Make Your Own Ghillie Suit

The ghillie suit was created by Scottish gamekeepers to help them in their role of counting and hunting game animals. The ghillie suit’s use by the military can be traced all the way back to the Lovat Scouts of the British Army during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). The Lovat Scouts were the first sniper unit to be used by the British.

ghillie suit top on a sniper
The ghillie top seen from the front on a sniper. Photo: Rebecca Davis

Since then, snipers have been using these magical pieces of kit to stay invisible from prying eyes.
A sniper’s very life depends on how well he has constructed his ghillie suit; if he can’t be seen, it’s far more difficult to hit him.

How to Make a Ghillie Suit

This is a quick article on the basics of building your own ghillie suit. While there are a few
methods of building a ghillie suit, this is the one that I use.

Materials needed:

  • A set of fatigues or other clothing that you want to camouflage. Surplus military fatigues work
  • great.
  • Burlap. I buy a roll of it at my local hardware store, people often use it for agricultural purposes. Many fabric stores also carry it. You can sometimes locate burlap that is already in strings and dyed online, which makes things easier.
  • A needle and thread. I prefer to use nylon thread, and some folks like fine fishing line, which seems to last for a very long time.
  • Fabric dye for dying the burlap the colors you want. I prefer to dye my own fabric because I can get just the shades that I want for my local terrain.
  • Netting. I usually buy old fish netting, which can be found at Michael’s Craft Store.
  • Patience and time. You will need a lot of both!

Attach the Netting

The first step is sewing the netting onto your clothing using the needle and thread or fishing line. I cover the back and sides of both pieces of the fatigues, leaving the stomach free of netting or burlap because the suit is mostly used in the prone position. You don’t want all kinds of stuff on the front because it will impede crawling.

Make your own Ghillie Suit. The netting attached to a fatigue top
The netting attached to a fatigue top.

I attach the netting at several points all around the fatigues. I cut the netting into pieces about a foot or so square, that way you can work more easily with it. Trying to attach one huge piece is a nightmare, plus it inhibits movement because it’s less flexible when finished.

Ghillie suit netting attachment points.
Attachment points for the netting.

After I’ve sewn it fast at several points, I’ll move toward the center of the piece and sew it at several more points so that the netting will never tear away from the uniform. For the arms and legs, you’ll want to cut the netting in thinner, longer pieces to conform to those appendages.

Once that is finished, you’re ready to begin unstringing the burlap from the roll. I usually cut a 3×3 foot section off the roll and then begin pulling each string out of the piece. I get a bundle of strings and tie those up.

Dye the Burlap String

Next comes coloring the burlap. You can leave it in its natural color if you’ll be operating in dead grass areas such as fields. Personally, I use some natural color, and then I mix in various other colors.

Make a ghillie suit - dying the burlap strings.
Dyeing the burlap.

A small amount of bright green is good for me, as I live in Pennsylvania. In the summers, our woods resemble a rain forest in places. During fall and winter, everything is brown. A substantial portion, I lightly color Olive Drab Green. I don’t make it dark, rather preferring it to be a light, faded green that resembles semi-dead grass, which blends well in the summer as well as fall/winter. I also mix in a goodly amount of medium-dark brown.

Dylon fabric dye, olive green - used to dye burlap for ghillie suit.
Dylon is my preferred fabric dye. I had to find this online, as my local craft stores were out of it.
Dye burlap a pale green or brown - ghillie suit.
Just a quick dunk is all that’s needed; enough to color the burlap a pale green.

Your AO (Area of Operations) might vary, so it’s up to you what you believe will work best. Some research on the internet can yield a lot of information on this.

Dyed burlap for ghillie suit with natural burlap in the background.
Dyed burlap with natural burlap in the background.

Attach String to Netting

After you have your burlap all ready, it’s time to begin tying it onto the netting. Here’s where your patience will come in handy, as this is an incredibly time-consuming endeavor. Some people will take a handful of burlap strings and tie them onto the suit in bunches. I prefer to take two strings
and tie them onto each square of the netting.

burlap string attached to netting on ghillie suit
A closeup of how the burlap strings are tied to the netting.

The strings are six to ten inches long. Use your imagination with this; you can go longer or shorter, or use more or less, depending on your needs. I like consistent coverage, and this method gives that. But you will literally invest hundreds of hours building a suit this way.

partially completed ghillie suit with burlap strings attached to netting.
Dyed burlap with natural burlap in the background.

With the suit I’m currently building, I did take some bunches and tie them randomly to give the
suit some coverage in case I needed to use it in the short term. At this stage, I am filling in all the smaller areas that I missed. For the top, I used a night desert camouflage hoodie. I like the fact that the hood allows me to provide attached head coverage.

Now You Have Your Own Ghillie Suit

Once you are done, you will have a piece of kit that is valuable, and properly constructed, a ghillie suit can allow a person to literally walk over a sniper without spotting him.

When using a ghillie suit in the field, the user takes surrounding vegetation and works it into the suit. Leaves, branches, grass, sticks, whatever will allow the suit to become part of the environment is used. We called this, “Vegging up.”

Ghillie suit camouflage in vegetation.
This is taken from a distance of about five feet. The sniper’s rifle is to the right, his feet to the left. No natural vegetation has been added, yet the sniper is nearly invisible.

Another key to using the suit is to move very slowly. Most of the time a sniper is spotted is because he moved too quickly. Slow and steady wins the race here.

Should you decide to embark on this build, good luck. Perseverance is the key. I often work on
mine while watching television because it can become extraordinarily tedious.

Sniper in Ghillie Suit.
If deployed in real life, this sniper would have wrapped his rifle in cloth (likely burlap strips) and added natural vegetation to his ghillie suit, helping it to blend invisibly. This photo was taken in this manner so you’d be able to actually see him. This is not something that you’d want to face on the battlefield. Photo: Rebecca Davis
Ghillie suit - sniper without natural vegetation so viewer can see the suit.
Here the sniper is making no effort to hide, merely lying in some grass so the camera has a chance to see him. No natural vegetation has been added. If it had been, you wouldn’t see this guy. His feet and legs are visible as well.

Don’t want to make your own? Check out these pre-made ghillie suits.

You may also like: MARPAT Camouflage of the United States Marine Corps.

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