It’s funny how a jar filled with sequins can evoke memories. When I completed several greeting card projects last year that included sequin-filled shaker windows, I was reminded of the time not long after we married, when my husband was stationed at Coronado’s naval base in southern California and I worked part-time at a local store called Cora Mart, located on Orange Avenue.
Cora Mart, which closed its doors in 1996 after more than 30 years of business, was an old-fashioned general store where you could find anything you needed except groceries. There were probably fewer than half a dozen aisles in the store, but their shelves and unpainted pegboards were well-stocked. Cora Mart was like a miniature department store without the frills. There were no display windows, no air conditioning, and no carpeted floors. The linoleum tile floors were cracked and faded, and the register counter at the front of the store was crowded with candy, gum and baseball cards. Needless to say, this was not the age of bar codes, so if a product wasn’t marked with a price, you’d ask a fellow clerk who might or might not know where to look it up—or you’d simply make up a reasonable price on the spot.
At the back of the store you’d find fertilizer, weed killer and garden tools, hardware, hammers and other implements. Another aisle sported storybooks, games, puzzles, toys, baby clothes and diapers. There was a household section stocked with towels and wash cloths, pots and pans, dishes, kitchen gadgets, stain removers and a smorgasbord of household cleaners. Another area was geared toward home decor—lamps, clocks, picture frames and doilies. And then there was the drugstore section with its first aid supplies, aspirin, wart remover and Pepto Bismol lookalikes. My favorite aisle, of course, included fabrics, buttons, rick rack and lace trims, sewing notions and craft supplies.
Among those craft supplies was the most beautiful collection of sequins I have ever seen. Sure, you’d find round or faceted sequins and star-shaped ones, but I recall shiny slivers of plastic shaped like tiny crescent moons, leaves, wreaths, pine trees, flowers, butterflies, birds and so much more. When I crafted my shaker card windows and filled them with sequins, I wished for more than circles or stars.
This afternoon I decided that it might be fun to make my own sequins. Equipped with a Die-namics Sequins die, some leftover Oil of Olay packaging in gold and silver plastic, as well as some Elizabeth Craft Designs Shimmer Sheets in such yummy shades as Australian Opal Gemstone, Pink Iris, Blue Iris and Imperial Garnet Gemstone, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
My first roll of the die through my Big Shot crackled and crinkled like a champ, but the results were less than spectacular. I think more than half of the sequins cracked and flew off into multiple directions, but what was left could still be used for shaker windows or card embellishments, as long as you weren’t planning on sewing them into place. The die couldn’t seem to punch holes through the sequins, at least not consistently. I suppose I could have punched holes one sequin at a time with a paper piercer or sewing needle, but the word that comes to mind is labor-intensive.
Then I tried the Shimmer Sheets, and these were less of a failure, probably because they were thinner than the plastic packaging and were actually designed to be cut with craft dies. I’m not sure the sequin die I used was designed to cut Mylar, however. In fact, the die packaging reads, “Die-namics will cut through: card stock, thin chipboard, ¼” cork, felt, acetate, sticky-back canvas, fabric, denim, sandpaper, 2 mm craft foam, wood veneer paper, photo magnet sheets, and MORE.” Acetate seems like Mylar, but you’ll notice that Mylar was not on the list. Many of my sequins were missing center holes, and I struggled to remove the Mylar film from the die shapes. Hmmm, I thought, I think I know why people purchase sequins instead of making their own.
On the other hand, if you watch a video titled DIY Paper Sequins on thefrugalcrafter channel, you’ll see that Lindsay Weirich gets good results with a hole punch, paper piercer, wooden dowel and shiny card stock. Who knew?
My handmade sequin-making experiment, however, made me wonder how industrial sequins are made. Certainly, I can’t beat the speed at which the sequins are punched in the short video shown below:
According to Smithsonian’s A History of Sequins from King Tut to the King of Pop, written by Emily Spivack, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 revealed gold discs sewn on his garments, suggesting wealth. The intent, presumably, was to prepare him for a financially-secure afterlife. These gold discs were likely an early version of sequins, a word whose origins go back to the Arabic word “sikka,” which means coin or minting die. Over the ages, writes Spivack, coins or precious metal discs continued to be sewn onto garments. Even Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by them, and in his day, women wore dresses called gamurra that had metal discs sewn onto them. One of da Vinci’s many sketches was a diagram for a sequin-producing machine, although the machine itself was never built. In the 1400s, gold coins sewn onto garments in Venice were called “zecchino.”
Yesterday’s metal discs are today’s plastic sequins, spangles, paillettes or diamantes—each looking somewhat different. Sequins typically have a center hole, while spangles have a hole at the top. Paillettes are large and flat, and diamantes are artificial, glittery or ornamental gems. What they share in common is that they can be sewn onto garments, shoes, bags and other accessories.
A Brief History of Sequins points out that the coins originally sewn on garments were heavy and eventually migrated to shiny, lighter-weight gelatin discs in the 1930s that had a tendency to dissolve when exposed to heat. The gelatin itself came from animal carcasses, according to 5 Sparkling Facts About Sequins, and was rolled into sheets from which the sequin shapes were cut out. Sometimes the pattern of the dissolved sequins on the garments of a dancing couple told a story, which explains the then-popular phrase, “missing sequins could tell tales.” A Brief History of Sequins explains that the non-gelatin version of sequins came about, also in the 1930s, when Herbert Lieberman, in partnership with Eastman Kodak, created sequins from acetate stock. In the 1950s, when Dupont invented Mylar, the fragile acetate sequins were coated with Mylar, which made them more durable. Today sequins are usually made from plastic.
I began this post, reminiscing about the variety of sequins I was able to purchase in the late 70s and early 80s. Today you’ll usually find round, star or heart-shaped sequins at your local Joann’s, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby or Walmart stores. Looking for something outside the norm? You will probably need to shop online, although fortunately you don’t have to look overseas. The alphabetical list below is not an endorsement of any particular site; it simply represents a starting point for more unique sequins. When searching for such sequins, it’s helpful to look under “shapes.”
- Cartwright’s Sequins, http://www.ccartwright.com/sunshop/
- Kat Scrappiness, https://www.katscrappiness.com/collections/sequins
- Pretty Pink Posh, http://www.shopprettypinkposh.com/default.asp (although this shop has mostly round sequins, it has interesting colors and color mixes)
- Sequins USA, http://www.sequinsusa.com/
If there is a shop where you have discovered interesting sequins, please share your information in the comments below.
© 2018 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.
1 thought on “An Experiment with Handmade Sequins”
Wow – so much information about sequins! I love Lindsay’s channel. Her videos are what first got me interested in watercolor! I suppose they were more plastic gems than sequins, but I had a mermaid costume in elementary school with a pouch of ‘mermaid treasure’ that brings back fond memories for me, too.