Sounds like a scene from Fifty Shades Darker, but how else can I describe this roller coaster journey I’ve undertaken with this strange and wonderful fabric? Here’s some thoughts on the subject as we getinto talking about neoprene…..
A lot of people revere neoprene as sacred (hey, it is pretty cool). But, that can be a shame when you become SO worried about altering your $350 fancy wetsuit, swimsuit, or questionable lingerie (we don’t judge here) to work for your needs, you don’t even wear it. Or you sell it and lose $200 on it since you tried to give it a few chances. Or, the worst case, you have to donate it or even ditch it in the trash. Then you have to buy yet ANOTHER one to replace it. More future waste.
For most healthy minded adults, the days of resale and purchase of used wetsuits have ended. I mean, yeah, the kids out there trying to save a few bucks might buy a used suit from you, but you just can’t expect to get even 25% of what you originally paid for it, especially if you used it for a season. Gross. If you expect more, well, that’s just being a mean grinch to the poor kid.
That being said, a surfer should get to know a little about their neoprene, since wetsuits are usually part of a surfer’s life at some point. I’ve had to teach myself quite a bit since I’ve started surfing, and now I find my friends asking me questions about fixing and altering their own gear to what they need. Figured I’d share what I’ve discovered, tried, and certainly FAILED at, so all of us can keep some extra neoprene out of landfills!
We’ll start off the series with this intro, and go through a wetsuit modification, then make some new projects from scrap neoprene as we go along, since I’ve got a LOT of scrappage around!
Neoprene is a synthetic (non-natural) material created chemically by DuPont in 1930. The original process to make the stuff was SO smelly and made the material smelly too. No one wanted to buy it for anything back then because of it. Do you blame them?
As the process for making neoprene was improved by DuPont, it became less stinky, and much more usable. The type of neoprene we use as surfers today is made from what’s called neoprene “foam”.
If you look closely at your wetsuit, it’s probably made from neoprene foam about 2 millimeters or 3 millimeters thick, maybe even up to 7 mm! This is neoprene rubber that has been injected with tiny nitrogen (inert gas) bubbles, helping to provide that nice insulation. Yours may even have some nylon or spandex rubber mixed into the neoprene to make it “ultra stretch.” This mix also tears ultra easy, but you may already know that. Unfortunately I do.
If you would like to follow along with this mini series drama (hey, I post on the days I can, yo) I would recommend picking up a few tools for working with neoprene on the regular:
Tools For Working With Wetsuits
60 mm Rotary Cutter
The handles for these aren’t expensive, but the blades ARE. And they are SHARP. But if you want a good, even, professional looking cut, this tool is a must with neoprene. The smaller diameter rotary cutters can be useful sometimes, but the 60 mm rotary seems to get the most action here in Cocoa Beach among the surfing squad.
Shears for thick material
I have a pair of heavy duty Fiskars I picked up that seem to work well for curves and tight places that the rotary cutter can’t do. These are mostly good in projects, or specialty modifications to wetsuits.
GOOD Cutting surface
It can be a self healing mat on the concrete floor of your garage, just make sure it’s clean, level, and accessible from all sides. The cutting mat will help keep you from dulling those costly rotary blades you just bought.
If you can, wait until around until September/October when they start having sales on quilting stuff and pick up an entire cutting set from a craft store like Michael’s or Joann’s. It’ll be around the start of wetsuit season (at least in the USA), so you’ll be set! Split the cost with your surfing buddies- even better.
Dulled Seam Ripper
You’ll need a seam ripper on occasion for doing any type of modification, but some of these seam rippers they make today have a stitch pick that could double for an ice pick! Since stitches on neoprene are usually not ultra fine, I’d rather use some sandpaper to dull a dedicated seam ripper to lessen the probably of poking a nice hole in the neoprene foam. I’m sure lots of others do this too!
Neoprene Foam Adhesive
Since I have learned THE HARD WAY that my home sewing machine cannot sew more than 2 mm of neoprene thickness comfortably (even with a walking foot), I use neoprene adhesive for seams. Good for repairs AND projects, so it’s a must for all surfers.
Fire-line (fishing line) in Clear OR
Polyester thread of a matching color, and heavy gauge repair needle
This is also a must for making minor repairs to seams, or sewing recycled neoprene projects. Always important to have on hand and know how to use it case a seam rip happens. Use a sharp point needle since you do need to “poke holes” in the fabric, or follow previous stitching holes- I’ll explain later why neoprene is tricky to stitch (hint: tear factor!).
Clips, Clips, Clips (sometimes a staple or two….)
Since using straight pins to hold neoprene together can really distort it, the best bet is to clip it. The green clips in the pic are quilters’ clips, which are ideal, since they are designed to hold thick material together while it’s being sewn.
The cheaper options are hair clips and barrettes- you probably have these, or know someone who does.
Stapling neoprene together is an option that I Save for crafting with neoprene, since it can poke holes, obviously. It works great, though.
Ok, so in the next post, we’ll do a little wetsuit alteration that I’ve wanted to get around to for a while. Hopefully, I’ll be able to use it in the Fall too.
Every Fall it’s the same thing. You macho surf guys in the lineup, EVERY time you say something about me wearing a wetsuit “too early”, all I can picture is this: