Constructing A Ghillie Suit for Wildlife Photography
Applying the Threads to Suit #2- The Winter Grass Suit

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(continued from Page Three - Constructing A Ghillie Suit for Wildlife Photography - Applying the Threads to Suit #1- The Green Suit)

Front & back of second shirt, with
vent panels and zippers, ready
to tack on the 1-inch netting

     After the experience constructing the first suit, things went smoother preparing the second suit. I already knew what I needed to do and how to go about it. It took me only half the time to install the vent panels, pockets, zippers and velcro on the shirt and pants. The only thing that didn't go any faster was cutting and sewing on the 1-inch netting, though it went a little "easier" this time. That is still a tedious job, no matter how many times you do it. However, on this suit I came up with a tip worth its weight in gold, which made fitting and tacking the netting faster and easier. Instead of trying to pin the netting into place to keep it positioned while tacking it, I found that little pieces of painter's masking tape would hold the netting in place perfectly well. The tackiness is perfect for good hold, but pulls off easily enough to reposition and adjust the netting over and over, making it reusable for quite awhile. You could try regular masking tape, but I believe it is either TOO sticky or not sticky enough (depending on the quality of the product) and tears too easily. Get the blue kind for paint masking. This one idea alone saved me a world of time and hassle. (Donations for this time-saving tip are gladly accepted).

Painter's masking tape holds
net in position while tacking
     I also gave some thought to how I would match my gloves to the suit, since all my camo gloves were much greener in tone than the "dead grass" suit I was making. I had never seen camo gloves in a "tannish" tone. I also did not wish to dedicate both a thinner pair (warm weather) and heavier pair (cold weather) for each and every color of Ghillie I might create by putting netting and Ghillie thread directly on the gloves.

     I came up with the idea of sewing a patch to the shirt cuff that extends out over the back of the hand. I hemmed two 4x4-inch pieces of material with the netting sewn into them, and sewed one to each cuff. I added a piece of 1/4-inch wide black elastic to the end to serve as a finger loop to hold it in place on my hand. The elastic is more comfortable than any sort of cord for this purpose, and stretches to any fit. This way it will work over whatever gloves I happen to use. It even does a decent job of hiding bare hands in the event you don't want to wear gloves. I cut some of the 20-inch Ghillie thread in half and tied these shorter pieces to the patch netting on every side of every netting square. These shorter threads cover well enough and don't tend to get in the way. I really did not want anything to hinder my grip or tangle on my fingers while handling camera equipment. By the way, if you are using netting with larger than 1-inch squares, you'll need to find some way of getting a tighter grouping of threads, or else you won't have enough thread coverage for such a small area. This needs to be fairly dense with threads.

Netting completed on
shirt number two
Close-ups of the pad to cover the hands and gloves

     I constructed the second boonie hat/hood virtually the same as the first one, except that I took a slightly different approach with the face mask area. This time I wrapped the mosquito netting all the way around and cut out an opening to see through. It's important to remember that good visibility from the hood is far more of a priority for photography than when used for other activities, such as paintball or hunting. For wildlife photography, it's much more important to see better than it is to hide your face well. Don't misunderstand though. Keeping your eyes and face hidden as much as possible is still important, but if you can't see to frame and focus, that's a real problem. In any event, your face is behind the camera much of the time anyway, which serves to hide it to a great extent without an interfering veil of netting, or a cascade of camo thread dangling in front of your eyes.

The "kit" package (with 5x9 net,
7 thread bundles & instruction
sheet) and two additional thread
bundles. (Shirt base not included)
Comparison of burlap       
and synthetic threads      
     With the shirt, pants and hood prepared and ready, it was time to tie the synthetic threads to the second suit. The synthetic thread I ordered for this came as part of a "kit". Since I needed another 5'x9' net anyway, the kit provided one, along with a selection of thread colors, and at a better price than buying the items separately.   (Just to be clear on this, the "kit" does not include a "base". You still must prepare a "base" of shirt/pants or jumpsuit on which to build the Ghillie.)

     The synthetic thread bundles in the kit are 1/2 pound each, and are pre-cut about 20 inches long. In the photo comparison between burlap and synthetic threads, you can see how the burlap threads are not of a uniform thickness, and hold a sort of zig-zag shape from having been woven into fabric. I had considered mixing the burlap and synthetic threads, but the detail photo on the far right shows how these wavy, zig-zag burlap threads stand out like a sore thumb next to the smoother synthetic threads.

Every square horizontally,
every second square vertically.
Also shown is a 3-thread
bunch before tying.
The color mix of tan,
gray and light olive
     Just as I did for the first green suit, I began applying the threads to the hood first since it was the smallest item. I wanted to get a good feel for how the colors should be mixed before I jumped into the larger pieces. Using just 3 threads per bunch (which always looks a bit skimpy at first) I tied them onto every second row of netting squares going vertically, and on every square going horizontally. The photos at left showing this pattern on the pants leg should make this clearer. Also, I alternated between horizontal and vertical netting cords on every other row across when tying to the net, also shown in the photo. There is no rule how to go about this, and you can tie yours as you see fit. In hindsight, I actually could detect no visible difference with or without alternating vertical and horizontal cords on the 1-inch squares. The size of your net squares could affect this greatly though, so you'll need to adapt to whatever netting you're using. I know it looks very sparce in the photo, but it's surprising how well this covers once the threads are dangling down and jumbled together. This density works well for vertical surfaces (shirt front and back, and pant legs). However, in some areas it needs to be denser than this. For the upper edge of the sleeves, the top of the shoulder, and top of the boonie hat/hood you should add short threads as I noted on the first suit. In these places the thread falls in several directions, not just straight down, so it gets spread out rather thin on the "top" surfaces. Along all edges of the netting I tied to every square. This helps hide the netting on the edges.

