Making your own wet suit

When I was in Joann’s yesterday with my wife I saw they carried rolls of Neoprene Utility Fabric for $19.99 a yard in a couple of different colors. Got me thinking about maybe getting my wife to make me a custom made wetsuit, gloves, socks, etc. I know it’s not very thick but I live in North Florida and usually don’t need a real warm wetsuit.

saw that too

– Last Updated: Sep-12-11 11:00 AM EST –

I noticed that too last weekend at the Joann's here (they had purple, teal and a wild multicolored print. I've been wanting to make myself a tuilik (got the pattern from last year) so I checked it out. But I am somewhat leery of what seems like flimsy nylon on the stuff and decided against buying any. For another thing it has little stretch. I own several neoprene garments already, including a full 3 and 4 mm surfing wetsuit and 2 mm springsuit and the stuff at Joann's just does not seem to be anywhere near the same quality. I might consider using it for a cockpit cover and maybe for a portions of a touring sprayskirt, just to see how well it held up. I did buy a small piece of neoprene from Seattle Fabrics a while back(for modifying a wet suit jacket) and it is definitely a more substantial feeling material. But, of course, it runs $45 a yard, more than twice as much.

I'm an expert seamstress with 40 years experience making everything from tents and sleeping bags to swimsuits, but I would hesitate to try to sew a wetsuit or gloves myself, especially with material with such little stretch. Cutting and fitting such garments is complex.

Rather than making one I highly recommend buying used wetsuits on line. I got an excellent 3/4 mm Excel full surfing suit, in like-new condition, on Ebay for under $35, including shipping. If used gear makes you squeamish there is a small US maker in Idaho, American Wave International, who have been selling out their stock of very nice suits at good prices lately. I have one of their 2 mm springsuits and it is a really good-fitting and well made piece of gear for paddling or diving. They were selling them for around $42 last month -- you could hardly buy the fabric and fittings for that (wetsuit zippers are not cheap.)

It might be worth trying the Joann's neoprene for a set of pogies, a cockpit cover or a fitted hood before committing to something as ambitious as the other items. Like I said, it simply doesn't feel to me like a durable enough material for items that will be subject to a lot of direct wear and abrasion. Brooks (who makes neoprene paddling gear) also sells 50" x 80" sheets of all types of high quality fabric:

At $80 for a sheet of 2 mm it is around twice the Joann's price, but you have to consider what your labor is worth. Personally, I don't like expending my effort in building or sewing something out of material that doesn't endure. I think the Joann's stuff would work for a laptop sleeve or maybe a simple zip front thermal vest, but my sense is it would not be the fabric of choice for items requiring more substance.

Sale gone
The sale must be gone. I just looked at their website and wet-suits were around $100 in their clearance section

If I paddled in the cold very often
I would get the proper gear. Down here in North Florida the water doesn’t get below 60 (usually) and I probably won’t go paddling if the air temp is below 50 most of the time so this would probably work for me the few times that I would use it.

AWI sale
I checked it too (American Wave’s site), and it does appear that the sale pricing they had posted as recently as last week has vanished. I did notice they are looking for “offers” to buy out their remaining stock – it appears they no longer care to keep stock wetsuits but only do special orders. That’s a shame because their suits are nice, very well constructed and good fitting, without a lot of the geegaws and graphics that cover some of the other national brand suits. Might be worth calling them (it’s a small family company) to see if they have assorted stock in something you want that they would make a deal on.

One drawback is that their shipping and handling costs are higher than a lot of other vendors. I think it cost me around $20 for my springsuit (so it ended up being close to what I would have paid for some other brands with free shipping). But I didn’t mind once I saw how nice the suit was and used it.

Ewwwwww. Gross!
“I highly recommend buying used wetsuits on line.”

Not if you know what some people do in their wetsuits.

it’s all water soluble

– Last Updated: Sep-12-11 6:04 PM EST –

So what? You're paddling in a fish's toilet (and in most cases, human's too.) I turn used neoprene gear inside out and wash them in detergent. Kills any cooties. :-)

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Sewing neoprene properly is a real bother unless you perhaps have a proper heavy-duty sewing machine. This makes large projects impractical for most of us. You might consider a small project – such as a cockpit cover – and see how it goes.

Making wetsuit
Back in the late 50s, I made my own wetsuit and helped a few others to make theirs.

We weren’t sewing, just glueing.

The suits worked, but they are a major pain to make, and very difficult to fit properly.

Another place to check is to look up “Skin Diver Wet Suit Company”. They may still be in operation. Our diving crowd has been buying their suits for 40 years.

It’s a little known division of Henderson Wetsuits Co.

Same quality, but with less trim features and a different logo. Henderson uses (or at least used to) this line to even out their production.

You Won’t Save Much $$$
for the material and time costs of what will likely be a less well-fitting product than buying, especially with spring wetsuit you can find on sale ($150 and under) at this time year for the temps you are describing.

If you just like that DIY and the “process” is part of the benefit, then that’s a different story. (I find I would much rather go “do” than “make” with my "free time"these days.)

Me… I love by wetsuits – well fitting/nicely designed ones – for the different seasons.

Yes, you can sew neoprene with leather needles on a home sewing machine. I bought an Immersion Research sprayskirt with an extra-small tunnel for $20, and inserted a wedge cut from an old sprayskirt to enlarge the tunnel (like we used to do to make bell-bottom jeans!). So now I have a $150 sprayskirt for 20 bucks plus the cost of the leather needles!

The trick is to butt the pieces rather than overlapping them, and use the widest zigzag stitch to join them. You will need to seal the seam, of course; I used the stretchy tape from the old sprayskirt glued over the seam with Aquaseal.

Does anyone know where you can get the stretchy tape used to cover the seams? My supply of old sprayskirts is rather limited…

McNett Melcro Tape
near bottom of this link:


Not all neoprene is created equal.
You could probably get something workable out of discount neo. But the time you put into it and the quality of the finished product won’t be worth it.

One of the defining properties of high end wetsuits is high quality neo. You won’t get a high end level wetsuit using discount fabric shop neo. And you don’t have the refined patterns, so it won’t even fit as well as lower level retail wetsuits.

This all equals bad idea. A cheapy suit will probably work better, cost less, and fit better (fit for paddle sports is more than standing upright and taking measurements).

another cheap wetsuit source
Sierra Trading Post always has discontinued and overstock wetsuits in their on-line catalog. Sizing is tricky in some of the brands so be sure and save the return label that they send you with the package if you order one. I think ONeill and Body Glove suits are intended for hobbits, not humans. Order larger than you usually get in clothing with their suits. The Camaro size charts seem reasonable (bought a springsuit in Large for my 5’ 9", 190# boyfriend and it fit just right). The Excel brands sizing is generous and you may be able to size down in their suits.

Rockywoods Fabrics
If you really want to make your own, Rockywoods Fabrics at has a variety of neoprenes along with other fabrics for outdoor applications. I ordered from them years ago and they even sent samples so I could see the exact color and hand of the fabrics I was interested in.

Have you ever donned shorts backwards?
Either baggy shorts or form-fitting stretchy ones like bike shorts? I have, more than once.

It’s doable but there’s that immediate sensation that “Something isn’t quite right!”

Now think of all the thought and measurements and careful cutting that went into making shorts fit the curves on your body.

Think you can do that as well as the commercial manufacturers? I’m gonna guess that it’ll take a lot of screwed-up pieces before you hit it right. In which time you could’ve just bought a ready-made suit, possibly for less money.

They also sell 5-gal buckets of neoprene glue, been looking for that for years (just kidding).