Home made modern day gambesons??

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Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby SteelCat » 14 Dec 2014 18:57

Hi folks,

I am new to HEMA and need safety equipment. Now I find what is for sale not entirely satisfactory, (price, colour etc) so I thought it might be the best thing to try make myself a gambeson.

I have seen some on the fencers in my local club but I found them not to be exactly what I want.

Firstly, I am a woman and I don't like jackets that are cut like potatoe sacks. Which brought me to the idea to arrange the "ribs" not in a vertical fashion but in a wide, reverse V shape and give the whole thing actual body shape (I plan to loosely copy the pattern of my favourite down waistcoat for the body) I want to construct it in a way that it sits on my hips and doesn't slide up and down my body too much when I raise or lower my arms (so yes, not only vanity, there is a practical purpose, too :) ).

What I'd want to know, are there any historical gambesons that had v shaped "ribs"?

Has any contemporary maker tried it? Unlike with the vertical ribs the ribs arranged in a v-shape would have to bend and I have no clue what that is going to do with the dense material of if it's going to be very uncomfortable (I mean a gambeson with tightly stuffed ribs, not 2827 layers of linen sewn together).

I plan to use pre-washed and possibly dyed cotton sailcloth and stuff it with old bedsheets.

I have read that someone tried coconut fibers and got a good result with relatively light weight and good sweat absorbtion. Has anyone have heard about this material as stuffing for modern day gambesons?

Any gambeson experimenters out there to share experiences?
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby Mink » 14 Dec 2014 21:30

Not a specialist by any stretch, but there is a question that comes to my mind. If the ribbing is V-shape, won't you have a problem if a blow lands on the torso parallel to the ribbing, therefore bypassing the padding? The vertical ribbing seems less prone to this issue.

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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby SteelCat » 14 Dec 2014 21:35

That's why I want to make them in upside down V shape.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby Mink » 14 Dec 2014 21:45

Well there is still the problem of upwards diagonal blows, which may even be more frequent to the body. Not sure.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby SteelCat » 14 Dec 2014 22:09

Isn't that always the danger with this type of construction?


Maybe I add a thinner second protective cover for the whole front side, maybe with a layer of ballistic nylon or something. That should make a gambeson construction reasonably safe.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby Thallian » 17 Dec 2014 01:24

Hi there! Thought I'd quickly pop in with a comment as I've made over a dozen padded jacks and fencing jackets by now. =)

First of all, the 'stuffed' construction is really not suitable. The padding tends to subside after a while and needs re-stuffing, it tends to grow mould because it dries very slowly, the seams tend to burst or tear through the fabric and it's hard to size correctly because the width shrinks due to the increased volume. But most importantly there are the gaps in the protective filling where you sew the tubes - you are basically covering yourself in gaps.

Historically, there might not be all that much evidence for this construction. The layered type of padded armour made of very soft (!) linen was much more common.

I especially urge you to construct a layered jacket for stab resistance - just a handful of layers of cotton canvas (4-5) gives you around 800N stab resistance (depending on your canvas weave, of course).

I found the easiest way of making it up with a sewing machine is to make of a basic gambeson of 3-4 layers and stick that inside a slightly smaller gambeson of 3-4 layers, then join everything with bias tape at the hems. The overall effect looks authentic but is easier to construct and very, very mobile (!)

I had some success using heavy outdoor canvas and IKEA fleece blankets as batting - these are cheap and thanks to the knitted fabric tend to hold up well.

A 10 layer Gambeson in this construction is quite resistant to knives and such, if your sewing machine can handle it.

Construct as follows:

Outer shell (quilted through)
- 2 x Outer heavy duty cotton canvas
- 3 x fleece blanket batting

Inner shell (quilted through)
- 3 x fleece blanket batting
- 2 x inner medium weight cotton sheeting

You may add more padding over problem areas as you see fit. Remember to remove padding where it is not needed - inside elbow, armpits, etc. - to prevent bulk and replace with canvas inserts to retain stab resistance.