     One more note about how many threads to use in each "bunch" - As I said, I used 3 per bunch. I found that this allows the thread colors to mingle very well. The more threads you put in each bunch, the more obviously each bunch of a different color tends to stand out as a streak of color instead of blending in. This is not a bad thing if you want the colors to look a bit "patchy". But if you want a smoother blend, use fewer threads per bunch. It's simply a matter of choice to get the effect you're going for.

Above: Tying the base tan
color to the hood, and -
Right: The finished hood
     My "base" thread was the tan (natural) color, which I applied to the whole hood. Then I went back and added some of the "gray" (actually a pastel grayed-green) to some of the empty squares in the 2-row spaces between base color rows, as in the left lower photo of thread tying on the pants leg. The base color alone looked a bit flat at first, but once just a few of these "gray" thread bunches and a couple of light olive bunches were applied, the whole appearance of the hood changed. Suddenly it looked just like I had hoped - the dried coastal grasses I so often sit among when photographing on the Outer Banks in Fall and Winter. An approximate ratio was one gray or light olive to three tan bunches. Between gray and light olive the ratio is about three gray to one light olive bunch. Another way to express it is that for each 100 thread bunches, there would be 75 tan, 18 gray and 7 light olive. This color mixture suits my purposes, and is a blend between the "mossy" and "desert" color schemes the commercial Ghillie suit makers use. One maker offers a similar coloration to mine that they call "Field Grass". I call mine "winter grass". You will need to devise your own combinations of colors to suit the areas where you shoot.

Virtual test of    
"winter grass" color   
     As a "virtual test" of my "winter grass" colors, I pulled a photo from my files showing the winter grass on Shackleford Banks, a coastal barrier island. It's a good example of the environment where I often photograph birds. I put an overlay of the finished suit onto the cropped grasses photo and found that it was indeed nearly a perfect match. The real test will have to wait until Fall when I go on my coastal photography expeditions.

     How much thread you will use or need is a variable as well. The manufacturer says it requires 5 bundles for a full suit such as I'm making. For the hood, the XXL shirt and pair of very full cut 32x40 pants I used, it required 3 whole bundles of tan, plus a bit each from a bundle of "gray" and a bundle of "light olive", with a good bit of those two colors left over. The first two tan bundles covered the hood, pants and 1/3 of the shirt. The third bundle finished up the shirt. Your tying density, suit size and number of colors used will dictate how many bundles you will need. Even if you only use a little bit of a color, you still have to buy a full bundle to get that color. So in essence, the total quantity of thread I used came to about 3-1/4 full bundles, a bit less than the manufacturer stated. However, because I used a little of two colors other than the tan, the number of full bundles of color I needed for this suit actually came to five. None of it was wasted though, as I used some to accent the first green suit, and also had to make the lens covers and tripod skirts with it.

The "winter grass" color mask -    Left: basic mask form  -  Center: with elastic and
vent added  -   Right: completed mask with threads sewn over vent.
     As a last minute thought, I decided to make a simple little mask to be used under the hood. I wanted to better hide my face behind the hood opening using colors matching the hood colors. It's a cutout of fabric with some threads sewn to it. A 1/4-inch band of elastic gives it just enough tension to snug it to my face. A small rectangle scrap of scrim netting and mosquito netting under the threads below my nose lets my breath filter out. Otherwise it might drift up around my eyes and fog the viewfinder in cold weather. I had that problem on the very first head mask I made awhile back, and used this "vent" solution to eliminate the fogging problem. I've incorporated it into any mask I've made since then. I can use this mask alone, or wear it over a balaclava in cold weather to maintain the desired coloration showing through the hood opening.

Green hood with no face
mask under the hood.

Green hood using face mask.
     At right is an example of how well the face mask works under the hood. The green Ghillie suit without face mask makes it pretty obvious there is a face behind the green. With the face mask on, there is quite a difference in what is visible beneath the hood.

The face mask under the hood.   

     Two sets of photos of the finished "Winter Grass" color suit are below. One set was taken in direct sunlight and the other was taken in shade. I had no "dead grass" scenery to blend into for the photos, so I'll have to wait for Fall to give it a real test. I can see I need to do some adjustments to the opening in the hood. It's far too large at present, but it will be a simple fix to make it smaller. Without the face mask I made at the last minute, my face would have been far too visible with such a large opening. The close-up at left shows how well the mask covered my face under these circumstances.

"Winter Grass" Ghillie front and back photos taken in direct sun, and in shade.

