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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

When Worlds Collide

This is a beadweaver's blog, but my day job requires the making of jewelry too. It's an entirely different process and product. Beadweaving for me is about detail and delicacy. About things that are deeply complex and require tremendous time, patience and intense observation to design, create, and even to fully appreciate as an observer.

But in my day job, I am a costume designer, creating competition clothing for ballroom dancers. Their jewelry must have an exceptionally "blingy" first impression, as the primary purpose of ballroom dance wear is to get the wearer seen, and to emphasize and and extend the dancer's movement. I have just finished a gown for a client that relies entirely on its jewelry for visual impact, which is unusual, and most often, the gown istself has a minimum of 30 - 50 gross of rhinestones on its surface. I thought it would be fun to share it with you, and compare the two worlds. This is my lovely client Randee, in her new Latin gown, with necklace, bracelet, earrings and a small brooch at the hip.
Here's a closeup of the necklace, taken on my dressform. I find that the crystals I use for ballroom purposes must be mirror backed in the interest of maximum dazzle for dollar. I've done a couple necklaces for my dancewear clients with huge Swarovski rounds and bicones, but even with AB finishes, they simply do not compare to the mirror backed pieces from even a short distance. You'd think rivolis would be a perfect solution, and I do use rivolis, but the flat backed, sew-on version. And yet I rarely actually sew them on. The sew holes provide great additional grab for my adhesive, which seeps into the hole and makes the application very secure.

Another reason not to sew is time and cost. When a dancer spends a few thousand dollars on a gown, the jewelry cannot also cost a few thousand dollars, so I am always working to keep time to a minimum and result at a maximum. The money needs to go into the materials, and labor needs to be efficient.

Part of the labor cost is in the design and fitting of the ultrasuede base to which the jewels are glued. It must fit perfectly, allow the dancer to move without moving much itself, maintain it's shape through intense exercise, and be immune to perspirtaion. It must be supple, and protect the dancer from the sharp edges of the crystals, but must not stretch out or change shape in use. Sometimes, the necklaces, armbands, and earrings are glued to the body with eyelash adhesive or toupee tape, so the back of the jewelry must provide for that option as well. I start the process in craft paper, cutting in ultrasuede after I am sure I have a perfect fit, and then I check it for movement, before permanently applying the crystals.

I love what I do, and especially the realtionships with my wonderful clients. A huge thank you to Randee, dancing here in another of the Latin gowns I have created for her, for letting me use her photos in my blog.


  1. Very interesting reading, Marsha!
    Your designs are stunning - both jewelry and the gown.

  2. Beautiful!! You are so incredibly multi talented!! I love your blog posts!!

  3. Marsha, your blog is a great read and your creativity and talent absolutely blow me away.

  4. This is a fantastic post showing great creativity bridging two design fields!

  5. Fascinating insight Marsha! BTW, I left a little something for you on my blog ;0)

    Kerrie :0)