Constructing A Ghillie Suit for Wildlife Photography
Buildling A Base

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(continued from Page One - Ghillie Suit Camouflage - An Introduction to the Ghillie Suit for Wildlife Photography)

     I should note here that my sewing is not the best by any stretch of the imagination. That's not too important though, since we're not making a wedding gown. It doesn't have to be beautiful. The Ghillie suit only has to be sturdy and functional.

Inside view of the back vent showing center strip of fabric for support

Outside view of large back vent

     My first task was to replace all the tiny shirt buttons with a zipper and velco so I'd be able to get in and out of it while wearing gloves. (The buttons were so small on this shirt, I could hardly work them with just bare fingers.) I cut off all the little shirt buttons, both down the front and on the sleeve cuffs, and replaced the front buttons with a 24-inch zipper. Then I sewed velcro to the cuffs to replace the cuff buttons.

Air Ventilation Modifications to the Shirt:

Sleeve vent netting panel
pinned into place

This shows the sleeve turned inside out, viewing the vent panel sewn in place with half of the area cut out.

This shows the sleeve vent area
fully cut out and edges hemmed.
     Now for the vents.... I cut matching pieces of mosquito netting and scrim netting in a shape to fit each area where the vents would go. I made seven of these vents - one very large vent covering most of the back of the shirt, a vent on the front of each shoulder, and a sleeve vent under each upper arm. The other two vents are chest vents that are a combination of vents and large zippered pockets (you can never have too many pockets!). These vents will hopefully increase air flow and minimize heat build-up while keeping out the mosquitoes.

Completed shoulder vents

     I placed each cut piece of mosquito netting on top of the matching cut piece of scrim netting. Then I joined the two pieces by stitching right down the middle to keep them from shifting while I worked with them. Then I folded under about 1/4 inch of both pieces together around the edges and hemmed them together all the way around for a neat edge. Next I pinned the hemmed netting to the desired location on the shirt WITH THE MOSQUITO NET ON THE OUTSIDE. Then I sewed the netting to the shirt by sewing all the way around along the hemmed edges I'd just made. On the large back vent panel, and on the arm panels that spanned across an existing seam, I again sewed across the middle of the netting or along the seam, connecting it with the shirt material (This will leave a strip of shirt material along the middle for extra strength when you cut out the openings). Finally, I cut away the shirt material from behind the attached netting to open up the vent, leaving about 1/2-inch of material around the cut-out edge. I then folded over this 1/2-inch of edge and hemmed it on the inside to minimize any future fraying along the edges.

IMPORTANT TIP:   Do NOT cut out the vent openings before sewing on the netting. I made that mistake once and quickly realized the shirt simply wouldn't hold its shape while I tried to pin and sew on the netting. It's MUCH easier to FIRST pin and sew on the netting and THEN cut away the shirt material for the opening. Just be careful you don't accidently cut the netting while cutting away the shirt material.

Chest vent scrim netting panel
prepared with edge trim sewn on
and ready to install. Dotted
lines denote where the vent will go.

Completed chest vent

View of chest vent after the large vented zippered pocket is installed over it
     The vented pockets on the chest were made a little differently (If the shirt has breast pockets, you may need to remove them as I did before making the chest vents).

•  Step 1- make the chest vents in the shirt -   I cut out a piece of scrim netting only (no mosquito net piece for this one) to cover the desired chest vent area behind where the pocket would go. Using thin strips of scrap material, I folded and sewed them over the edge of the netting for a neat hemming to finish off the edge (otherwise the netting tends to fray). This also makes the netting edge stronger once sewn to the shirt. Next I pinned and sewed it in position on the upper chest. Then I cut out the vent opening behind the scrim netting, folded over the cut edges and hemmed it neatly.

•  Step 2 - make the vented pocket panels with zipper -   I made a panel from some of the material previously cut from the large back vents. To the top 1/3 of the panel I added another section of scrim netting under mosquito netting just as I used for the other vents (this would line up over the vent I just made in the shirt). With the netting sewn to the cloth panel, I cut out the vent hole from the pocket panel and hemmed the edges as before. Next I sewed a 9-inch zipper to the edge of the pocket panel that would be aligned next to the shirt zipper.

•  Step 3 - attach the pocket panels -   I positioned the pocket panel over the chest vent area and pinned it into place. Finally I sewed the pocket panel onto the shirt around the hemmed edge, but NOT across the zipper. That would have sewn it shut! Now, since both halves of the zipper are already together and aligned, I simply sewed the other zipper edge that attaches to the shirt and it lines up perfectly when zipped and unzipped. Now I have a large pocket with a cloth bottom half so that tiny items won't fall through, yet the netting in the top half allows ventilation via the chest vent behind it. I made another of these pockets and sewed it on the other side as well.

The leftmost image above shows the front zipper and the added
lower pockets. The other photos show the shirt's ventilation panels,
front and back. The shirt is now ready to attach the outer netting.
     I also made two slightly smaller pockets in the same manner (but with no vent) with 7-inch zippers that go below the large vented pockets. I had no more large scraps from the shirt cutouts to use for these pockets, so I used some camo material I had on hand. These smaller pockets need no vents, and are much easier to make and attach.

