As Leo gets older, his interest in natural sciences is becoming more acute. And every time we checked on the bees in the Honey Cow, he would beg to be able to go with us. So, we decided to make him his own bee suit.
During our bee experiences, we’ve found that a full suit isn’t necessary; if we hadn’t already bought two a long time ago, we wouldn’t be wearing them. The most important parts are the veil and gloves, beyond which you just need jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. However, seeing as Leo doesn’t really have any shirts that are of thick enough material, we figured a jacket would be a good idea. Also, for a six year old, standing patiently while you tie up all the bits and pieces of an adult veil is extremely hard, so we went ahead and made an all in one veil, mittens and jacket. All we have to do is slip it over his head and zip it up. It’s awesome, and he’s delighted that he gets to look at the bees up close.
You can make this project faster (but more expensive) by buying a thick shirt and wide-brimmed hat. You can then add the veil and mittens, and sew the zipper into place as described later.
I used a shirt that is a size or two bigger than what Leo is wearing right now as a guide. You want the jacket to be big, so that it doesn’t press against the child’s body, making them vulnerable to bee stings; a little big will also make it fit for a couple of years before being passed on to the little brother. When making a new pattern, I usually tack things together and try them out on the subject, which is something I advise anyone to do.
Use a fabric that is a little stiff and of a tight weave. Again, this is as protection against bee stings. It’s also preferable to make the jacket cream or white, as beekeeping can get a little hot at times and the paler colors are cooler. I didn’t have enough of the thick cream fabric I used for the hat, so I made the jacket part out of denim.
Also, the arms include mittens on the ends of the wrists. You can make them into gloves if you wish, but mittens are easier to sew. Besides, our six year old isn’t going to be doing highly dextrous work while helping with the bees, he’ll be mainly watching and passing his dad tools.
For the following descriptions, it helps to look at the photos, to see the shapes involved.
NOTE: After testing the suit, we discovered that there was a flaw. Where the wrist rope is tied, Leo was stung (see what happened in the last step, “Testing”). There are two solutions. 1) Cut the wrist and mittens part out of a much thicker fabric, like leather. 2) Use the template you cut out in above step 4 to double up the fabric, so that you effectively have two mittens on each hand.
When you first use the jacket, we recommend a test session. Don’t open the hive up all the way, just enough to get a few bees out to buzz you, to see how the child reacts.
We did this, thinking Leo might be freaked out with bees on him, but he was totally calm. In fact, he was fascinated by the bees and kept asking to see the queen (which wasn’t allowed on the first session). However, as the budding new beekeeper was leaving, he squished a bee by mistake (he was climbing through the fence and as he put his hand on the ground there was a bee on his glove). The smell of squished bee enraged those that were out and they went for him. It looked like he was about to lose it, but his dad calmed him down and he listened to instructions.
They came back to the house, and went into the entranceway. The door to the rest of the house was closed, so they could brush any bees off in the entranceway and then come into the kitchen and take the suit off. This double door precaution is always a good idea when handling bees, as you never know what might happen.
Leo had been stung on the hand where the string brought the suit tight against his skin. For this reason, we decided to double up the fabric in the mittens area. Everywhere else, he has an added layer of clothing under the jacket, plus the jacket is loose around him, so no bees can touch him.
At first, he was mad at the bees, and the sting hurt. However, as he calmed down and the toothpaste took effect (rubbed onto the sting, toothpaste helps with the pain), he started to talk it all through. We explained that the bees weren’t being mean, but were just trying to protect their home and friends. And we also explained that no matter who you are, if you are going to keep bees, you will be stung sooner or later. The two good things about being stung is that each sting becomes less painful and that we found out he’s not allergic. He’s now ready to go out again.