The story

I’ve always been fascinated by archery, and I really don’t know why. I blame fantasy novels, probably. But, in the past I considered archery an overly expensive hobby requiring expensive membership to archery clubs, and in a competitive environment that I just wasn’t into.

And then I tried out combat archery at ICW, where Master Ranf organized a peasant (un-geared) archery session on the last day.

While I struggled with the lightest available bow, and didn’t land a single shot, it was still a good start. Doubly good, because I can take much longer to get my gear together while I’m working on my fitness and accuracy.

At a later College practice, I did struggle to land shots for a little while, but I had a better time using a 20lb/17” draw bow. I couldn’t even draw a 30lb/17” properly though

The requirements

While I still need to look up the specifics, my understanding is that the minimum requirements are:

  • A bow not exceeding 30lb draw at 17”. I’m thinking I’ll get whatever’s affordable for combat, and if I get into target archery then I’ll get something nice and period-looking commissioned.

  • A quiver - many have advised using a piece of PVC pipe as a liner, to reduce the risks of arrows being damaged during combat or storage. I want to try a few different styles and positions of quiver before I commit to one, though they all seem to follow the same basic ‘long narrow bag’ pattern.

  • Arrows - these are more tedious than anything else. A brief materials listing was given for a Baronial class on arrow-making, but I’ll probably wait to make them.

  • A metal or ‘metal-equivalent’ helmet, with mesh. This part I can’t make myself - I have a quote from an armorer in the Barony who’s happy to make one for me, though I’ll have to spray-paint it myself. I’m thinking I’ll do a rust-converting primer and use automotive enamel for it, with clearcoat over that. Might sound a little OTT, but I can’t handle the smell from spraypainting so I’d like to avoid touch-ups as much as possible.

  • Plumes - according to Master Ranf, they need to be at least 30cm long, be highly visible, and be of flexible material (he mounts the feathers on large springs). Apparently, feathers of sufficient size and length are often expensive and hard to find, and while boa or duster ‘feathers’ are fine, another archer was quite lost on what he could attach them to that would be flexible.

  • Throat protection - typically a gorget, which can be made of hardened leather or metal (with at least 7mm of closed-cell foam padding). An aventail attached to the helm is also acceptable, but I’d prefer a separate protection piece.

  • Groin protection - required regardless of gender. I’ll probably buy a sports or martial arts guard and cover it with fabric so it fits in with the rest of the gear.

  • Body armor - I’ve been encouraged to try a Charles de Blois pourpoint - the reason being that it allows for a lot of shoulder and arm mobility, which is exactly what’s needed in archery (plus apparently it would be very flattering on me). I’m trying to get out of having to make a separate chestguard, purely because unlike other items it’ll likely need to be made from a single large piece of leather which is going to cost more than buying bags of veg-tanned scraps. I know I could use a martial arts chestguard, but in this case I’m less worried about me and more worried about wrecking the gambeson.

  • Kidney protection - basically a wide padded kidney belt. This part is easy enough to make myself, though I may make it in sections so the fit can be adjusted on the day.

  • Leg protection - not actually required, but corked thighs hurt and combat archery seems like it’d be a place where that could happen. I’m thinking padded chausses (similar to divided hose) to cover mainly the upper thigh area. (We’ll see if my lower legs need extra protection - I’ve not had issues with cramps there since I was a kid, and those were caused by sitting on cold floors.) A shinguard probably wouldn’t hurt either.

  • Elbow and knee protection - these can be hardened leather, provided they have at least 7mm of closed-cell foam padding with them. Sports pads may also make a good mold or a base for exterior pads, since they usually don’t move too much during movement. The leather I’ve been told will work well is called ‘rock oak’; I still have to find out where to get it from and how much it costs.

  • Demi-gauntlets - I discussed these with Master Ranf, and I’ll likely borrow his pattern. Demi-gauntlets need to cover the entire back of the hand from approximately 1 inch behind the wrist bone to just above the knuckles; they also need to cover the thumb at least to the first joint. Master Ranf’s design incorporates a flared wrist section, which is designed to stop the wrist from bending backwards during a fall without interfering with bow draw. I also want to incorporate or wear a soft brace and add padding around the base of my thumb on my bow hand - after the College practice, I had a weird feeling of mild weakness and mobility loss in that hand. While the bow might have been sitting in a bad spot because it was a loaner bow, I’m still a little concerned.

  • Shoes - probably going to invest in hiking boots. I may look at making some covers to make them look more like period footwear; I need the ankle support too much to consider period shoes.

  • Clothes to wear underneath - I’m thinking a very simple linen T-tunic kind of thing, and…pants. To be specific, I’m trying to track down patterns for period horse-riding pants, because most were designed to allow for plenty of lateral leg movement and expansion. I have a problem with modern workout pants, where if they aren’t made from stretch fabric then the four-way seams tend to be strained or pop open during squats, lunges or hip flexor stretches. (Even loose-fitting or drop-crotch styles have this problem, the latter even worse than usual.) I want to keep this entire layer in a light, wicking, natural fibre like linen, because I expect to sweat quite a bit. Advice I’ve gotten is to get some jeans that fit well and pull them apart for a pattern, but I’m not sure how to adapt that to incorporate a gusset - plus, I’d like them fairly close-fitting so the chausses fit over the top nicely.

Some other design considerations:

  • In terms of colour choices, on the one hand my original scheme of olive green, charcoal gray and cool brown would be very nearly camo in many environments. My alternative colour scheme would probably be a mid-blue, cream, brown and either gray or yellow. (Yellow is more visible, but gray could be better.) Brown can be provided by my leather items though. But these depend on what fabrics I can get my hands on. Cotton drill isn’t hard to find, but getting the right colours could get interesting.

  • I warm up very quickly during exercise, and I’m very prone to overheating as a result, especially in warm weather. I can also get pretty um…earthy. Even though every other fighter wears clothes under their gear, sweat still goes through - resulting in quite a lot of stink. As a result, polyester wadding in the quilted items is absolutely right out of the question. Wool wadding is less likely to hold onto the smell, but there’s a very real risk of it being too warm in summer. Cotton or bamboo/cotton wadding, on the other hand, apparently has a nasty tendency to shift and go lumpy when washed - but it’s more breathable. I plan to quilt very close together (this seems to be period; in the information I’ve found about extant quilted or padded arming jackets and such, the lines are at most 3cm apart) so I might get around the bunching problem with cotton though. The biggest problem though is cost - the cheapest cotton wadding I can find is $20/m, and the cheapest wool batting is $30/m (bamboo is the same price, and bamboo/cotton is somehow the most expensive at $35/m). Hopefully, I don’t need much.

So, what I need to sort out are the pants pattern, making a body block so I can start working on the gambeson and chausses patterns, and to find out how much wadding I need. The gambeson pattern is particularly complicated, as it uses grande assiette sleeves - I’ve done tube-and-gusset sleeves on my serks, but I’ve never attempted inset sleeves. Apparently though, I’ll need a body block anyway for later-period garb. But, given that the weather is still absolutely freezing, I’m not feeling too enthusiastic about that part - so, I may stick with researching and costing until things warm up a little.


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