The Tripod Skirts and Lens Covers:

     Of course, there is the need for matching camouflage for the lens, camera and tripod if you really expect to be "camouflaged". For this I bought some "tannish" fabric as a base for the "winter grass" color skirt and lens cover. I also found some fabric in dark greens to use for the green skirt and lens cover base. (I also used both fabrics for the face masks.)

The skirt base with netting
shown laid out flat while
applying threads.

     I set my tripod for the most frequently used position - spread wide and low for when I'm sitting behind it with my leafy camo (or Ghillie suit) on. I measured the leg spread and leg length and used this to cut two triangles of cloth for the base. I hemmed the edges and sewed the two triangles together. Next I cut the 1-inch netting to fit and sewed that to the base. I also sewed some 15 to 18-inch lengths of nylon cord to the material to tie the skirt to the tripod legs. Then it was just a matter of attaching the synthetic threads. The progress of the tripod skirt construction is shown by the photos below right.

Left: skirt base on tripod     Center: completed skirt, and
Right: skirt with lens cover.

     For the lens cover I simply cut a rectangle of the tan material for a base. I made cloth straps to velcro the cover to the lens body. Then I put 3/4-inch wide elastic in the front to hold the cover on the lens hood, and a 1/4-inch wide piece of elastic to hold the back of the cover to the camera body viewfinder head. I used the very same methods for this as when making the lens cover in my "leafy camo" lens cover article. Refer to that article for the details of the straps and elastic. Next I cut and sewed a piece of 1-inch netting to the rectangle of base material and added the synthetic threads to finish it off. I cut the 20-inch threads into thirds and tied these short threads on the front-most three inches of the hood cover. This avoids having long threads dangling or being blown in front of the lens. The far right photo above shows the lens cover in conjunction with the tripod skirt.

Straps on the green lens
cover. Also visible is the
viewfinder elastic strap.

Straps on the "winter grass"
lens cover with viewfinder
elastic strap.

     At left are a couple of photos showing the straps on both lens covers. As you can see, none of them match. These are always covered so it really doesn't matter about appearance. I used whatever scraps of material I had on hand to make these. You can also see the 1/4-inch black elastic that holds the rear of the covers onto the camera viewfinder head so the wind doesn't blow it about.

Above: Green lens cover with tripod skirt.
Left: The green lens cover before & after threads were added.
     The green lens cover is depicted at right both before and after the threads were added. The far right photo of the finished green tripod skirt along with the lens cover gives you more of the effect. The real test of it all is when the suit is combined with the tripod skirt and lens cover to see the complete effect (below left). To prove the whole point of having the combined items, the final set of images shows me without the Ghillie pants - just my jeans - and not wearing gloves, and no face mask under the hood. My hands and face are quite visible. However, when I huddle down behind the tripod skirt and lens cover on my handy Walkstool, you can't see my face or hands, or legs and feet either, and that big white lens is not sticking out like a sore thumb. The critter's view is of one a continuous non-human and non-descript shape that looks quite natural. Hopefully, these suits and covers will get me up close and personal with a lot of critters, and especially birds, my favorite subject.

Even without the Ghillie
pants, or gloves, or face mask under the hood,
once I sit down behind the
tripod I'm well camouflaged from any angle.
In Conclusion.....

     Now that both suits, hoods, tripod skirts and camera covers are finished I can give you fair warning from experience......this is a LOT OF WORK. It is hours and hours and hours of work. I had no idea it would be such a long and tedious affair. I got smarter and more efficient at fitting and sewing the netting, and tying on the threads as I went through this, which are the two jobs that are the most time consuming. It didn't help that the sewing machine began acting up when I got to the tripod skirts and lens covers, and I only resolved that problem just as I was finishing up all the sewing. Of course, I always have to take on more than I really should..... making two suits, and tripod skirts, and lens covers, instead of just one. While I am extremely pleased with how well everything turned out, I can tell you that I won't be making any more Ghillie suits for a LONG time. It requires tremendous patience and will power to keep plugging along. Don't tackle making your own Ghillie suit unless you have the will power and patience to stick with it. Don't try making TWO of them unless you have a double helping of will and patience. It would tax most anyone's resolve.

Sewn Vs. Tied:

     With two of these things under my belt, and knowing how well they CAN be made, I'll offer one more piece of advice. Based on the quality of the half dozen or so commercial sewn-threads suits I've seen in the retail setting, you don't want to buy a pre-made Ghillie with the threads SEWN on instead of tied. The quality was a complete joke compared to what I was able to make on my very first try. You couldn't GIVE me one of those crappy sewn Ghillie suits. That's not to say well-made suits with the threads sewn on are not available, because they are. You can buy a well-made sewn threads Ghillie for the same price or less than the crap I've seen in stores. You just have to be wise and careful in your selection, and do some serious comparisons before buying. One issue to consider with sewn suits is the lack of ability to add or change thread colors to fine tune it to your needs. With net tied suits this is easily done. A Ghillie with tied threads will cost more, but you get better quality and the option to modify it to your specific needs.

Next - Then I made a two-sided Ghillie blanket that matches both suits.