Gear > Weapons & Armor

Making a gambeson (tutorial)

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Hanzo of Narnia:
     In most LARP or sports combat groups the gambeson is overlooked as leather and unhisorical type armours do not require the wearer to have one. But this is no reason not to have one. In my opinion a fitted gambeson is just a very nice looking piece of garb that can not only serve its historical purpose of protection but serve as an awesome piece of garb.

    I am not a historian on this piece of clothing and so will not spew out bull **** to you. The one I am making i loosely based around the gambeson of Charles de Bois and artwork from Froissast. The following are the two pictures I looked at the most when making my gambeson.

Also note that gambesons do change in look through the centuries the type in this tutorial is mainly for mid fourteenth century to early 15th century.


Linen: for the inside Liner I highly recommend using 100% linen. Linen will breathe (a major concern in gambesons) better than any fabric. However if you cannot afford the expense of Linen, I know of people who have used 100% cotton muslin and said it worked as a good substitute.

good source for Linen
wool: You can use Linen for the outside and there is nothing wrong or historically inaccurate about it. However I come from the frozen wastes of Narnia and wanted something that would keep me warm as well as protected. The outside of my gambeson is a tropical weight 100% wool. Yet again like linen it breathes but it also repels moisture and has good insulating qualities.

Good source for wool

Cotton batting: Historically gambesons would have been sewn and then fustian, or another filler would have been shoved into the fabric tubes of the garment to give it padding. Modern gambesons are made with quilting techniques instead. Your going to need batting for your gambeson, on this settle for no less than 100% cotton batting all natural it will give you padding but more importantly breathe well.

place for cotton batting

How much of each fabric you need is up to you to decide, lay out your pattern and do some basic math. 3 yards of linen and Wool, and about the same in cotton batting (though mine only had had one layer of padding)

Laying out the Pattern:

This gambeson is going to be fitted so measurements are extremely important as well as a few other measurement notes which I will mention later.

A - measure from your neck down to your mid thigh, this is the total height of your gambeson. Be sure to note how far down your navel is and remember this measurement as well.

B- Measure the circumference of your chest at it's widest and cut this number in half, to get your B measurement.

C- At your navel measure your true waist and cut this number in half as well, to get your C measurement.

D- Measure your hips as their widest and cut this measurement in half to get your D measurement.

E - stretch your arms out in front of you and measure the distance between them. The gambeson was based off of the breastplate pattern wise giving such a generous inward cut for your arms allows greater motion. That and the large gusset of the sleeves makes motion of the arms seperate from the rest of the clothing. This means you should be able to lift your arms and the sleeves will not pull the rest gambeson up with it.

F- Take an old shirt and measure the collar, this will give you a good measurement for the neck

G- measure from your shoulder to about 2-3" below your armpit, this will provide a generously sized space for arm to move while wearing the gambeson.

H- Measure the distance from your neck to the point of your shoulder.

I - Measure from the point of your shoulder down to your wrist.

J- Measure the circumference of your sleeve hole on the main body pattern this will be the width of the top of your sleeve pattern. For the top rounded part I just eye up the armhole in the body and draw a half circle to roughly match up to it. I'm sure there are better ways to do it but I am not a seamster.

K- measure the circumference of your forearm this should be the skinniest your sleeve will get you want it to be close fitting on the forearm but enough room for muscle expansion and contraction.

For the sleeve I just make a gradual decrease in width till I get to the forearm measurement at which point the sleeve straightens out.

* Things to remember with the measurements!
I find that quilting significantly shrinks your starting material so I add 3" to all sides of my bare measurement pattern, also remeber your seam allowance (for this I recommend 1/2") so on average add another inch for seam allownace along all places that will be sewed together!

Laying out the pattern.

You are going to want to cut out two chest piece, and two sleeves on your liner fabric, the same is true for your liner fabric. However depending on how many layers of batting you want you cut out that many patterns accordingly (i.e if you want two layers cut out 4 chest pieces, and 4 arm pieces.)

This type of gambeson will button up the front so you will want to cut each one set of chest pieces in half height wise.


Once you have cut out your fabric you put them together almost like a sandwich with the outer fabric and liner sandwiching the batting pattern.

Picture of the layout

I then iron the sandwich to make sure the fabric is completely flush and flat with no wrinkles, then tightly pin the outer edges of the fabric together.

Now comes the sewing, I use a sewing machine but doing by hand could work if your a strong sewer and have patience enough for it.

First zig zag stitch the outer edges of all the pieces together, once this is done I mark the quilting pattern, some gambesons had very complicated quilting patterns however the gambesons depicted in Froissart's art work seem just to be straight lines. So with a fabric marker on the inside liner fabric take a ruler and mark out lines 1"-1.5" apart going down the fabric like so.

using a straight stitch slowly take your time and straight stitch down these lines until you have quilted all of the pieces.

Sew the two front halves to the back torso piece, then sew the sleeves shut by folding them lengthwise. yet again I recommend using a zigzag stitch for this.

Now sew the sleeves on, this has always been a tricky part to me as I always forgot how to make the sleeve sit right side out. remember this

body should be inside out and the sleeve right side out inside the body piece, now sew the edges together being careful not to sew the sleeve shut.

You should now have the basic gambeson done, however you still need to fold over and hem all the edges, go carefully and use a zigzag stitch along these edges for extra strength.

Making Buttons:

Historically metal buttons were expensive and also impractical on a gambeson, I know from personal experience in SCA a gambeson wont help if their are bits of metal on it which can be mashed into your chest! Cloth buttons are not only cheap but from a combat standpoint practical as well.

you will no doubt have scraps left over from your hard work and tedious labor, take some of your outer fabric and cut a bunch of two inch cirlces from it, also cut up some of your scrap cotton batting into small strips.

now take these strips and and stuff the circles pinching the bottom shut, you should have some excess at the bottom so do not stuff them too much you are looking to get a firm springy little ball of fabric.

Now sinch the bottom and sew it closed forming a button.

You are going to want the gambeson to sit tightly and be closed securely so I used one button every 1.5" on my gambeson.

to sew the buttons on mark where they will go and directly across from this point mark another dot where the slit for where the button will fit through.

sew the excess part of the fabric ball to the gambeson, I find it easier to do this by hand, just take your time and be patient making sure the button is securely on.

Then cut the button holes on the other side of the gambeson, hem the edges of the button holes for strength.

Congratulations you have just created a gambeson!

* I am not a seamster by any means this is literally how I made mine, there is probably a better way to do some of these things so please to those of you with sewing skill post your ideas!

Sir Rap, the Space Wizard Daddy:
Thanks for another great tutorial Hanzo, now if I only paid more attention in arts and crafts instead of making Papier-mâché willies to scare the girls...


Lady Krystal:
Thank you Hanzo! :) I can't wait to get through the summer to start on this. ^-^ Between Gates, helping prep my realm for Rag, moving & renovating my house.. I think September will be the time I get around to my own stuff. x_x

Hanzo of Narnia:
anything that needs to be added ya think?

Oberon of Lyonesse:
finished picture of yours?


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