A bit about Living History

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If you have ever attended a reenactment show, you will surely have seen something like this before:

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This is what we call a Living History display. It is a big part of our hobby, and for a great many fo us, an essential one. Living History is not that easy to define actually- but let me give it a try. We always learn the most through personal experience. Something we have seen or touched will be remembered and understood much easier than something we have only read about. That is why museums are such a great asset. Living History, is as close to time travel as we can go- people recreating lives of the people of the past, in as much detail as practical.

In almost every reenactment show, there is some sort of Living History. An event with nothing but battles and duels would quickly bore the public, and not much would be gained from just watching a bunch of guys trashing each other with swords and axes.

Living history has two purposes. First- to give us, the reenactors, opportunity to leave our modern lives behind, and become Vikings or Saxons or medieval knights or Napoleonic soldiers for a couple of days. I can only tell you, how immensely fun it is to be able to live like a Viking for a weekend, eat and drink and fight and sleep and dress exactly like they would. Second purpose- is to entertain and educate the public.

Reenactors would talk, answer questions, produce artwork, demonstrate various crafts. The public can take a “peek” at what life would be for the people of the Viking Age. Through such personal experience they would gain much more understanding and knowledge than by just reading or watching a TV programme. Plus, it is always fun to see a Viking camp, or a village, and watch the people in it go about their day. It is like a museum come alive.

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I myself was only really exposed to this concept, after becoming a reenactor myself. I have embraced it totally and I am ever eager to learn more and take as much part in any Living History event as I can. Through the use of living history, we are able to create a link with the past. We come to understand the people who lived in those times, we become connected. Living History is also a great resource for historians and scholars. Practical experiments, such as building Viking longships, or reconstructing houses gives us much insight into many questions. Sometime, it is only by practice, that we can find out how certain things were made, or how they were used. In this way, Living History makes a great contribution to our knowledge of the past.

Not to mention, that most reencators acquire new skills as well. Dress making, metalworking, woodcarving- these are just examples of crafts many of us learn and utilize, as part of our hobby.

Some people push the concept even further, turning it into a lifestyle. Just look up stories of Kassa Lajos, who has alomst single handedly brought back the art of horse archery through his living history lessons and everyday practice. Or the enthusiasts from Wolin in Poland, who are reconstructing a Viking Age settlement, to use it as a living museum, complete with 27 houses, a palisade, port and a shipyard and workshops for crafts of the Viking Age.

http://www.lovasijaszat.hu/volgy/?lang=2 – look at the story of Kassa Lajos, hungarian horse archery master, who made Living History into his lifestyle

http://www.jomsborg-vineta.com/- webpage of the Association of Slavs and Vikings Wolin-Jomsborg-Vineta who are reconstructing 10th century settlement and also organise the annual Wolin festival, one of the biggest reenactment events in Europe. Website unfortunately unavailable in English, but check out the gallery!

 

I am looking forward to the summer season, where hopefully I will attend a good few shows and when I will be able to tell you more about the Living History experience, as it is for the reenactor!

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Making My Own Gambeson

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Hello!

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:

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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.

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ImageAs 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!

ImageHere is the front end, cut into two even halves.

ImageHere 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!

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ImageI 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.

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ImageI 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.

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ImageOnce 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.

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ImageYou can see that again, there is about 5mm left of just linen edge.

ImageAs 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:

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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.

ImageOnce 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:

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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:

ImageRemember 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.

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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!

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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!

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I hope you enjoyed this post- until next time!!!

The Training

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So, I thought in this post, I would write a little about how the training looks for a viking re-enactor. I am a member of a re-enactment group based in Staffordshire, called “Y DDraig”. We meet most Mondays for combat training, as the biggest (and most spectacular) part of our hobby is the fighting, and to fight well, one must train hard!

Let me start by sharing a few photos taken at one of our sessions:100_7500 100_7506 As you can see, we are traning (mostly) in our civilian clothes, wearing only the necessary protective gear, for convenince. The protective equipment includes: thick gloves (mandatory, unless you fancy broken fingers), a helmet (also mandatory, broken teeth and cracked skulls are no fun), and optionally, a shield, armguards, kneed pads etc.- anything to prevent injury. Many of us train in their authentic costume and armour (well as much of it as we can be bothered with), either becasue we just like it, or to get used to wearing it in the field, or both.

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One on one combat is an essential part of training- this is where we work on footwork, basic and advanced attacks and parries, and, most importantly, try get get the better of one another! Learning the movements and various fighting tricks, as well as practising our speed and reflexes, takes up most of our time at trainings. Even walking must be practiced, as without good footwork a warrior will never win a fight- balance and swift movement are everything.

In the photos you can see me (wearing white tunic and a coloured hood) fighting two members of the group, one a tutor, teaching new me some new techniques and moves (above) and the other, a fellow warrior in a competetive fight, where we use the stuff we learned before in practice (below).

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And, of course we also train to fight as a group, in formation. We will split into tow sides and hone our skill as a group, fighting in a line, against an enemy and trying to overcome them. This is even more important tham individual combat, as when we attend events and battles, we always fight as a group, and without knowing how to do it we can never win, no matter how great we are individually. We learn manouvers, teamwork, commands and what to watch out for in the shield wall, and we learn how to fight as a single, effective unit:

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All this hard training, has one purpose of course- so that when we attend a show, or a battle, we can be the winning side! No one likes to spend the entire battle as a corpse, staring at the clouds, so learning how to stay alive is essential. We we also must know how to make kills, so that our side may prevail in the battle. And, obviously, we must learn how to fight safely, avoiding injury to ourselves and any other warriors on the field, or indeed, the public.

