Rapier Armor-Fabric Configuration

01 Sep

I often get asked what is the “correct” layers of linen needed to create list legal rapier armor. The long and short of the answer is “it depends”.  As Don Ian would say, “here’s a fire hose of information”.

I order all my linen online from fabrics-store. Here is the configuration that I use for 95% of my armor work:

  • The basics: doublets, cotes, simple waffenroks:
    • 5.3  oz outer layer, 7.1  oz natural linen middle layer,  5.3  oz inner layer.  This is a doublet that should be able to stand alone as protective armor, with any weight shirt with the appropriate arm gussets. This is the configuration I use most often. Konrad’s armor.
    • 5.3  oz outer layer, 5.3  oz natural linen middle layer,  5.3  oz inner layer. This doublet needs a shirt of 5.3 oz in order to pass drop test. I use this one for pieced/custom stripped fabric and faux puff and slash. Matt’s stripey armor and puff and slash waffenrok.
    • 5.3 oz outer layer, 7.1 oz natural linen inner layer. This doublet needs a shirt of 5.3 oz in order to pass drop test. I generally do not make armor in this configuration as the shirt that was used to drop test the armor MUST be the one worn with this outer layer. But that does not mean it cannot be done.
  • Soldiers coat: 5.3  oz outer layer, 7.1  oz natural linen middle layer,  5.3  oz inner layer.  2 layers of 5.3 oz colored linen. Alethea’s armor.
  • Skirts: 5.3 oz linen, single layer.  Sometimes I do a 2 button overlap with 3-4 inch overlap of fabric.  Depends on how the top part of the armor is constructed.  Between the 2 layers of linen, pants/female guard and jacket the squishy bits front and back are protected. Margarite’s armor.
  • Shirt: 5.3 oz, cut 4 gussets of same weight linen.
  • Split dresses: 5.3  oz outer layer, 7.1  oz natural linen middle layer,  5.3  oz inner layer for the bodice. 2 layers of 5.3 oz linen for the attached skirt. Sleeves are faux puff and slash, with 2 layers of 5.3 oz linen with 4 layers of gusset. This armor needs additional protection at the neck and throat because of how the neckline is cut. Additional partlet is 5.3  oz outer layer, 7.1  oz natural linen middle layer,  5.3  oz inner layer.  3 Inch placard and ties extend down past the crotch area for an additional layer of protection.  My armor.

The middle layer is the work horse.  90% of the stopping power comes from this layer. I use natural linen because is is the raw fiber and un-dyed.  Less processing, means a stronger bond with the fiber and more stop power.  The 7.1 oz is negligible in the over all scheme of things.  The 3 layer + shirt combo is only slightly lighter.  Depends on what you do and what patterns you will be using. Also it is unseen when sandwiched between 2 layers of colored linen. If you are going to be working in white, the natural linen will show through.  In this case I will use a middle layer 8-9 oz white linen.  This keeps the linen looking bright and white. Ian’s armor.

Wash and dry the linen in the hottest temperatures you can.  This will take out the sizing and appropriately shrink the material. Make sure you drop test the armor in the configuration it will be worn (order of fabrics can matter). This is because of dyes and weaves. After the initial shrinking, wash in cold, hang dry.  This will preserve the armor for quite a long time.

Get to know your local kingdom’s armoring rules and your local rapier marshals. If you will be sewing rapier armor on a regular basis, I highly recommend getting trained on how to use a drop tester (and possibly building one of your own). Aside from my mask, this was the first piece of fencing equipment I owned.    You must test AFTER the garment has been constructed. I usually test the fabric first so I know what will need to pass and a second time after the garment has been constructed. An authorized marshal must conduct the final drop test in order for it to be considered passed.

Armor is considered “good” for 2 years from its final drop test, though a marshal has the right to test your armor at anytime you take the field.  If your armor looks like it has seen better days, replace it.  It is better to be safe, than sorry. There are 3 things that will break down your linen armor: sun, salt, and moisture.  As an SCA rapier fighter, you will be guaranteed to subject your armor to all 3 of these things.

