As promised, today I will show you, how I have made my own Gambeson, or as it is otherwise known- padded armour. It was a type of light armour, worn underneath chainmail, or as main armour by poorer warriors. It consisted of many layers of linen sawn together, to cretate protection capable of absorbing shock of the blow and stop cuts and thrusts. It is in some ways similar to modern day Kevlar armour.
Historically, early medieval gambesons would have been made of many layers of linen, usually between 17 and 21. For the purposes of reenactment however, it is just as good and far more practical to use linen as outer fabric, with woolen or similar padding inside.
So, what materials do you need? Here’s the list of what I have used:
- cheap woolen blanket/mixed wool fabric
- linen and or coarse linen/felt
- strong sewing thread, preferably linen
- quality needle
- pins (lots)
- chalk, pencil
- measuring tape and LOTS of patience
I have made my gambeson in a simplest design possible- a vest with laced arms. Such desing would be common place in Viking times, and is far more practical, than sewn-on arms (and much easier to make too).
I have designed my pattern by looking at many, many pictures online, to get a good idea of what a gambeson should look like. I have looked at other people’s projects and finally, I took my own measurements. I also used my own T-shirt as a base shape, modified to look like a gambeson. Here’s the basic pattern I arrived at:
I then adjusted the measurements, making it bigger and leaving more space. Trust me, it is infinitely easier to make your garment too big and then cut it down, than to make it bigger once you find it’s too small! The pattern includes the front and back piece, and an arm. Front piece would be cut into two pieces, allowing it to be laced together when put on. Arms would be detachable and laced on to the vest once the gambeson is complete.
As you can see, I have used three layers of wool, to create padding for my gambeson. It is a good balance between protection and weight, and provides a better, more realistic look to my gambeson, than thinner padding would. The choice is entirely up to you. Remember, the more layers of padding you add, the heavier and hotter the gambeson will be!
Here is the front end, cut into two even halves.
Here is the back part of the gambeson, with split in the middle. This split provides better movement, and improves your agility, it is essential if your gambeson is any longer than down to waist. My gambeson goes down almost to my knee, to protect my thighs, and this split reaches to just above my tailbone.
Now, using safety pins, I have put the front and back parts together, and put it on for a try, to see if I needed any adjustments. Once I was sure, the gambeson fitted ok, I was ready to sew the padding together. Remember, to check the fit of the garment at each stage of making, so that you can make necessary adjustments. I have made several to mine through the whole process, to make it fit better. Remember, measure twice, cut once!
I have used rough, undyed linen for both the facing and the shell of my gambeson (inner and outer layers of fabric, between which the padding is “sandwiched”). It is authentic and very durable material, and as I portray a warrior with limited money, undyed material made more sense than dyed one, which would have been more expensive. If you want a coloured gambeson, do it by all means, just remember to us authentic colours and shades, and aboce all keep in mind that it was a piece of armour, not a fashion item and practicality is the top priority.The linen facing/shell is about 5cm bigger than the padding, as you can see This is because I fold it on top of the padding and then sew it together, like on the pictures below. It is important to leave a little bit of space with no padding in it, just the folded edge of the facing. It will be important, when putting the whole gambeson together later.
I left about 5mm of hanging edge, for stitching the pieces together later on. The stitch you can see runs about 3cm away from the edge, this is deliberate, as it makes it easier to put them together later and provides better resilience to the finished piece.
Once the facing was sewn on, I started on the outer shell, using exactly same method as before, with a larger in size linen piece, folded and sewn on to the padding, creating a finished piece.
You can see that again, there is about 5mm left of just linen edge.
As you can see, there are two lines of stitching on this side of the piece- this is deliberate, as separating the stitching provides for a stronger edge of material. It is also easy to tell the facing and the outer shell apart, as the double stitching only shows on one side of the piece. This way, when you are putting the gambeson together, you can readily assemble ot the right way, without wondering which side is which.
I achieved this effect by stitching the outer shell on only about 1.5cm away from the edge, instead of 3cm away, like I have done with the facing.
Now, after making and finising the separate pieces, I had three pieces of gambeson which needed sewing together. I did it by sewing the edges of the pieces together, like so:
Note, that this time I have made my stitching close to the edge of the material. This was why I have made the linen parts bigger than padding, so when I sew it together, the linen can be sewn together separately, without the need to punch the needle through the padding, This creates a tighter, stronger stitch and makes it far more elastic and easy to move, once the armour is finished.
Once the stitching is done, I flip the joined pieces over. I have stitched it together, when they were “inside out”, so that when it is “outside out” the seam is hidden away, like with all clothing.
Now, that I have out the three pieces together, they looked like this:
I have made the arms in the same way, only not attatched them on to the main part of the gambeson- they would be laced on instead.
Laced on arms are much easier to make (I am no tailor but I had no problems with them at all) and far more durable than thse pernamently sewn on. There is also greater freedom of movement, without any restrictions on your arms. They also provide a convenient ventilating system, something very important when wearing armour!
To create lacings, I had to make what is called “agilet” holes, through which the laces would go.
I have made them with a nail, and then widened the holes using a pencil:
Remember to make the holes at least 2cm away from the edge! This is to make sure they are not going to create a rip through your armour, which is what will happen if you make them too close to the edge.
Then, I used linen thread to sew around the hole, using jumping stitch- this way the hole was made larger and more durable, but not only that- it is now better looking too! Same lacing were put on the front piece of my gambeson as well, to lace it together. You can use straps instead, but lacings are much cheaper and so I went with this option instead.
Before lacing the pieces together, I had one more job to do- quilting the material, to give it the characterictic “striped” look and stiffen it up, creating better armour.
Now, usually the quilting is done BEFORE the pieces are sawn together, because it may cause shrinkage. I did mine after instead, because my stripes were spaced wide apart, thus creating no shrinkage on the material. The reason why I spaced my straps wide apart was twofold. Firstly- it was easier and took half the time, than if I did it closely together. Secondly- as a poorer warrior I look appropiately in armour which took less time to make and would be therefore cheaper.
I created the quilting, by frst drawing straight lines on the material. Then, I stitched along those lines, making sure that the fabric did not shift, while I did it. Tight and strong stitches made the armour stiffer, more resilient and provided the final look. Simple!
Finaly, using leathern shoe laces available from any cobbler/shoe repair point I created the lacing and put all of my armour together, to create a finished gambeson.
It took almost two months to make and was a right pain in the thumb, but it was all worth if, for now I have my own, authentic gambeson, ready for battle!
I hope you enjoyed this post- until next time!!!