Now, the public events is where our hobby really shines! Everyone in full authentic kit, no modern stuff allowed, spending a day or two (or three if we are lucky) as Vikings! And, of course the more fights the better! After all this is what we came here for! The thrill of battle an dthe fight to come is something truly amazing, and for me the adrenaline rush, the noise, the nerves and the experience of fighting for your life (well, not quite, but as close to it as me can make it) is something I absolutely love! There is no better feeling, than fighting in the thick of battle, parrying blows, making kills and facing your opponents. Whether you live or die, does not matter, as long as you have fun- and the more you train the more fun you will have!

Here aresome photos for you to see what such event looks like and why training is so important! And hopefully, you will get a feeling of what it feels like to be “in the shield wall”:

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So much for the description of training, and how important it is to train and fight well. Next time: a very special post, about making your own padded armour!

How did it all begin?

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To get started in medieval (or any other) re-enactment, there is one thing which is absolutely necessary- keen interest in history, preferably combined with interest in crafts, combat and a sportsman’s attitude.

This, I had ever since I was a child. I was devouring novels, movies, TV shows, magazines. Characters like Ivarr The Boneless, Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, King Arthur, King Leonidas, Julius Caesar, and many others, were my inspiration as a child and a teenager. Many hours were spent hitting my brother with a stick (and being hit too), while pretending to be a knight/Viking/Roman legionnaire, and just as many, if not more playing at war with Lego figures, which later turned into keen interest in tabletop wargaming.

I also attended re-enactment festivals a few times, something that introduced me to the idea- watching these guys dress up in armour and fight battles, duels and making all the fantastic stuff they displayed in their camp, really left a lasting impression on me.

Finally, in was in Staffordshire, where I have turned my interest into an actual hobby, as I have found an advert for local re-enactment group and decided to come along for their weekly meeting, to see what is was actually like and if I could do it.

And so, I came along, met with existing group members and some newbies who, just like me, came along for the first time. We had great fun, we found out what the group and the hobby is all about , we learned our first fighting moves and had a go at using all the various weapons and pieces of equipment that the members had with them.

It was a fantastic evening, and after trying it once, I was hooked- the rest, as they say is history…

 

The most important part, if one wants to become a re-enactor, is to actively look for fellow minded people. Internet searches are by far the fastest way, but you may also have a friend, or a friend of a friend who is already into this and may introduce you. Look and you shall find!

 

Keen interest is all you need for a start- the rest comes after. The clothes, the armour, the weapons, skill in battle, knowledge various crafts, miscellaneous equipment. Every re-enactor acquires these as he/she goes along, and fortunately the hobby (at least early medieval re-enactment) is not terribly expensive and will not hurt your budget too much (unless you absolutely MUST have that shiny sword with silver fittings and fitted chainmail!).

 

And now, for your entertainment, here is a link to a wonderful video taken at a show at Wantage last year- just to show you how much fun there is to be had in re-enactment!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q108_MMs-uE

So, what is this about then?

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 „The battle is the shield wall. It’s smelling your enemy’s breath as he tries to disembowel you with an axe.”

Bernard Cornwell, The Pagan Lord

My name is Ubbe Thorgilsson. Not my real name actually, but my “stage” name, name I adopt when re-creating a character from the Viking age, or as re-enactors call it an “authentic” name.

So, what is historical re-enactment?

Well it is a process where enthusiasts, hobbyists and sometimes historians and researchers re-create the life as it was in the ages past. Using authentic costume, food, materials and other equipment, groups of people create villages, camps, create works of art and craftsmanship, all in the spirit of the past, and as close to it as possible. We wear armour and use weapons as close to historical ones as possible and we fight battles, often re-creating famous battles, like Hastings, or Clontarf, but even more often making up simple pitch-battle between two opposing sides on different shows throughout the country. They do so, to entertain, to educate and to connect to their own past and forge a living connection with our history- many treat it as a sport also, and a competitive one at that.

Or, you might say that it is a bunch of men and women, dressing up as Vikings, Normans, Celts etc., and fighting mock battles and duels with each other- most for sport, some to make a good show. Some are even crazy enough to create villages and camps, build boats and houses, all in the “olden days” style, like they were making a movie!

Pick your own definition.

I am one such re-enactor, a member of a society that re-creates Viking, Saxons, Normans and Celts in the early medieval period, between 9th and 10th century (but we venture as far “back”: as 7th century, or as far “forward” as 12th century, if needs be).

I have been into this hobby for just over a year, and it is fair to say I am a beginner in this field. In this blog, I will put my experiences in the re-enactment, I will document my exploits and those of my friends, I will talk about fighting, costume, travel and anything else connected to Viking re-enactment. And I will do so, from a perspective of someone, who is still learning about the hobby, making new discoveries and finding out new things all the time.

I hope, that you will follow me in my journey and learn with me, and that you will enjoy reading about my life as a Viking.

Welcome to my blog!