It is ironic that something that resembles dirt, leaves, and twigs may occasionally need cleaning. In the past, ghillie suits were a temporary creation; constructed by military snipers for the environment and climate they were to be used in, and consisting predominantly of natural foliage. The purpose of a ghillie suit is two-fold, blend into the environment well enough to hide, and break up the body’s regular outline and give it an irregular three-dimensional shape. Ghillie suits can be made from many materials, but the most common is burlap and jute over military BDUs (Basic Duty Uniform). The lazy (or sensible) hunter who does not want to spend the weeks or months required to make and season a ghillie suit can turn to the sporting goods store where a variety of inexpensive pre-made ghillie suits can be purchased. These usually consist of a camouflage or patterned cloth, die-cut to resemble leaves and shrubbery outlines with some fake foliage attached. Some hunters will soak a ghillie suit in mud, or rub manure into the suit to give it an “earthy” smell. Suffice it to say, French perfumers will not be releasing a new cologne called “Eau du Ghillie” anytime soon.
Cleaning the Ghillie Suit
Hunting season is over, the spouse refuses to have the ghillie suit in the house or the dog keeps trying to bury it, whatever the reason, it is time to clean the ghillie suit. There are two ways to clean your ghillie suit. The easiest way is to wash the individual pieces in the washing machine on a short gentle cycle and then air-dry them or put them in the dryer on medium heat. The handmade ghillie suit should survive the experience none the worse for wear. The burlap and jute may get a little “fluffier” and you may notice you leave tufts of ghillie suit everywhere, but you already look like a greenish brown wookie anyway. Most manufacturers of commercial ghillie suits will not recommend machine washing the suits because doing so may remove the fire retardant coating and/or damage the fake foliage. The biggest problem with machine washing is it gets the ghillie suit too clean. Not a problem for the military, paintball, or airsoft sniper, but for the hunter the smell of Tide Clean Breeze spells doom for any hope of taking home a trophy buck. It is now time to put on the freshly laundered ghillie suit and take a good roll in the dirt. The other way to clean a ghillie suit is hand washing or spot cleaning. This can range from using a bucket of soapy water and a hose to rinse the ghillie suit off, followed by air-drying, to a gentle brushing or anything in between.
Repairing and Maintaining Your Ghillie Suit
For the owner of a handmade ghillie suit, one of the best investments you can make is the purchase of a spool of button and carpet thread. This is the strongest thread available for hand sewing. Some people choose to use fishing line instead. Whichever you choose, its purpose is to attach the burlap and jute to the BDU. You will also use this thread anytime repairs need to be made. Some people strengthen each knot with a drop of glue. If flammability concerns you, a light coating of Shoe Goo during the manufacturing process will add a flame retardant coating to the ghillie suit. If you use natural foliage as part of the ghillie suit in hot climates, remember to change it every two hours; after all, it would look strange if you were the only bush with wilted leaves. While we are on the subject of wilting, temperatures inside a ghillie suit often approach 50 degrees hotter than the thermometer shows. Many ghillie suit owners will cut vents into the back of their suits that they then patch with mosquito netting. Strands of jute are stitched directly to the netting; try to think of it as a screen door for your suit. Some people sew cordage to the ghillie suit to assist in attaching vegetation. If you forget everything else, remember the 60/40 rule. A ratio of 60 percent natural vegetation to 40 percent burlap is just about perfect for the ghillie suit.