Also helpful, never encase a natural material as cotton in synthetic fabrics, as it keeps the moisture in and tends to rot. Natural cotton on the outside of fleece dries out quite quickly though. =)

For good range of motion, you may have the upper arms quite baggt, the forearms quite tight and the upper arms a bit longer than necessary, so that your sleeves don't ride up. A bit of 'puffiness' helps.

If you need any pointers, you can email me at longswordfencer@gmail.com. =)
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby SteelCat » 17 Dec 2014 16:08

That's great advice, thank you for your helpful insight!!

With the layered approach I am also way more flexible with the pattern. Two jackets insife one another is really a handy trick :D

Fleece blanket souds like it gives a very light weight construction. I was a bit hesitant to use synthetics as padding and rather thought of things like bath towels. Which are of course heavier.

What do you think about a layer of ballistic nylon under the outer canvas shell?

Did the rennaissance male fashion with the puffy upper arms maybe become so popular because it's fencing friendly? :mrgreen:

What type of cotton canvas do you prefer? There are qualities available from 150 to 300 gr. per square meter. Is more layers of a thinner material better because of the better flexibility?

Do you think I can use old (cotton) bed linen as padding?

I have access to a heavy duty sewing machine for a few euros per hour.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby SteelCat » 17 Dec 2014 16:53

Oh and another question, how do you close your jackets, old style or modern with zippers and velcro?
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby Thallian » 18 Dec 2014 11:32

Hi! First of all, there was a typo in my earlier post. Stick a SMALLER INNER jacket into a LARGER OUTER jacket...obviously. =P

Are you UK based? You can order fabric samples from fabricuk.com (no affiliation) for about 50p each. They are reasonably priced and have good choice all round.

Firstly, you want a stout outer fabric for abrasion resistance. You can use anything hard-wearing: denim, tent canvas, sail cloth....even thick wool army blankets (try Endicotts army surplus for some wild colours!). But thick, stiff fabrics actually are easier to cut. Soft, spongy fabrics resist puncturing and cutting better.

So all your inner layers of canvas can be soft, as long as they are dense(!)

I actually quite like the IKEA fleece blankets - the really cheap ones for £3 here: http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/catalog/products/80089927/

It works out at nearly £1.2 for a meter of batting - cheap as chips and very sturdy. About 8 layers of fleece are nearly an inch thick (uncompressed). For what it's worth, I shot some hunting arrows at a test patch of 8 layers of fleece inside 2 layers of canvas with a 40 recurve, and had the arrows bounce off. The tight knit of the fleece (it's a knitted fabric) seems to resist cutting rather well...your results may vary, of course!

I have heard from some friends that terry cloth (beach towels) also yield good results and are very 'lofty'. But they are more expensive. It may be worth trying out if you have some old ones.

For fleece blankets, for a medium size jacket one blanket yields 1 layer front and back for the torso OR 1 layer front and back for the sleeves. So an 8 layer jacket needs about 16 blankets.

Fleece can get quite warm but is also breathable, rather like wool. So once you sweat a lot, it can evaporate slowly. The same is not true for synthetic felts (like kevlar felt), which are much denser.

Ballistic nylon is great if you can find it! But it will be quite expensive. Several layers of cotton will offer similar protection, though cotton will in bulk be heavier and stiffer. It depends on your means. Nylon works best as an outer layer as it offers superior abrasion resistance to cotton.
Linen is also a great alternative for an outer layer as it's quite smooth.

I tried ballistic felt as an inner padding and found it to be VERY stiff and protective, but after a year or so of regular use it seems to break down.

As for closing your jacket, currently I favour a thick padded variety, very losely quilted, that is just pulled over the head and gathered with a decorative belt. Sort of early medieval. It's easy to taylor and I was in a hurry - also offers good mobility because of the wide shoulders.

If you want a tailored jacket, I suggest a zip at the back. If you have a zip at the front you need to have some solid padding under the zip as it's a weak point. So you might just as well make a double-breast.