Here are a couple of things you can do to help prolong the life of your armor:

  • Do not store wet/sweaty linen in your bag.  It is a natural fiber, it can rot.
  • Wash cold, hang dry.  Use an iron to remove wrinkles and soften the fibers.
  • Have more than one set of armor. Rotate your outfits.

Have I thrown enough info at you?


Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Fencing Armor, Sewing, Technique


Tags: , , , ,

5 responses to “Rapier Armor-Fabric Configuration

  1. Wolfgang Sebastian KohlHammer

    March 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Greetings from the Outlands,
    I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for posting this wealth of information, in particular your armor-fabric configuration post. I, too, am in the process of using linen for armoring and have found your blog a delightful treasure trove!
    Wolfgang S. Kohlhammer

    • Alysten

      March 21, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I’ve been using linen almost exclusively for almost 3 years. It is wonderful, wonderful stuff to work with. And is delightful to wear in the hot summer months. I have yet to find a culture/costume that I have not been able to reproduce as linen armor. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback on the articles posted.

      In Service,
      Alesone, Cadet to Don Ian Raven-East

      • Wolfgang S. Kohlhammer

        March 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm

        My dear Alesone,
        It is awesome to know that there is a “two-way street” with info exchange! I, too, suffered from having to dress inappropriately on the tourney field (German persona, English rapier doublet).
        My first question pertains to your waffenrock design. How does your local marshallete deal with the transition from shirt to waffenrock? Do they consider the overlapping of a coif/gorget ample?

      • Alysten

        March 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm

        I am very willing to share the successes and failures of anything I do. I love trying to figure out how to make armor that you can wear on and off the list, without having to “change personas”. Being both a costumer and a rapier fighter/marshal makes it easier to design clothing that I know is going to pass the armor rules. I think The next project is a Varangian guard uniform. I am working on outfitting the entire Eastern army, one rapier fighter at a time. 😀 For me the most important part of building the costume is the 2 ft test. From 2ft away does it look like the clothing it is suppose to represent? If so, then I’ve done my job. Because more often than not, I have deviated from how it would have been put together in period. I do a lot of interesting tricks to create an illusion, while adhering to the armoring safety standards. But the answer to the waffenrok question is, it depends. I’ve built 3 different waffs, each one is different.

        In the case of Andreas you can see his shirt. The hood does not cover to the cut of the square neck line. In his armor, the shirt has been reinforced to pass the drop test, but only in the area of the exposed neck line. His shirt is a different design than “proper period” German. The top is cut with 3 layers linen (5.3 top and bottom with a 7.1 oz sandwiched between). The rest of the shirt is a single layer of linen. But the horizontal line of the fabric line is 3″ below where the top edge of the waff is. So it “looks” like a period shirt, but really isn’t.

        In Melchior’s armor his gorget and hood both cover the neck line. So there is sufficient overlap and no exposed skin.

        Konrad’s armor has a higher neckline than Andreas or Melchior. He also has the sufficient overlap with gorget and hood.

        Does that make any sense?

  2. Wolfgang S. Kohlhammer

    March 25, 2011 at 1:41 am

    Hey there,
    It all makes perfect sense. My thought was along the lines of (Count?) Andreas waffenrock but the “shirt” would would stop just below the neckline. That would answer my marshellate’s “entrapment of the blade” possibility.
    I am at bit-chomping stage, awaiting my fabric shipment. As far as looking the part goes, we are cut from the same cloth (pardon the pun). I’ve been active since the mid ’90s, and have had the fortune of being in the graces of people who just get it.
    So, are disappointed when you see a local who has been playing awhile, but still fights in the green Tripellete fencing tunic? Pooh!
    Anyhooh, I am going to try and journal the process.
    I’ll keep you informed…


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