Homemade Camouflage Body Drape
from military surplus or commercial camo netting

      My wife calls me "Swamp Thing" whenever she sees me in this camo net body drape, and I suppose I can see the resemblance. But that's a good thing, I guess, since the whole idea is to blend into the natural surroundings while trying to get close to birds (and other creatures) in the wild.
   -  I like to use the phrase "blur your shape into your surroundings", which is quite appropriate for "photographers", as it really describes the effect you should be going for.   -   

      This camo drape is still getting some refinements, mostly adding tufts of rafia and stringy gobs of burlap thread to blend its overall green tone into something more suitable for the coast, where I do most of my photography. Those rafia tufts in the photos are much too "blonde", and will be toned down with a light (very light) misting of flat black spray paint, a technique I used very effectively on the rafia for the duckboat camo cover I made.

Swamp Thing?
     This was my first attempt at making any sort of body camo, utilizing the materials at hand. I've since greatly improved my techniques, but I still utilize this body drape on occasion.

      So, how do you go about making one of these contraptions? Basically it's a piece of military surplus camo netting with the aforementioned refinements (tufts of rafia, pieces of tangled burlap, dried fronds from water plants and other doodads) attached to it to make it blend in with the foliage around water - or whatever landscape where you do your photography. In this case I cut off a piece of camo net about 6-feet x 9-feet from a larger net I purchased from a military surplus outlet. The diagram at left shows which dimension is for the front, back and sides.

The "harness" inside
      One edge of this piece of net had the thick "cord" you find along the outer edge of the large net. I covered this corded edge with a hem wrap of camo material (easily seen in this photo) to neaten it up, make it softer and give the edge some "body". This is the edge I use for the front (around the "hood" and down the chest).
The sleeve insert

     From this point on I went to a lot of extra trouble that you may not want to or need to deal with, depending on how you plan to use the camo drape. Since I wanted the option to use this in warmer weather if I needed to, I opted to make a complicated "body harness" (for lack of a better term) shown in the left photo, and added sleeves, shown in the right photo. The other option would be to permanently attach the camo netting to an old (or new) camouflage shirt or jacket. Then you simply slip on the shirt/jacket and voila, you're wearing the camo drape.

     I knew though, that any camo shirt or jacket, plus the camo netting, might be too warm (hot) for some weather. I wanted the option to wear a thin short-sleeved green shirt underneath the camo drape (refer to this diagram). But the camo netting itself was not very comfortable on bare arms, thus the sleeve inserts, which are nothing more than the sleeves cut from an old faded cotton camouflage shirt. The "body harness" is the "yoke" (or shoulders and collar) cut from that same old faded shirt. To this "yoke" I added a framework of straps made from camo material, which provides the framework of a shirt without completely covering your body with material. It allows for much greater air flow. The collar is worn turned up to keep the netting off the back of the neck, also for more comfort. (Note that if I'm wearing a long-sleeved camo shirt under the drape, I bypass the inserted sleeves altogether and just put my wrists through the wrist openings. )

     You might wonder why go to all this trouble to put a shirt or harness under the net. Why not just drape it over your head and go?

Well, I actually tried that, but I quickly realized that the drape would not stay in place that way of I moved around. Though it worked fairly well as a "blanket" sort of drape when seated, if I moved it would slide off my arms, over my hands or down my back. It would hang all the weight on my head and neck, and not even touch my shoulders. In short, it didn't work. If it weren't for the fact of trying to allow for warmer weather, I wouldn't have messed with the "harness" at all, and just attached the netting to the old shirt. This IS by far the easiest way to put on the camo drape, since your fingers don't get caught in the netting while trying to find the arm/wrist holes. With the open harness design, I still have to fumble for a minute to find the wrist holes and position the shoulder-yoke & collar. But once that yoke and collar are pulled up into position, the drape falls right into place and stays comfortably.

      Now for a few other points of detail. The wrist openings (see diagram and photo-1 and photo-2) allow the excess length of the netting to drape below your hand instead of being bunched up on top of your arm and forever trying to fall down over your hands. I simply cut out one of the "cross joints" in the netting where I wanted my arm to come out, and lined the edges around the opening with a hem of camo material, much as I did the front "corded" edge of the drape. This makes it soft and comfortable, and is far easier to find the opening to get your wrist through it. The hem around this wrist opening is attached at the top to the harness strap that runs down from the shoulder yoke. This controls the length, gives you something to attach the sleeve section to, and also to attach the netting. You may find you need to "gather" some of the netting up near the shoulder to keep it fuller in the front over the chest, instead of a wad hanging in your elbow crook. You only need one layer over the arms, since they are normally in front of you anyway holding up the camera.

     You may also need to gather up some of the netting in the back, attaching it across the shoulders, behind the neck, and part-way down the back so it won't hang down too far in the back, depending upon how tall you are. I made little squares of material, about 2x2 inches, placed them over the cross joints of the net webbing where it intersected with a harness strap or the yoke, and sewed along the webbing. This secures the net to the harness, and spreads any stress from pulls for a sturdier attachment point. See the diagram below right and the photo below right which both illustrate this attachment method, which was used everywhere the netting attached to the harness.

      As mentioned earlier, the camo drape is shown here adorned with tufts of rafia and wads of burlap thread. Rafia is fine strips of oak, which looks something like dried weeds. It's available at craft stores or the craft section of large department stores. Just take a couple dozen strands from the package, double them over if they're too long, and make little pom-pom tufts, something like the left photo. Sew or tie together the bunched end into a little "handle", then sew or tie this onto the net webbing as shown in the photo. I have found that spraying a light misting of flat black spray paint onto the tufts before installing them dulls the bright blond color into a more natural dull tone. Just keep the spray can at least two feet away from the tufts you've made, and let just a misting of the paint fall onto the rafia. It's really easy to get too much, so try a couple of quick spurts first to see how it works before you overdo it. The rafia in these photos has not yet received this treatment but they will before my next photo outing.

      The burlap tufts can be made by cutting the edge of burlap cloth and carefully pulling out one thread at a time. This is a tedious process, but you get better at it as you go along. Laying out these "strings" in bunches, you can make dangling clumps with it like hair or Spanish Moss. Just use whatever materials you can think of to decorate the camo netting to blend into the foliage where you do your photography. You can also stuff bits of foliage from your surroundings into the netting for the final touch when you're out in the field.

     The left photo shows how the front of the drape is tied together to keep it closed. I used a simple method of sewing short pieces of lightweight camo nylon cord into the hemmed edge on each side of the front. Tying these together with bows like a shoe lace works very well, and is easy to tie and untie, even with gloves on. Notice that I'm wearing a camo face mask and camo gloves in these photos, and camo clothing under the net. It's important to cover everything so you blend in as much as possible.

      This camo drape will fold up (or ball up) into a small package that's easy to pack in a bag and carry. It gives you the freedom of movement that a fixed "blind" simply does not.

     There is always the option to pull out the checkbook or plastic and order some sort of camouflage suit...... or you could make one. I have made two Ghillie suits, as well as a leafy camo suit, each of which fills a niche in my arsenal of camouflage. They are each useful for different seasons and different environments. You might also read my articles on "Good Camouflage and Its Use in Bird Photography" and "Tips On Getting Closer To Your Subjects (Field Craft)".

     I hope this information will inspire you to make something "camo" of your own and use it effectively for your nature photography.