One way to get around this is to have a detachable "Chest guard" that just sticks to the inside front with velcro. You can even integrate your own chest protector - buy a fencing one or make one out of thin rubber sheet stitched in shape (rubber work a lot like leather). But zip at the back is a lot less complicated. Use a chunky, sturdy one and add a lanyard to help zipping it up.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby Thallian » 18 Dec 2014 11:39

Just as an afterthought: think of your gambeson as a foundation garment. If you are crafty, you can add reinforcements over the vulnerable bits (ribs, collarbones, elbows) by means of ties or velcro. You can make such add-ons out of leather, rubber, felt or layered cloth. Be creative and craft it to suit your fighting style and level of training. Competitors may want heavier protection than free fencers.
Beginners may want more padding but find it restrictive while they are still learning. Keep your options open.

Also consider if you might want a thin gambeson and a thicker padded waistcoat with short sleeves to wear over it, especially if your sewing machine cannot handle bulky layers of fabric. The mobility will be great, too!
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby Thallian » 18 Dec 2014 11:45

Just to give you an idea...
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby Thallian » 18 Dec 2014 11:46

The possibilities are endless... :wink:
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby tea » 18 Dec 2014 12:44

I would personally never use polyester fabric for padding, or a fabric like nylon for the skin.

Cotton and linen all the way. The difference in breathability is dramatic, and that is a fantastic thing when you're fighting in it (especially for sustained periods of time). I tend to build mine with linen for the outside and inside, and cotton batting for padding.

Use a strong linen or cotton for the outside and it'll last more than well enough.

From a historical perspective, if you care about that, there don't seem to be many surviving examples constructed with a thick fabric quilted together in layers. The options are generally either 1) multiple layers of strong fabric (linen) quilted together, or 2) a few layers of linen, quilted into channels and stuffed with raw cotton.

The latter, if done correctly, can be incredibly strong and resistant. Some googling should be able to find commentary by Jessica Finley on her reconstructions of the Lübeck jack, which is made that way. There's various tricks which make the tailoring and design easier, but in general the best way to make a stuffed gambeson is with hand-sewing.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby Thallian » 18 Dec 2014 14:43

Yep. The thing about cotton or linen is pretty much true. Personally I would avoid cotton batting though...like terry cloth it holds in moisture. Which will keep you wonderfully cool but it also tends to never dry out properly.

But horses for courses - I want different things from my jackets than our forebears demanded of them. For a start, it has to fit into my washing machine. :wink: I don't like to smell like a weasel, especially when wrestling at the sword. =P So a high-loft, high-density padding suits me better than a thick, many-layered jacket. Although the latter one would offer far superior protection against sharp weapons used in earnest.
I like the historical 'look' for fanciful reasons but I'm quite happy to use modern materials.

Linen is a good sweat-wicking fabric, silk is comfortable next to skin...but modern air-tex lining does both and costs only a fraction of quality linen or silk.

Combined with quick-drying synthetic batting I'm nice and cool and the jacket is bone dry 5 minutes after a bout.

It's an almost religious matter for some people. Some swear by high-tech fabrics, others won't have anything that doesn't come of a sheep's back or a cow's arse. :lol:

In reality, both hyper-modern fabrics and natural fibres work equally well, as long as you choose the right materials for the job. There's no such thing as 'natural' or 'synthetic'. There's just different fibres, weaves, etc. And they all do different things.

Some hold moisture, some wick it away. Some are more permeable than others. Some are more breathable.

A few things you definitely want to avoid:

A fabric known as viscose - it's basically a cotton mixed fibre with very very short fibres that has a very low tensile strength - in other words, it tears easily.
Calico cotton and craft cotton - the same, but 100% cotton. Still very short fibres which tear easily.
Any felted fabric that is not knitted or woven - tends to sag as batting and produce thick and thin spots where you least need them, unless firmly quilted down.

