So, if you remember, I have been contracted to work on a Gambeson for a friend of mine, name of Develon. I have only just started it, but I can already tell that this is going to be one interesting project. It won’t really be hard but it will be a long, tedious project. Wait, tedious may not be the right word. Maybe time-consuming, but certainly relaxing and fun!
For starters, a gambeson is a quilted piece of padded armor, either worn alone or under chain mail, usually made of several layers of linen, and often stuffed with either cotton or wool. This particular gambeson will be an earlier style, made of twenty-eight layers of linen, and will not be stuffed. It will be more of a tunic-style, with lacing up both sides and under the sleeves, as well as at the neckline, where there will be a slit to allow the head to go through the neck opening.
For starters, I got Develon’s measurements, and he brought me the linen. If I remember correctly, it was about forty yards. It doesn’t really matter how many yards, though– it was a never ending roll of medium-weight natural linen that might have weighed nearly a third of what I did. Somehow, on the Friday that began Fall Break, I managed to lug said roll downstairs along with all of my sewing paraphernalia, including heavy-duty scissors, a measuring tape, several different styles of scissors, and my laptop, which was essential for playing the music that would keep me from losing my mind. (It’s not that I go crazy from sewing, it’s that I go crazy from too much quiet and no company. Music is my friend. . .)
Having set up the Courtyard Parlor to my satisfaction, I began unrolling the linen a little at a time and cutting out the many requisite layers, one layer at a time. That’s all I could really cut without wasting fabric, and I’m not sure my scissors could have handled more than two. I first cut out all of the straight, plain layers (14), then used them as a guide to cut out the layers with sleeves (8), and the layers on the bias (6). This took about five hours, and when I was done, my hand was bruised from so much cutting. I didn’t know that could happen! Also, I discovered that the first thing that goes when I am fatigued is leg-eye coordination. That’s right– I kept crashing into the corners of the table, and bruised my legs. . . again, I didn’t know I could do that! (It was all good though, and by the next morning I was just fine!)
Once I got home for fall break, I put all the layers together in the correct order– something like: Layer with sleeves, Regular Cut, Bias Cut, Regular Cut, Repeat. Once they were all together, I had to cut out the hole for the neck. I spent about half an hour looking for my rotary cutter, couldn’t find it, and got out my scissors. After cutting out only two circles, my hand protested, and I rummaged around for another half an hour in dark, forgotten corners of the sewing cabinet until I found the perfect tool for the job– ELECTRIC SCISSORS!!!
Yes, I had gotten to the point where I no longer cared simply for historical authenticity and just wanted a certain job done. No surprisingly, the electric scissors worked beautifully, and soon I had cut out all 28 layers of neck opening. I felt accomplished.
The next step was to tie the gambeson so it would be ready for quilting once the linen thread came in. So, using my tablet of sticky notes as a spacing guide, I began to tie the gambeson much as one would tie a quilt– punching a large needle through the fabric, pulling it back through the right side again, tying a square knot, clipping the thread, and repeating the process further down a long line. It was tedious, but relaxing. I was finally able to just take time to think about my studies and life in general, take deep breaths, and simply be. It was the nicest afternoon of my fall break.
Of course, after a while my thimble turned my finger green, and my back began to ache a bit from bending over my work for so long, so I took a break and went outside for a walk. Mom had me bring my camera, and we got some fun pictures.
Once back inside, I got back to work, and wasn’t quite finished by bedtime, so I finished the tying the next day. The gambeson was quite impressive when finished to this state– 28 layers of linen, over and inch thick, and weighing in at 16 pounds!!! I am reasonably sure that it will be quite difficult for Develon to be bruised while fighting once this thing is completed, as it is quite nice and spongy. We’ll see what happens once I start quilting it, though.
To be continued. . .