Make Your Own Wetsuit

yrammy

Member
Some of us can remember the times when you had to make your own wetsuit. We found this at the library today. Anyone got funny stories about home made wet suits?

Mary
 

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Fulk

Well-known member
Many years ago a friend of mine was dead chuffed because he'd acquired some cheap neoprene to make a wetsuit. Unfortunately, it was 'conveyor-belt' sheet neoprene, not soft (-ish) sheet neoprene, and when he put it on his arms and legs stuck out, and he was more-or-less immobilised.
 
Not especially funny.

My brother and I had become a bit miffed about getting cold and wet in caves/mines by late '68/'69 and Dad had started buying Descent so I think there was an advert from Caving Supplies(?) cunningly using a scantily dressed female, so we decided a good use of pocket money etc, brother bought a thin (4mm?) unlined kit, me being a bit older with slightly more pennies bought a thicker, lined (fetching orangey yellow) version.

Kits arrived, kindly Dad muttered that he wasn't going to pay for them so we pointed out that we already had - so there, I don't think they were manically expensive.

No great problems with cutting, gluing, zip attaching and crotch bit with turn button attachments (think they had a specific name) , better still a friend at school was a whizz at sewing so I got all the joints neatly sewn, from what she said afterwards her boy friend wasn't too pleased with her, couldn't have been too damaging as they've been married for 50 years.

Brother's suit was OK but he did get through a lot of talc and so did pong a bit coming home from trips, mine lasted through university (only vaguely funny bit was the digs landlady misunderstood what a wet suit might be and though it was quite a risk wandering about in damp clothes) and for a while afterwards although the knees and elbows went through quite a lot of re-patching, eventually replaced with another kit which more less lasted until the late '80's. Then I grew up, moved further north and decided trundling over Munros and Wainwrights was more fun.

Jim
 

Mark

Well-known member
I remember a certain SUSS/SYCC member in the 70s, scrounging bags of off cuts of neoprene, from Namron in Sheffield, all different thickness, sharkskin & smooth, lined and unlined.

He stuck them all together to make a single sheet of neoprene borrowed a pattern and made a wetsuit

On its first trip (might have been Providence/Dow) bits started dropping off (none of it was stitched), by the time he got out he was nearly naked.

Another friend used a paper pattern to make a wet suit and when he came to stick it together realised he had made two left legs, resulting in half an arse bit, front and back
 

yrammy

Member
I remember someone mending Phil Smythe's (Klepto) wetsuit when he was in TSG , and kindly added a sharks fin and bat wings.
 

Dickie

Active member
I think the Descent ads were from Aquaquipment of St Albans. I got one of their kits and cut the whole thing out with the scissors on my Swiss Army Knife!
A mate's wife once sewed sequins all over the arse of his wetsuit - made it easy to see him when you were following him!
 
My home made wetsuite gave up the ghost in Meregill .... I exited the pot in nothing more than my boots and undergrundies....to a warm afternoon thankfully - I have to say that it was in a bit of a state when I went in.....
 

Flotsam

Active member
Pre being a caver, I was into diving, I made my my own wet suit from a kit, it was the early 1970's. I did a decent job and had it stitched, the neoprene was very good quality. Unfortunately the suit shrank a few years later and I sold it to a new club member. (It might have been me getting bigger).
 

Graigwen

Active member
I think the Descent ads were from Aquaquipment of St Albans. I got one of their kits and cut the whole thing out with the scissors on my Swiss Army Knife!
A mate's wife once sewed sequins all over the arse of his wetsuit - made it easy to see him when you were following him!
You are correct.
Descemt back cover.jpg
 

Graigwen

Active member
Aquaquipment wet suit kits were not too expensive (only a fraction of the cost of a ready made suit) and came with a full instruction booklet.

