Wednesday, May 3, 2017

In search of armor. A basic design.

Tourney at War of the Roses, 2015
Photo: Daily Gazette
I have recently started doing SCA Heavy combat, which is something I've been interested in since the first time I saw people doing it, three years ago at Wars of the Roses. I thought, WOW that looks like an amazing amount of fun! But with then 3 kids and another on the way it just didn't seem possible. Well, fast forward two years, and the rest of the family is up to their ears in fencing, so I'm at practice every week, but actually fighting myself seems years away, because someone has to watch the horde. Enter the amazing Olivia Baker, who said something to me like "gee I'd really like to try fencing, but what on earth would I do with the minion while I fight?" And so the fight practice children's play group was born. I watch everyone while Olivia goes off and (safely and carefully) stabs people, then we switch out and I bludgeon people (well, attempt to) while she supervises the horde. It's been amazing, and Heavy is just as fun as I thought it looked the first time I saw it. Probably more!

The biggest problem with heavy fighting is all the armor. It gets expensive pretty quickly if you're not a smith, and I'm no metal worker. While most baronies keep a lot of loaner gear, if you're not standard guy sized you can have trouble finding things that fit. And armor that doesn't fit leaves spectacular bruises. Luckily one of our local households has a large stock of youth sized loaner gear and were able to set me up with a full kit. Less luckily, because it's household armor, they (very reasonably) requested that it be kept by a household member and transported to practice for me. Because the household member also has a life, which doesn't always coordinate with my life, the armor is not reliably at practice when I am. Between that and the "armor bite" bruises I'm scrambling to get as much of my own kit as quickly as possible.

Aside from being a blacksmith, There are other options: lamellar plates  and pickle barrel or kydex are more acessible to the average human, and less expensive. Leather can be expensive, and there is a skillset to working with it, but it's more flexible and breathable than many other options. I've spent a lot of time since I started fighting looking at all the female kits I could find. because  gear that works for girls can be quite different than that which works for guys. I found some options that are more in my own wheelbase: using more garment sewing skills than metal and heavy leather working skills. This also gives me the opportunity to learn a few new skills, particularly working with heavier weights of leather.

For design I wanted to maximize flexibility and breathability without sacrificing much in the way of protection. The official rules state that you have to cover your hands, wrists, elbows, knees, kidneys, and neck with "rigid" material backed by regulation padding. (obviously in addition to a helmet and gender specific groin protection) But most fighters add pieces to this to their own taste. As a new fighter I want a lot of protection because I get hit a lot. As I improve I may dispense with some of these pieces, but for now I'm thankful for all the protection I can get, since I don't like the look of layered bruises . I'm adding to the regulation gear: vambraces, Rerebraces, Spaulders (the smaller cousin of the pauldron) and a chest and back piece. I'm hoping to continue borrowing the full legs I've been using for the time being (leather cuisse with articulated metal poleyn and fan plate) because I quite like them. I may consider adding tassets eventually if I keep getting whacked in the hips, but for now I mostly get very good protection from my shield.

The best way to design and make all this is from the skin out: so that the outer layers would be sure to fit over padding and garments worn underneath.

Layer 1: a wrapped linen supportive top. Thorsbjurg trousers with leg wraps. and a closely fitted gamebeson with grand assiette sleeves for freedom of motion. The gambeson is quilted with padding over key areas, but not all over to facilitate not dying of heat stroke.

Layer 2: Rerebraces attached to couters are pointed (meaning tied) to the shoulders of the gambeson. Couters are purchased from Rough From the Hammer and made of aluminum. Rerebraces are going to be either kydex or leather (still arguing with myself) A tall fitted kidney belt with lacing for adjustment, and buckles to get in and out, covers my kidney area and supports my leg armor while spreading the weight of said leg armor evenly over my hips.  This garter style comes recommended by other female fighters, and I'm looking forward to getting rid of the highly uncomfortable leg belt.

Layer 3: a fighting tunic goes over the whole thing, and is belted on. Over that I put on a shaped leather breastplate with attached spaulders and a back panel of scale mail mounted on leather, and my gorget. Spaulders are stainless steel and also from rough from the hammer, and the gorget is on it's way from the same place we bought husbeasts fencing gorget. in addition I will wear a pair of leather covered vambraces attached to gloves, and leather half gauntlets.

Certainly this mish mash of pieces is nothing even LIKE historically accurate, but, for a viking persona, any armor other than a padded jacket with maybe a chain link shirt is basically not, from anything we can tell, historically accurate. The closest real armor I can find is the Visby coat of plates, in 1361, and of course the questionable birka lamellar scales. But in our particular combat sport, we have rules, and those rules dictate that we use certain amounts of rigid body protection, and good sense dictates a few more. So this is going to be a practical, fun, historical ish project that will hopefully result in a set of armor that I actually like.

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