I had some good results with baggy, loosely fitting jackets that are hardly quilted. A bit like a catch net for field arrows, the looseness of the fabric layers prevents sharp edges from 'biting'. It offers better stab resistance than thickly quilted and stiff materials.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby SteelCat » 18 Dec 2014 15:07

Hi,

Thanks for all the input. I also lean towards all natural maybe with the excetpion of a layer of this hopefully stab proof ballistic nylon.

I am in Germany and plan to use these two online shops:

http://www.segeltuch-shop.de/Segeltuch/Klassik/

They have cotton sailcloth of various qualities

http://www.extremtextil.de/catalog/Stof ... 21_25.html

They have ballistic nylon for relatively cheap money as well as nice material for sword bags and a few other cool things, all relatively cheap


Has anyone ever tried pieces of carpet for extra protection? The strong back might be relatively stab proof while the carpet pile absorbs the impact.

For terry cloth I can buy bath/beach towels cheaply from a second hand social store.


What do you think about a basic gambeson and a seperate outer shell of ballistic nylon, possibly with an additional chest plate that is strapped to the front side?


How does the padding have to be distributed back and front? Does the back need the same level of protection as the front? I would imagine that getting hit in the back is a lot less likely than at the front side (I train longsword, beginner level)
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby Thallian » 18 Dec 2014 17:17

Ach, der Segeltuch versand! Kenn ich auch. ;-)

Well, ballistic nylon is tough but not stab proof. After all, you cut it with scissors and sew it with a machine. It is also very hard to work with. I would not bother with it twice. You could always ask for a sample to play with. Several layers of polycotton workwear fabric might be easier.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby tea » 18 Dec 2014 17:39

Back has spine, kidneys, etc etc. Don't skimp on it.

I wouldn't bother adding a nylon etc layer. If you're using good fabric, it'll be pretty much impervious to thrusts from non-sharpened weapons anyway, and adding a fencing plastron or something as a separate garment is a much more effective way to gain that extra resistance if you need it (among other things, the fencing plastron is designed to have the seams in different places, so you're less likely to have a blade work through a seam).

You don't need much extra protection. Linen (sew the outer shell out of 2+ layers of strong linen if thrust resistance is your major concern), padding to absorb and distribute force, something to line it, and it'll do the job perfectly well. At that point, there's not many flexible materials you can add which will make a significant difference - to upgrade after that, you want to be adding more rigid items, and those are best done by attaching them separately.

If you can have a look at something like the SPES AP jacket, you'll get an idea of what sort of padding you need for high end tournaments - that's more than enough for a newbie, and you can go far thinner for just drilling and light sparring. The jacket I fence in at the moment is barely 3mm thick, but does plenty to take the edge off hits.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby SteelCat » 18 Dec 2014 18:23

tea wrote:If you can have a look at something like the SPES AP jacket, you'll get an idea of what sort of padding you need for high end tournaments - .



I have. The padding doesn't seem to be all that thick, but I doubt the filling is multi layered. Felt kind of compact, like a sheet of very heavy foam material or something.

Do you know what they use?


By the way, I want to make myself a matching mask cover/overlay (whatever they are called), do you think the same type of padding as the jacket is appropriate?

Good washability is of course a big plus as I don't like to stink and like my clothes nice and clean. So natural material filling will be a problem to dry?
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby tea » 18 Dec 2014 18:37

I believe they're using some sort of cotton material, but I don't know for sure.

That compactness feeling comes from quilting layers of padding together - they become thicker and solid.

I find my gambesons dry fine from natural fabrics. I wash them by hand in a cold shower, then hang them up somewhere hot and let them dry out. You do want to make sure they don't get left to dry slowly, as then the padding will go mouldy, which is the worst thing.
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Re: Home made modern day gambesons??

Postby SteelCat » 18 Dec 2014 19:06

Interesting.


One thing came to my mind: If washing is a potential problem and someone suggested a two jackets inside one another solution for better machine sewability, wouldn't it be helpful to make two jackets in one like those two in one outdoor jackets and for occasions where you need less protection or you want to wash them you take them apart? You might even only need to wash the inside jacket that absorbs the sweat.
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