you just went down through.
- Starting with the bead closest to you, stitch over the beading strand - between the first 2 beads - and back down through the other side.
- Continue this until you come back to your initial start point. Straight lines of beading can be stitched down between every 2 or 3 beads, curves should be stitched between every bead.
- When you come to the beginning of your design, securely tie off the thread, on the wrong side of the garment.
Single Needle Pattern Beading
If you're not doing lines of beads, and are beading out more of a pattern, you'll only need a single needle and thread.
This method is simple:
- Tie off the end of the thread with a good knot, bring your needle up through the underside of the fabric where you want to start beading.
- Thread a bead, bring the thread back down through the fabric.
For seed or Rocaille beads, this will be close to where you brought the thread up.
For bugle beads, it'll be the length of the bead away from where you started, in whatever direction you want that bead to lay.
- Bring the needle back up through the fabric to the right side, close to where you just brought it under. Repeat with another bead, following whatever pattern or design you're aiming to.
- Tie off sections of beading as you go.
Beads can be applied individually for a “spotty” effect, much like sequins can.
I usually don’t bother - I don’t think there’s a good payoff:effort ratio, but for the sake of completeness:
To do this, bring the thread up through the fabric, through a bead, and back down through the fabric. Threading for seed beads should be brought back down as close to the point of origin as possible.
Bugle beads should be threaded back down through the fabric at a point that is the length of the bead away from the point of origin.
Tie off after each bead, trimming the thread ends on the wrong side of the fabric.
A Final Note on Beading
No matter what method you use to sequin your suit (or embellish in any other way, for that matter), you will likely lose some of it as time goes on.
These suits can end up taking a beating - it's always good to keep extras of any embellishment materials you use, for repairs after competitions.
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