Monday, April 4, 2011

A Word on Crystal

Confession: I was a Raccoon in a former life. There is simply no other explanation for the large trunk in my room, full to bursting with shiny rocks, bits of glass, and yes, Crystal. I have high taste in glitter, going only for ultrafine, holographic print or hexagonal cut. I can inspect different trims for hours. Anything shiny attracts my attention, and this includes figure skating costumes.

That having been said, I think there are good and bad ways to put sparkle on a skater's outfit. I think there's economical ways to go about it, and there's a definite art to it.

First off, I don't think lower level skaters (this includes Stitch) should be going whole hog on the crystal. I'm saving my crystal workings for Stitch for when he's at least in the Freeskate levels, and even then, I'll keep it low key. (And unfortunately those marguerite flowers I've been squirreling away probably won't work on a boy's outfit.)

Higher level skaters? I think they've earned enough bruising and scarring and hours in the rink to wear whatever they damn well please. I got asked to make a vest, so I sketched out a nice scrollwork pattern with leaves and birds, nice fall colors. He approved it, and so I'll get going once the beads arrive. (Only needed to order three colors...) There's only two colors of crystal, they aren't big ones, and there aren't too many in comparison to the rest of the materials.

Swarovski isn't really crystal at all. It's simply leaded glass. The misnomer "crystal" is kept purely for commercial reasons. When you buy it, you're paying for the name, and the name is the cut. Swarovski was a Czech glasscutter who figured out that by making incredibly precise facets, he could really enhance refractive index of the leaded glass he was working with. Refractive Index is Sparkle factor, and Leaded Glass has a lot of it. (As much as Sapphire.) More than that, it's got a really high dispersion index, and that's what gives you the prism effect. You can buy cheap Chinese crystal and still be getting leaded glass, but it's the amount of lead content that determines the Sparkle factor, this can vary in Cheap Chinese crystal, and the cuts won't be as clean. Best way to tell? Take a loupe to it.

Crystal works in ice skating costumes because of the Crap Lighting situation. Next time you're in the rink, look up. What you'll find is a bunch of floodlights, typically of a mercury vapor or some other arc source that's generating an ugly, cold, harsh and noisy light. There's no direction to it, no warmth, no soul. Glitter, sequins, and other sparkly things like that don't work well with an undirected source. Sure, toss a spotlight on them and *blammo!* they look amazing. Not so much with cold floodlights.

But Crystal, with all her facets and high RI, can take that crap light from wherever it comes from, break it down into it component colors and shoot it back out to the audience in a way sequins could never do. In short, they are the fastest, dirtiest way to get high shine with crap lights. Just glue and go. (But it's not perfect. Put that same crystal in sunlight and the effect is vastly improved over crap stadium lights.)

It's also the most expensive. Even at a few cents per 4mm piece, this adds up fast when you realize how many 4mm bits it's going to take to scroll out a single leaf. The bigger the mm, the more you will pay. On other blogs, I read in horror of people boasting about buying crystal by the gross. 144 pieces really isn't a lot.

This is 144 4mm Bicones, Crystal AB Coat. Not even a handful.

Let's take a recent example of Too Much Crystal. Think back to Nationals, and I was tweeting about the dude, "SparkuhlSnakes?" Yeah, this guy (can't find an image) had two crystal snakes wrapped around his collar and down his chest. It was okay, but it could have been better. Done just in crystal, it was just pointless pointillism. Snakes aren't points, they are all scales and movement.

Let's look at someone else. Take Yu-Na's James Bond dress. Pretty sparkly stuff, and it moved with her. It wasn't sparkle for sparkle's sake, there was some thought put into it. Did you notice that the seeming scatter flowed down into tumbling squares? The geometrics flowed through the outfit, from the cut up the thigh to the triangles on her back. Best, it didn't overpower her or her program.

You can get sparkle without crystal, and you can do it in a way that may create much more visual interest, color, movement and pattern than just dots of glass. But it takes work. I've done this with jewelry, now I'm curious to see if I can pull it off on a really big applique. AB Coats, faceted seed beads, two color and silver-lined, and yes, some crystal in strategic places. I'll keep you readers informed of my progress, and my rink friends are bound to catch me in the act. I anticipate at least eight weeks. But Beading sure beats knitting as a Momtivity in the stands!



    evan lysacek

  2. It won't let me follow the link, but Evan is on my blacklist because he had feathers on his Olympic outfit. I HATE feathers on skating outfits.