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Lite-Lg-Hrnss-art – 1/31/10


"Light Leg Harness: Tube-reinforced Gamboised Cuisses" by Baron Timothy Garagchan o'Leitrim.


NOTE: See also the files: armor-msg, SCA-armor-lnks, leather-msg, armor-leather-msg, gambesons-msg, armor-chklst-msg, boots-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org




Light Leg Harness: Tube-reinforced Gamboised Cuisses

by Baron Timothy Garagchan o'Leitrim


            I've tried different kinds of leg harness over many years, generally using hardened leather or other hard materials. The harness has always been difficult to fit correctly and the result has been less than satisfactory, especially in attempting to achieve a true medieval look while dealing with the harsh, crushing force blows that we in the SCA deliver repeatedly.


            Thinking about a lighter weight leg harness and comparing various correct 13th and 14th Century "looks" led to a design that has worked very well for me. It impersonates the ribbed, gamboised cuisses we see in illustrations and is quite protective. In addition, it is light enough to suspend from a light hip belt. Here are general instructions for making a pattern, and then making the cuisses themselves.


Materials you will need:


1 pair of well-fitting blue jeans that you don't mind sacrificing.

A black "Sharpie" or other marker.

Pattern paper and newspaper.

A yardstick.

1.5 to 2 yards of durable "fashion" fabric that will be on the outer and inner surface.

            -- NOTE: A twill, jean or canvas type of fabric of a tough, durable weave and fiber is recommended; trigger, even heavy trigger, can be a disappointing fabric for this project as it tends to tear easily and bi-directionally, shredding quickly.

1 yard of fabric to serve as an inter-liner inside the cuisses.

1 yard or less of a stable, heavy fabric like canvas or denim to use as reinforcing.

About 4 yards of bias tape (wide, quilter-style fold) for edge finishing.

Buckles, leather and rivets for strapping – I use two buckles on the upper leg and one below the knee.

Leather to form the waist belt, and a buckle to fasten it.

Contact cement for leather such as Barge's Cement.

A pair of floating knee cops of your choice.

Shoelaces for tying the knee cops to the cuisses, and for pointing the cuisses to the waist belt.

About 15 feet of lightweight irrigation tubing – I used black poly tube meant for connecting lawn sprinklers, obtained from Lowe's, labeled ENDO POLY – PE3408 ASTM-D 2239.

Buttonhole twist thread (if hand-sewing).

Rivets, 7 buckles of convenient sizes.



Carpenter or Utility razor blade knife.


Punch set

Sewing machine



(note: yard measurements assume fabric width of greater than 45 inches – also, your mileage may vary. When in doubt, buy extra from the same dye lot).




1. Marking and initial pattern:


The fighter to be armored should put on the blue jeans and stand on a step or chair for easy marking. The knee cops should be available at this time as well in order to ensure adequate marking. With a friend serving as assistant, have them first draw a vertical line up the center front of each leg, and another down the center back. Draw the cuisse forms onto the blue jeans. The fighter should identify the pivot points (which will be the eventual mounting points) by touching a finger to the points on the body that are approximately 1.5 to 2 inches below the crown of the hips, and on each side of the body about two inches forward of the side seams of the blue jeans. (The correct point will be one where fabric does not try to move around under the fingertip as the fighter walks or strides; it is very important to identify this point to maximize flexibility and stability of the finished product: if the fighter is correctly pointing and walking, they will look like something from the Monty Python Department of Silly Walks).

            The cuisse tops, correctly drawn, will scoop up from the groin and their highest point will rise about one inch above the identified "pivot point," as in the drawing. Do not try to make your cuisses too tall (do not make your line in the crease where the thigh meets the body, for instance) or they will be desperately uncomfortable to wear later. Remember that the fighter will be wearing groin protection when deciding where to put the upper cuisse line.


            The cuisse bottoms will overlap into the floating knee cop area (and may even come down below it if desired) so that there is no chance of the cuisses gapping above the knee cop when the leg is bent.


            While marking the blue jeans, the assistant will also mark the eventual waist belt by drawing a line approximately two inches below the pants top, curving down to leave a significant semi-circular pad that will end up under the eventual finished cuisse.


            Cut out the cuisse pattern pieces from the blue jeans, and also cut out the waist belt piece.


            Compare the two cuisse leg patterns you have drawn on the blue jeans material by putting the pieces of fabric together "right side" to "right side." If there is significant difference between the two pieces, you will need to continue with making a separate pattern for each leg. If the pieces are substantially the same, you may discard one and make a single pattern which will simply be "flopped" for the other leg.


