Thursday, July 20, 2017

My gloveing journey: A pair of armored gauntlets

 When I started loking at women's armor for inspiration, the first thing that I was really attracted to was a set of thigh guards and vambraces made from soft leather with sewn channels for metal strapping. I looked and said: "That looks like boning channels, I can do this!" So I designed these gloves with attached vambraces, based on a pair of Wisby style gauntlets I'd seen on pinterest. Essentially the pattern is like any other cuffed glove, although the cuff is longand fitted. Articulated finger backs for full gauntlets are far beyond my current skill and budget, but it should be theoretically possible to remove the vambraces, attach armor to the gloves, and then reattach the vambraces. Maybe I'll even figure out how to make the articulated fingers myself at some point (or more likely my husband will)

I decided that I'd use up my giant pile of good quality leather scraps on these gloves to save the limited funds for other armoring projects, and because I kind of liked the patchwork look of it (this is one of those "I saw a thing once upon a time and it stuck in my brains" ideas). It certainly makes my style very personalized, if not really Historically accurate. But the historical accuracy of a set of gauntlets for a viking persona is debatable at best, so I decided to go with making something fun for myself.

I started by making a cardboard pattern for the vambrace, and taping it onto my arm until I got a good shape with coverage up to the elbow but the ability to flex my arm. I really like cardboard for patterning things that will be stiff, because you can tape it on and see if it needs to be trimmed because it's bidning/jabbing/etc. Then I traced that onto a piece of butchers paper, and started laying out scraps to fit, and sewing them together. It's a bit tricky, because you don't want to cut a seam, so you can't just sew it all together into a big square then cut your patterns in the traditional way, but I managed to piece the outsides of a pair of vambraces in an evening.

I had a lot of "help" from Kitten. Who wants to be involved with everything.

I drafted a basic glove pattern, and fit it with a
felt mockup. I must finally be getting better at this, because this time around I only had to do one mockup, and only two small changes. I'm still having trouble getting the amount of ease in the fingers right: the thumb was snug and the two middle fingers were about a quarter inch loose, I slimmed down the fouchettes to correct that problem, and traced out a final pattern. I'd also forgotten to center the thumb on the palm side of the first finger again, but that was easily set right. I then proceeded to trace a clean copy, and cut it apart into bits so that I could piece it from scraps without having to either a) cut the seams or b) ending up with a continuous line of stitching across the knuckles, which I thought would be awkward looking. I taped the fouchettes to some of the fingers to give my one piece to cut out instead of two, carefully overlapping the seam allowances so that the pieces would be the right size.

When I was done putting all the pieces together I was left basically with a standard glove that had the
fouchettes put in already. Remaining was the thumb and the final finger seam. Typically I do that final finger seam on the treadle machine to expedite things, but because of the way the fingers were pieced together I decided to just bite the bullet and do it by hand.

with the hands and vambraces all together I was ready to splint the vambraces 

I used metal intended for welding sourced from the hardware store for my splints. My husband cut it and rounded the edges, and then I painted it with 3 layers of rustoleum. Why would I do that? because I'm going to sweat all over these things regularly, and they may not dry out as quickly as I'd like. Rust will ruin these from the inside out in very short order. I wish I could have found aluminum from my splints, as it would have been lighter, and rust proof, but this was what I could easily source locally, and compared to the arms I'm currently wearing, it's light as a feather.

With the metal ready, I sewed boning channels into my canvas and lining, and inserted the splints. Awesome lining fabric is leftover from a quilting project. I decided NOT to pad the lining, as I'd originally considered, but rather to pad my gambeson underneath, with the idea that separate layers will dry more quickly. The padding will protect my arm from the splints. If this seems like an aggressive amount of protection, it probably is, but I watched someone get their forearm broken a few years ago, and I'd rather wear something a little heavy than have that happen. Melee is a hot mess, and sticks fly everywhere. With my smaller frame, a misplaced or mistimed chop from a great weapon would be all it would take. Maybe eventually for tourney I will decide on something lighter.  I put the leather on top of the splints, and bound them with suede using my trusty treadle machine. Then I sewed on buckles and straps.

about this time I decided to try and incorporate hardened demi gauntlets into my design to save me from wearing a pair over the gloves. I had already made a cardboard pattern and mockup for these, and I decided to get rid of the cuff, and rivet the hand direct to the glove itself before attaching the vambrace. I felt this would streamline the dressing process and save me from the dread demi gauntlets. I'd been through 3 or 4 different loaned pairs (in varying shades of "doesn't fit") and didn't much care for any of them.

I cut the gauntlet pieces, sewed them together, and water hardened them. To shape them over my hands I put on the gloves with a pair of surgical gloves over top of them, to protect them from the water. Then I slapped the hot wet leather right onto my hand, covered it with a piece of plastic wrap, and taped it to my hand with athletic tape. I left it taped to my hand until it was thoroughly cooled, then took it off very gently, and tied it gently around so that it wouldn't fall out of shape as it dried. Once it was dry, I quick riveted it to the back of the hand. Then I sewed the cuff onto the hand with a stitching awl. This seam can be undone easily should i manage to get articulated hands for these gauntlets.

