The interpretation of a gambeson that I make is designed for use in SCA armored combat. I have also made them for MMA (Medieval Martial Arts) use and as costumes. The version I’m discussing here is my standard fighting version.
Iuse the most durable materials to ensure a long and useful life for the garment. The outer shell is heavy weight denim. I mostly sell black, but have expanded to other colors including blue, gold (yellow), green, purple, red, and white. I have also done them in brocade and linen, though both those fabrics require all the pieces to be overlocked/serged. Brocade is especially susceptible to showing wear very quickly. I have to charge extra for that, and I can’t guarantee that they’ll hold up to the expected wear and tear like the denim does. I have also done them in multiple colors, but I’ll discuss that later.
Padding is made of Warm and Natural, a cotton felt batting used in quilting. I have done them with moving pads as the padding, but the quality of pads went downhill a few years ago, so I can’t vouch for their materials, but they do make a much stouter garment.
Linings are made out of cotton, a simple layer that is bag lined is put in at the end of the process, so it’s not quilted in with the outer shell and the padding. The edges are topstitched around the perimeter of the garment to ensure durability.
All the pieces are sewn together using upholstery thread. The layout takes most of a day because before assembly there are 20 pieces to the outer shell and 20 for the inner shell. The padding is only the body and the outside of the upper arms, thus it’s only eight pieces. For ease of movement and heat dissipation there is no padding on the under arm, the forearm or inner elbow area.
After the outer shell is assembled, the padding is put together and then carefully pinned and quilted to the outer shell. Once the whole thing is quilted, the elbow pads are sewn in. I use commercial athletic pads bought at the sporting goods store. They’ve never asked me why I buy a dozen sets at a time, go figure.
The elbow pads are located at the seam where the upper arms and lower arms meet. I have done gambesons without elbow pads on request, though there is no discount for skipping this step. The biggest advantage of sewing the pads on is that they allow the wearer to have padding without the discomfort of having the elastic biting into the inside of the elbow all day.
At the top edge of the elbow pad, I sew a leather strap, sort of like a regular belt loop. I tie a regular hiking boot lace to it as an arming point. I also sew a pair on the shoulders to attach the spaulders, or shoulder armor.
The advantage of tying the arm harness to the gambeson is that you can tie your arm harness on before you don the gambeson, at which point you need only fasten whatever straps you have to secure your arm harness to you.
Buttons are either metal covered with matching fabric, which I have made at a local upholstery shop, or all metal. Button holes are done with a Necchi industrial sewing machine. The buttons are secured with more upholstery thread, but no matter how much I sew them down, they are never eternally secure. Typically I include a spare button or two.
I have made custom orders with a standing collar. The one depicted in Brian R. Price’s book, Techniques Of Medieval Armour Reproduction: The 14th Century Paladin Press, 2000, on page 300, has such a collar. I also made one for myself to see how it worked. I wasn’t happy with the heat retention and strongly suggest against such an addition. The few that I’ve made have had no repeats, and the original inspiration had no such collar.
Care and feeding of your gambeson can be most easily summed up as: Washing Good, Dryer Bad. To elaborate, wadding your gambeson up and stuffing it in the bottom of your armor bag until the next time you fight will greatly decrease the wearability of your garment. After use I try to air dry the gambeson, or if I get home from practice late at night, I hang it in the garage next to the water heater. I also wear a cotton T shirt or Under Armor compression shirt under the gambeson to wick away sweat.
When it comes to washing my gambeson, I use cold water on a gentle cycle. I find that Woolite for dark colors does as little fading as possible. Remember that these are made of denim, and they will fade over time or from exposure. I remove the laces from the points, but the leather holds up fine from regular washings.
Since putting this garment in the dryer will severely reduce the lifespan of the garment, I must caution you to never do so. I let mine air dry, usually with a pole through the arms near my water heater. It takes about a day in the California heat to dry it out, your local climate may affect that.
Sadly no matter how much attention to detail I put into these, they will eventually wear out. I have had customers who always took theirs to the dry cleaners and I was amazed that they looked like new for years afterward, but I can’t justify that expense. As long as you don’t change sizes, your gambeson should last you a number of years, though your care and mantenance of it will ultimately determine it’s lifespan. Personally I wear mine out in a couple of years of regular practice and tourney fighting, and try to replace mine with a newer looking one that incorporates any changes in design. Thus I have a closet full of gently used gambesons that show the progress of my work over the years.
So how much does all this attention to detail, quality materials, years of refining the pattern and attention to detail cost? It’s not cheap. My prices for the gambesons and gamboissed cuisses are based on the time, materials and equipment it takes to produce what I believe is a quality item. As this is my side job, my production can be sporadic depending on my mundane obligations.
My original pattern was designed for me. Later I scaled it up for taller, bigger fighters. For the most part my standard sizes can be modified to accommodate variations in arm length or body type.
Using your coat size (chest) as a starting point, sizes run as follows; 38 regular, 40-42 regular, 44-46 regular, 54-56 regular and 58-60 regular.
Standard measurements help, chest, waist (natural waist), hips, shoulders, neck, arms and wrist.
The one non standard measurement needed is best done as follows. Standing straight up, reach your arms forward slightly as if placing your hands on a waist high counter. Then from the center back, measure along the outside of the arm to the elbow and the wrist. This helps to locate the elbow point in the sleeve and ensure that the built in elbow pad ends up in the correct location.
Shipping will be done using either UPS or USPS. Addresses with PO Boxes will have to be shipped via USPS. Outside of the US shipping is done via US Post. Shipping cuisses costs $15.00, gambesons $20.00. Make sure your address is current on PayPal should you pay that way. Items will be shipped upon receipt of payment and tracking info will be provided.