            Your cuisse pattern is now at stage 1; you have a representation of what the finished cuisse size will be, but to accommodate the tubing that will be inserted, you now need to expand the pattern.


2. Expanding the cuisse pattern correctly:


            Inserting the tubing will cause the cuisse fabric to pull inward as the channels you sew into the fabric open to accept the stuffing, tubing or filling. You need to expand the pattern so that, when this happens, you end up with a cuisse that is the correct final size for your leg.


            I have found that, for the irrigation tubing I used, the channels needed to be 1 and ½ inches wide. (Because tubing can vary, make a small sample for yourself to determine the best measurements – stitch three or four channels of slightly different widths in a swatch of your fabrics and see which ones work the best; the tube should be held tightly, but not strain, in its channel). My solution was to mark the cuisse out on newspaper in one-inch strips, then to cut those strips, and to place them and tape them down on more-durable pattern paper with a ½ inch space between each strip. Draw a line around the outside of the expanded pattern with the marker, and cut the new pattern out.


            With reference to the original blue jeans piece, mark the center front leg line from the blue jean piece onto the new cuisse pattern. Also mark the center-back line in its approximately correct location. These will serve as reference marks to ensure your tube pockets run up and down your leg correctly, rather than twisting diagonally across the leg.


3. Cutting and initial assembly:


            It is now time to cut out fabric for the cuisses, to lay together the "sandwich" of material to be sewed, and to stitch the tube (or stuffing) pockets that will receive the reinforcing materials.


            Each cuisse will consist of three full-size fabric pieces, a single layer of batting, and several pieces of reinforcing fabric, which we call "tabling." This is the same kind of reinforcing that sailmakers use to ensure the important mounting points and corners of sails do not tear out.


1.     Each sandwich starts with an inner layer of the "fashion fabric" you intend to use.

2.     Next, the layer of batting is laid down.

3.   "Tabling" pieces of canvas, denim or other sturdy fabric are next placed.

n  There should be a half-pie-plate section of tabling at the top of the cuisse.

n  There should be a substantial strip of tabling overlapping the area that the knee cop will attach to.

n  There should be about a two-inch to four-inch wide strip of tabling at each "end" of the cuisse, that is, backing the points where the cuisse will buckle together along the leg.


4.   Now comes the inter-liner layer of fabric.

5.   Finally, the outer "fashion fabric" layer.


            You are absolutely NOT going to take this slippery pile of fabric over to the sewing machine and try to stitch it together at this point. Rather, this sandwich of fabric must be basted together – though this may seem tedious, it is necessary to the finished product and is time well-spent. The moral equivalent is the clamping process in woodworking. Basting involves making large, running staple stitches through and through the fabric; these stitches, two to three inches apart, will hold the fabric assembly much better than pinning would. Use a contrasting thread color for easy visibility. You will later cut and extract this basting.


4. Marking and machine sewing:


            Using the yardstick and a chalk marking pencil (available at fabric and craft stores), and being aware of the center front perpendicular line you marked on the pattern and how it relates to the center-back line, begin marking the vertical seam lines you will need to sew.


            Be aware of the paradox that the thigh is actually a cone shape, which means tubes bunched closely at the knee end will need to radiate slightly at the top end. See the sketch for approximate pattern layout; you will need to adjust this layout to suit your pattern shape and size.


            Remember that you are spacing seams at 1 and ½-inch wide intervals.

            Sew these seams.


            Place your knee cop where you expect it will hang at the center-front mark you made. The bottom of the tubing reinforcement should ride about an inch above the top edge of the knee cop. I made a line approximating where the cop would ride on the finished, stuffed cuisse and, using the sewing machine, stitched a double seam along that line. When the tubes were slipped in, their bottoms stopped at that seam.


            You will need to extend that seam along the entire lower edge of the cuisse in order to prevent the tubing from popping out the bottom.


            I also stitched reinforcing Xs onto the tabling where I knew there would be no tubes inserted, but where I wanted to ensure a stable backing for riveted straps.


            Carefully placing and pinning the bias tape, run it along each side and the bottom of your cuisse piece and top-stitch it down. Leave a long-enough strip of bias tape dangling to cover the top edge later; keep the top edge of the cuisse open at this time.


            Repeat for the second cuisse.


5. Tubing and stuffing:


            Using either a hacksaw or sharp carpenter's (utility) razor knife cut pieces of polypropylene tubing to fit each fabric tube.


            Each fighter compromises between their armor's invulnerability and its wear-ability. Early on I realized that trying to carry the tubing protection too far around the leg would lead to the equivalent of "super-corduroy" that would lock together as my legs moved past one another. For the inmost channels, then, I used cloth stuffing rather than rigid tubes.