The bottom of the wrist seam is left un sewn. This allows for better mobility in the joint.  The leather strap across the palm keeps the hardened plate from flapping.

The gentle curve down over the knuckles gives me better coverage without limiting my mobility. You don't want any squishy bits sticking out of your shield boss or hilt basket, and i prefer a smaller hilt basket. so thumb and hand coverage is key. 
With the basic gauntlet done, I needed make a floating piece to cover the space between hand back and splints,  that would help protect my wrist and make sure I passed inspection. I needed to do this without limiting my mobility. which is a pretty tall order. One of the more senior fighters that I was complaining to had the excellent idea of attaching a small wrist plate with elastic to the sides of the glove. I went back to the cardboard for a trial run and found that a blobby crescent sort of shape, if given a little stretch, covered the questionable chink in my armor, and didn't bind up on my wrist. I cut it from leather, wet shaped it, and attached it with elastic tabs. 
the finished right glove. complete with wrist guard. 

elastic tabs mounted on rivets through the hand plate give the wrist guard some flex. the curved up shape keeps it away from my wrist and allows a pretty full range of wrist motion. 

from the top you can see that the floating plate gives complete coverage of the gap between the splinted vambrace and the hand plate. I wore the gloves for several weeks without the wrist plate, and got hit in the wrist a couple times without issue, but this way they will consistently pass inspection. The extra protection for the wrist is no bad thing either I need my wrists for sewing. 

For the record, this is the stupidest way to make a glove EVER, and I could have made 3 pairs of regular gloves, maybe more, in the time it took me to make these. But I love them so much I totally don't care. Sometimes, since I have to be aggressively practical in most of my mundane life, it's just nice to break out in impracticality in some way!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

In Search of Armor: Gambeson

My current gear, I've got my new arms on here,
Although taped on still. Legs, and breastplate are
Loaner, so's my helmet (restingby my feet)
I've been a bit lax with my blog over the last couple months. Not because I've not been sewing, but because with the SCA event season upon us, I've been too busy desperately trying to finish stuff to have time to spend writing it up. We've gotten much more involved this year: started attending camping events, and both of us started fighting, so suddenly I have 6 people in need of complete wardrobes, rather than just one or two outfits, plus an entire encampment to organize. It's been crazy to say the least. But I wanted to take a break from the hurly burly of pennsic prep to share the next step in my quest for armor that doesn't weigh a thousand pounds and fit like it was made for a much larger man....

The next step in my skin out armoring process is the Gambeson. For those of you not familiar with armoring terms, this is a padded (usually by quilting) closely fitted jacket style garment worn under armor to give you some padding. It has varying styles. I chose one popular in the 14th century because I was fascinated by the large circular grande assiette sleeve. It's some of the most interesting patterning I've ever seen, and I wanted to try it! There's a fascinating surviving example of this style in the purpoint of charles de blois (Housed in the Musee Historique des Tissus). Although it has been postulated that this rich silk garment was actually for show, it has the style of the more practical arming coats of the time. The pattern is a variety of crazy partially probably inspired by a desire to conserve fabric, and partially practical. The circular sleeve gives you almost complete mobility in a skin tight garment, which explains why the style was popular for so long. (For a wonderful discussion of the topic with all the applicable sources, see this well done Article).

I started with a body pattern pulled almost direct from my body block, as this is a very fitted garment.  I used a center back gore in the skirts to give me fullness for my hips and rear, and cut the sleeve holes out to the aproximate shape. Then I used The Cotte Simple's directions for Drafting with your good friend, Math which were very clear and simple and resulted in an almost perfect fit at the first go. I fudged the lower arm (there's a seam at the elbow hinge) but came out with a good result there the first time around as well. With a couple very minor alterations, I went straight to the final garment without a second fitting.

I decided, based on the example of other local fighters, that I was only going to pad key areas of my gambeson, for the prevention of heat stroke (Who wants to be wrapped in a quilt under their armor on a hot day? NOT ME) Therefore I cut the complete pattern out of white 4.7 oz linen (Dharma Trading again!) then cut a second layer for the areas that were going to be padded. The padded areas are the high wear areas, so I wanted to have the outer layer be a heavier weight. I didn't have any heavy weight linen I wanted to sacrifice for the cause, but I did have a big bag of scraps from making other garments that I had planned to piece crazy quilt style to make a lining for a  cloak or something, they were all nice quality and heavier weight, so I decided that my gambeson would be crazy quilt style, and got to piecing.

