Working with Wetsuit Material

Neoprene, the trade name used by DuPont for neoprene polychloroprene, is a foam type material that can withstand a variety of environments, one of the reasons it is so popular for wetsuits. You can read more about it on DuPont’s website if you want.
We are still far off from wetsuit season here in Florida, but I have some wetsuits laying around that I picked up at boating sales, yard sales, etc. just for the neoprene (they don’t have a hope of being used again). Buying yardage of neoprene can be pricey in small quantities, so for the hobbyist, used neoprene is probably your best bet. I’ve picked up OK suits for $5 or less.
Now, I know that many have reservations about used neoprene- especially wetsuits- but if you are going to use this material in non-wetsuit applications, it is OK to wash it by machine and break the holy rule. In fact, my material bible, More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina (if you’re a sewist, this should be on your shelf), says that neoprene can be washed in warm water, and even machine dried at a low temperature. These days, detergents are not so harsh as in the past, so when a veteran surfer tells you to NEVER WASH neoprene, it’s understandable, since that up until recently, many detergents were much harsher than they needed to be to get your clothes clean. I recommend washing the neoprene before use, just to be on the safe side, and to get an idea for how it holds up before investing time in a project.
Back to using it- my reference calls for using a roller foot when sewing on machine since neoprene has a foam core and will move easier with less resistance.

Roller foot

Also, nylon thread is recommended since the application will probably be around water. Small zig zag stitching is a must since the material is quite stretchy and will need some give in the seams, even if not being worn.
I have read that for neoprene 4 mm in thickness and up, you must use an industrial machine. Since a lot of neoprene wetsuits that you would be cutting up for crafting are at least 2 mm in thickness, this may present a problem when seaming pieces together. I’m hesistant to try this on my machine since it may damage the mechanism, so I may consider hand sewn projects.
I’m looking forward to chopping up my yard sale suits just to see how many projects I can get out of one suit, so stay tuned!

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