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What are the most important pieces of armor for a medieval knight? A shining chivalric helmet, surely! A sturdy breastplate to shield themselves from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Perhaps vambraces, or elbow couters, or a gorget to protect a vulnerable throat…? All wrong! By far, the most critical part of a knight’s garniture is their arming wear. Arming wear refers to garments and clothing worn to permit the use of armor - literally, ‘armoring wear’. In the context of modern live-action roleplay and re-enactment, arming wear consists of padded garments worn under reproduction armor. Although some roleplay equipment is designed to be worn over simple clothes, most of our roleplay and re-enactment gear is authentic to the historical originals – and therefore requires arming wear to be worn. Without it, armor pieces won’t fit properly, will be uncomfortable, and won’t move properly – it really isn’t optional. That is why we have made sure that here at Medieval Ware, we stock all of the components of arming wear that you need to turn your dream outfit from a collection of clunky armor pieces into a wearable reality: everything from a range of medieval gambeson for sale to aid you in wearing our medieval torso armor, to arming caps to cushion our authentic medieval helmets, and padded bracers for our vambraces and arm guards. Our arming wear is carefully designed from historical originals, and uses authentic natural materials to prevent pinching and rubbing – it’ll make sure you can go all day without getting sore and uncomfortable in your outfit, keeping you on the battlefield for longer.

Quilting: A Knight’s Best Friend

It seems incongruous that we have to talk about nice snuggly blankets and pretty tapestries in order to understand medieval armor, but all things are interrelated in the Medieval era! Quilting, specifically, is a method of manipulating fabric that was used in medieval artwork – but it also made the most effective padded armor in the Medieval period, and was a vital technique used in creating medieval gambesons.

A Brief History of Quilting

The essence of quilting is turning sheets of flat fabric into an object with depth in three dimensions. This is done by stitching through three (or more) laters of material into a tight pattern. These layers are known as the quilt top, the backing, and the batting (insulation). The historical evidence for quilting has, ironically, more holes than a crochet rug: fabric objects from the past are incredibly rare, being subjected to decay from moisture, heat, vermin and even light. Surviving quilted garments are even rarer, having to contend with oils from the body and wear-and-tear as well! Thus we often have to rely on artistic depictions in other mediums, text references and so on. What we do know is that quilting is likely an extremely ancient practice: ancient Egyptian ivory carvings appear to show cloaks made with quilting. The oldest surviving quilted object is a fragment of quilted linen carpet found miraculously preserved in a cave in Mongolia – it dates from 100 BCE – 200 CE. Steppe peoples like the Sarmatians are recorded as wearing quilted armor on horseback. How quilting arrived in medieval Europe is a matter of conjecture: unlike other objects like pottery, weaponry etc, the fragility of quilted objects have left little impression in the archaeological record. It seems likely that quilting techniques arrived in Western Europe around the period of the Crusades, likely encountered by Westerners whilst it was being worn by the refined Islamic societies in the Middle East. It spread quickly in the 14th and 15th centuries, being adopted in the creation of fine art – such as in the spectacular Tristan Quilt, dating from Italy in the 1350s. Simultaneously, quilting was applied to cloth armor, and by the 15th century, quilted medieval gambesons were a staple of military wear, providing both a stable under-layer that enabled the effective wearing of plate armor, and as a cheap standalone armor for those unable to afford more expensive types.

Padded Armor and Arming Wear

Thick, multi-layer cloth armor probably existed in Early Middle Ages Europe, but the application of quilting to it brought it into a surprising new realm of effectiveness. Quilted padded armor works by dissipating the force of a blow through its multiple layers, an excellent idea still employed by modern bulletproof vests. Experimental archaeology (ie. hitting things with swords to see what happens) has shown that quilted armor was incredibly resilient, efficiently stopping hard sword-blows and even stopping arrows, and when damaged sections can simply be repaired or replaced. As well as cushioning the body and providing a platform to attach armor pieces, the quilted arming wear itself was an effective part of the armor itself. However, quilted armor does not take the force out of blows: internal injuries, broken bones and so forth would still be an inevitability in battle – but in an era before antiseptic when open wounds were a death sentence, they were doubtless an extremely effective means of cheap personal defense.

The Fabric of History

In the medieval era, armor’s quilt top was sometimes a decorative or fine fabric – quilted armor was made out of everything from simple, functional linen for a basic man-at-arm’s medieval gambeson, all the way up to velvet, silk and brocade quilted garments for courtly doublets. The backing was usually a simple comfortable material to sit against the skin: cotton canvas was a popular choice in the later Medieval era as cotton became a more common fabric (and we use cotton canvas in many of our medieval gambesons and other arming wear). Battings varied significantly in the medieval era: where linen was a common fabric in North and Western Europe, quilted garments might be stuffed with scrap fabric – or even more ad-hoc objects like moss or straw! In the East, it is theorized that raw cotton fibers were used in padded quilted garments, a practice which spread to the West in the Crusader era. We have ensured that our padded arming wear and medieval gambesons are made with authentic period materials, in pursuit of the most immersive historical experience for roleplayers and re-enactors.