With my outer layer ready, I needed to sandwich some sort of stuffing between the layers of linen. Historically wool, flax, and horse hair were used for armor padding. In the modern day, we have a lot more options. I knew I wanted to avoid synthetics at all costs for this project, because of how hot they are. Although cotton is a popular modern choice, I wanted to avoid it because of it's sponge like qualities and slow drying rate, which I thought might lead to my gambeson growing things and developing a powerful stank. Horsehair and flax are not easily available, so that left me to choose between wool, and bamboo, which is noted for it's anti microbial properties. I consulted the various fighter groups, and finally decided to use, not wool batting, but just washed and carded wool fleece from my own stash. Evidently it will felt itself into the shape of my body after a few uses. That, plus the fact that I already have it, were powerful incentives.

I sandwiched the layers together, body of garment, padding, then outer layer, and pinned it to death. I was originally going to quilt this on my treadle machine, but after looking at the sort of dished shape of the back of the garment, decided it would be less painful in the long run to do it by hand. So I quilted all the padded areas with a large stitch and perle cotton. It turned out looking rather like the carapace of some fantastic beetle.

Then I put the sleeves in, This was a bit tricky because I didn't want to catch all that padding in the seams, making a lump to chafe my poor delicate skin under my armor. After consulting with my mom, whose degree in practical fashion design makes her unusually qualified to deal with these problems, I decided to face the inner seam out, clip the padding back and top stitch it down, then cover the whole mess with a piece of trim.  I treated the elbow and sleeve seams similarly, although much of that was padded meeting linen, so I clipped back the padding, rolled the edge of the top layer under, and used a tiny invisible hand stitch to put it down. There was no way to get the machine down into the arm to top stitch it (at least not easily) The key was to always trim back as much of the bulk as possible before finishing the edges. This was accomplished by by trimming the padding back so it ended about a quarter to an eight of an inch before the seam (leaving room for any turned under edges) and grading the hidden parts of the seam. This was a lot of work, but it avoided any bulky stiff lumpy chafey seams.

I had to finish all the edges of the quilted areas where they met the fabric. The easiest way to do this was to put some bias taped down over the edge. I really wanted to use a linen tape trim, but the price was a little steep, and I ended up going with some cotton bias tape that I already had in a complimentary color of green. I running stitched it down to the linen side, then used a mostly invisible whip stitch to sew it through all three layers of the quilted areas. Sewing through all the layers will keep the quilted edge from pulling free over time and wear.

I finished the cuffs with some silk scraps and a little perle cotton stitching. I don't know how I feel about the stitching. I might do it differently if I did it again. the effect is a little overkill, but then again the whole jacket is a little overkill.  the bottom edges I rolled and hemmed, and the collar I finished with a small bias silk strip.

The front edges had to be hearty enough to take ties. So I finished them off with a wide facing strip of very heavy (canvas weight) linen leftover from Husbeast's latest pair of pants. Then I used my favorite method for shirt ties, scaled up. First I put a hole where I wanted the tie using my handy tailors awl. Then I threaded 4 strands of perle cotton through, and finger loop braided short cords. Husbeast has yet to destroy shirt ties made in this manner, and I hope my gambeson will wear equally well. By going through the fabric itself you eliminate the weakest link of the tie: the place where you sewed it down. I also love how tidy it is without any messy sewn on ends or stitches showing on the outside. A little gentle scraping of the fabric with your fingernail shoves all the threads back into place and closes the hole around the cord completely.

Please excuse the crappy mirror selfies
And it was finished! The range of motion in this thing is strictly incredible. Full 360 degree shoulder rotation, I can wrap my arms as far around myself as they will go without straining the garment. I can lift them over my head and barely budge the bottom hem. There is a little extra fabric at the front of the arm. I'm not sure if that can be done away with. The placement of the sleeve hole on this garment is ideal for range of motion, but not ideal for the more sloping away side bust of the female form. Angling the seam line back away down the side of the bust would eliminate the extra fabric,  but might reduce range of motion. I still think I look rather like some sort of fantastic beetle, but I more like that than not. I'll use buckles or points to attach my rerebraces and elbows to the gambeson, which will keep them from sliding. Right now I'm using points and am dissatisfied with the ease of getting them tied up by myself and, it may just be the paracord I'm using, but they tend to come undone, which is annoying.

Here are some better shots of the whole thing laid out so you can see all the glorious details NOT in a slightly dirty mirror.
The elbow has a LOT of bend built in. surprisingly this is less awkward when your arm is held relaxed than you'd think. The elbows look a little poofy because I doubled the padding there compared to the rest of the forarm. I've been whacked on my vambraces with a polearm and it didn't leave a big mark, so they don't need a lot of padding. Elbows are fragile and pointy and should be padded well. 

with it open you can see the construction, the quilted channels, and also the front facings. there are no interior seams to bother my skin. 

The beetle carapace. the padding on the back is quite heavy. it doesn't limit my motion there, and it will do a good ob of protecting my kidneys. I also went pretty heavy with the padding on the upper back, because that will not be covered by hard material, so I think the extra padding will be welcome.