Aquaequipment leaflet.jpg


1960s bill
 

paul

Moderator
Yes, that's where I got my first wetsuit from and spent an afternoon in a friend's kitchen cutting it out and gluing the bits together and the tape on the seams and even sewing the inside of the seams.
 

cap n chris

Well-known member
Axbridge Caving Group member, Colin Rogers famously made his own wetsuit. He had a couple of faux pas along the way. Firstly he laid the neoprene out to cut it into shape and discovered he razored through the carpet beneath. Secondly he had the excellent idea of wearing his base layer suitably lathered with contact adhesive and then squeezed into the neoprene suit once ready, hoping that the two would set perfectly. A&E cut him out of it later when he realised he was permanently glued inside.
 

Graigwen

Active member
I had already made a few wet suits for myself and fellow cavers when my girlfriend asked me to help her make one for surfing. I was completely thrown when her plans for the wet suit (from Aquaquipment of course) did not look like the ones I had used before - there were extra sections and several holes had to be cut out. Then she pointed out that she had breasts.
Aquaequipment instructions.jpg
 

Pitlamp

Well-known member
Those Aquaquipment self build suits were so awful there was even a cavers' song written about them, which has been sung for many years. I can never remember the verses but the chorus goes:

"My wetsuit, is made of neoprene,
The hole in the back is quite obscene,
The outside's filthy brown and the lining's turning green,
It's the tattiest wetsuit I ave ever seen!"

The one advantage of being a member of that generation is that it forced you to learn how to make repairs, as these were necessary after just about every trip. As a result, over the years, I must have saved thousands (literally) by keeping wetsuits and drysuits going which others would have thrown out long before. A certain employee in the former Bernie's caving shop used to slap a tube of Aquasure on the counter before I'd even opened my mouth, as he always knew what I'd be asking for.

So thank you Aquaquipment; the suits were rubbish but the money I spent with you was a great investment in my education!
 

JAA

Active member
I can confirm @Pitlamp is being entirely truthful. I have (and occasionally use) one of his wetsuit jackets which also features in the far sump chapter of “The Last Adventure”. It’s definitely older than me!
 

Graigwen

Active member
Pitlamp is obviously one of the elite if he could sing "The outside's filthy brown and the lining's turning green,".

Only the rich could afford neoprene with lining. The nylon certainly made them easier to get into. Us impoverished cavers had to make do with unlined neoprene and required large amounts of the cheapest talcum powder to help us slide into them.

.
 

Flotsam

Active member
Yes, I remember. My suit kit was from Aquaequipment as well. The kits were significantly cheaper than ready made. I thought the kit was OK, my suit was fine

One of the "benefits" of this modern era is the greater popularity of wet outdoor sports, mass production and Chinese manufacturing. It's all led to much cheaper ready made suits.
I remember in those early years, my caving companions routinely sticking their suits together at the cave entrance.
 

Pitlamp

Well-known member
Actually my 2nd or 3rd suit also came from Aquaquipment but was ready made, under the "Dolphin" brand name. It was single lined neoprene and actually pretty good. The others were the unlined stuff, which tore at the slightest provocation. (And yes, I also contributed to a world talc shortage.)

One big advantage of those early wetsuits was the fact that the outside wasn't also lined with nylon, like the flashy offerings of today. This meant they dried much faster, so if you had an enforced wait in a cave they were far less cold than modern suits. Classic example of fashion at the expense of function.

I slightly wonder if this film of Sid's featured the odd Aquaquipment wetsuit? Some of them look tatty enough.

 

Fulk

Well-known member
Classic example of fashion at the expense of function.

Is that really the case? My experience is that wetsuits with an external lining are more robust than none-lined ones.
 

Pitlamp

Well-known member
Evaporation causes cooling. Neoprene with an exterior lining doesn't shed water as well as one unlined on the outside, so more water is held in the material, so evaporation (and therefore cooling) goes on for much longer.

I agree that unlined suits are anything but robust. My preference is for a single lined suit (with the lining on the inside). They're warmer, and retain better handling (as there's less nylon involved to shring and turn the suit to cardboard). But they're less flashy, which some people find important, for some reason.
 
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