     Each of the large vented pockets are actually so big they will hold two 300mm f/4 prime lenses. The smaller pockets are almost as big as the vented pockets, so the shirt really has LOTS of storage capaciity that zips in the front where it's handy and easy to access.

     It's clear from these photos this is certainly not what you'd call fashion apparel, but that's perfectly okay. To begin with, this is a prototype. Besides, all of it will be completely covered by the Ghillie netting and thread. The only important thing is that the functionality of zippered pocket storage and cooling air vents beneath the outer layer will make this Ghillie suit cooler and more useable.

Pant leg zippers installed
Preparing the Pants:

     The pants needed a little customizing as well. Pulling on or taking off pants, even oversized pants, while wearing shoes or boots can be a problem, or even impossible. To facilitate this I installed an 18-inch zipper on each pant leg. You may even want to use up to a 24-inch zipper. I prefer mine on the inside seam, as it's easier to reach, but they can also go on the outside seam just as well. Don't forget that if the pants have cargo pockets, you'll want to remove them, since you won't be able to get to your cargo pockets anyway.

Attaching Netting to the Base:

     All the previous steps were custom features above and beyond the basic Ghillie. If you don't want or need those modifications, you can just skip them and start here.

     The nylon netting (1-inch square netting in my case) is cut into panels conforming to the shape of the front, back and arms of the shirt, and the front and back of the pant legs. Then it is sewn on at key points. This is what actually holds all the threads or cloth strips that give the Ghillie its distinctive "wooly" appearance.

This is the stitch pattern I used to
tack the netting knots (click to
enlarge). It looks complicated, but
it's just an over and under pattern
that changes direction and ends up with two ends you knot together. Once learned it's easily repeated
and will secure the knots very well.
     Fair warning here: This part of the process is tediuos work. With that said, it's not hard, just time consuming if done properly. The easiest area to access is probably the back of the shirt, so start with that. This will give you some practice before you tackle the harder to handle areas, like the shirt sleeves. Develop a technique for sewing the tack points across the netting knots and it will become habit before you're done, making the work go faster and easier. Most sources recommend using un-waxed dental floss as the thread to tack the netting on. If you are one of those people that is hard on your equipment and clothing, you might stick with the dental floss. I happened to already have some black nylon thread on hand, and reasoned it should be tough enough, and easy to work with, so I decided to give it a try instead. In any event, note that ordinary cotton thread may not be tough enough for this.

     Do not stretch the netting too tightly across the material when laying it out or cutting it to size, and especially when finally tacking it on. Notice in this detail photo of the pant leg how the netting is just a little "wavy" without being saggy. If you cut it too small and pull it too tight, it will make the clothing feel restricted when you try to move and bend, even if the clothing is oversized.

Above: Reinforcement for
tacking over vent panels
   Above: Flaps added to
front keeps netting
out of zippers.

Left: The shirt with
netting attachment completed.
     Alright, now to get started on the shirt back - With a piece of netting cut to size, I began tacking the netting along the top edge across the shoulders, then worked down. Keep the netting aligned as close to horizontal/vertical as you can (not diagonally or diamond shaped). It will retain its shape better this way without sagging as much from the weight of the burlap or synthetic threads.

     As a basic rule you should tack about every 3-6 inches, staggering the tack points. For the shirt back I put extra tack points across the shoulders just above the large vent cutout so the shoulders could carry most of the strain and allow the netting to hang from it. Particularly along the edges of the netting I stuck with tacking every third square (3 inches). Because of all the mosquito netting for the large back vent panel, the other tack points would be mostly to hold the rest in position. The mosquito and scrim netting didn't give me much to sew to, so for those tack points I put a small patch of scrap material (about 1 inch square or round) behind the netting (inside of the shirt) to reinforce the tacking stitches.

     While attaching the netting on the shirt front it became obvious that the netting would need to somehow span across the pocket zippers and the front zipper to avoid a gap in coverage, all without fouling the zippers. The netting alone would have just drooped and not covered the span. It would mostly just end up hung in the zippers. I solved this by attaching a wide double-thick fabric flap along the edge of the pocket zippers on one side. I made it wide enough to cover the gap to the pocket zippers on the other side. A similar flap, but not as wide, was then added to the other side to keep netting out of those pocket zippers. The two flaps overlap each other by about a 1-1/2 inches, which butts the netting together at the front. A couple of velcro strips hold the two flaps shut together neatly.

Full view of the
pant leg netting
Top - No need to cover the
pocket areas, front or back.

Left - Detail view of tacking
netting to the material with
nylon thread.
     For the pants, you do not need to cover the pocket areas, either front or back. The photos at right show how the netting on the pants only comes up just under the fly zipper, and approximately to the bottom of the pockets, both front and back. The shirttail and threads will hang down far enough to cover this area anyway. Again, keep the netting aligned as horizontal/vertical as you can, tacking it every 3-6 inches. Be careful you don't sew to the insides of the pockets. Again, along the edges I stuck with tacking every 3 inches.

     When all the netting is attached, it's time to make a hood, then get busy tying on the threads.

Next - Page Three -Constructing A Ghillie Suit for Wildlife Photography - Applying the Threads to Suit #1- The Green Suit