           For the channels in which you intend to place tubing, your temptation will be to try to make the pieces too long; remember that you must be able to draw the pocket closed and stitch it without strain to the fabric, so curb the urge to jam in as long a piece of tubing as you can.


            It will be helpful to you to lay out the tubing pieces on a flat surface in the correct series and order – possibly even to mark them for later assembly.


            This type of tubing comes from a coil and typically has a strong "memory" of the curve it was stored in. To straighten it is a relatively straightforward task. Put the tube pieces, four or five at a time, on a cookie sheet in a warm (150 to 200 degree F or less) oven and watch them carefully. The plastic will heat and begin to soften. It's easy to pull them out, roll them briskly on a cool, hard flat surface (a kitchen table or counter), and then to quench them under cold water running from the faucet. This will set them in straighter form.


            The ends of the tubing will retain sharp edges that will quickly cut through your cuisse fabric if left untreated. I chose to wrap strapping tape on the ends of each of my tubes in order to blunt the sharp edges. You might also sand or grind the tube ends.


            The tubing or stuffing slips in between the outer "fashion fabric" layer and the interliner layer.


            Use a chopstick or other long, smooth object to push stuffing into those channels that will not have tubes. Stuff them fairly tightly.


            Your cuisse should plump up quite nicely with this material in place. Some wrinkles may appear down at the knee cop end; don't worry about them. The cop will hide them.


            To secure the assembly, place and sew down the remaining bias tape around the top. I recommend hand-stitching for this, as the cuisse will have forced wrinkles and puckers that are easier to deal with using hand techniques.


6. Strapping and "pointing":


            You've got a nice cuisse going at this point, with quite a bit of work invested. It would be a shame to destroy it with hasty techniques.


            I strongly suggest that you wait until you have created the waist belt to decide the placement of your leg-closing straps and your knee-cop-holding "points." The process of creating the waist belt will be described in step 7.


            When you do place your straps and points, you'll want to treat the process well. I chose to make buttonhole stitching around the places where points would be led through the cuisse fabric, both in order to have the job look neat and to prevent fraying and tear-out. If you are machine-sewing buttonholes, you stitch the buttonhole first and pierce the hole afterward. If you are hand-sewing buttonholes, the process is just the reverse – you cut the hole, and then use a special kind of hand lockstitch around it.


I used a relatively undersize punch to create holes for rivets to go through, knowing the fabric would expand around the rivet. Because the rivets exert strong clamping force, these holes did not need to be buttonhole-stitched.


Many of us have realized over the years that any time you can lace a piece of armor to a  fabric underlayment, you have a more-comfortable  placement that is also more flexible. The idea of tying on one's knee cops seems strange, at first, but if you're not wearing full metal legs, the articulation and the mounting is easier and just as secure using ties as it is using (often ill-placed and wear-prone) permanent riveting.


To make "pointing" work correctly, though, you need to get past the idea of drilling a hole directly through steel or hard substance and, instead, mount a medium-weight leather edge to the armor piece and place pointing holes in that. (The type of leather sold in the tootsie-roll scrap bales at events such as Pennsic is perfect for this duty). This minimizes or eliminates armor chafe directly on the laces used for pointing, gives a surface with some "bite" to hold the laces and forms a nice and elastic boundary between hard and soft.


When you install straps, leave them long at the start and only cut them down to size once you are sure of how the leg harness rides best.


We often have a completely false picture of how much force an assembly must absorb, and we tend to over-build some parts of armor and under-build others. My cuisses hang from a single lace at each hip; buckle together around the thigh with two fairly broad straps (for stability more than strength) and just below the knee with thin and somewhat loose straps. The buckles for the thigh portion of the cuisses are simply surface-sewn using stout twist thread; they don't have to withstand the docking of an ocean liner – they just need to hold the cuisse around my leg.


A word about when to choose a buckle vs. a tie: When something needs to be absolutely locked down in a position that will tend to strain and "work" the connection, a buckle is the way to go. When something needs to be retained in a surface position, tying it is just fine.


7. Making the belt:


            Take the blue jeans waistband assembly that your assistant helped mark at the start of this process and lay it out flat on top of pattern paper (brown kraft paper, shopping bags glued together, or other substitute). You'll note that it wants to curve around in a letter-C form of some kind. Two potato-chip bits with a bite out of each one (where the cuisse tops were cut out) extend from it.


            If you find a piece of leather big enough to encompass the entire shape, you're in luck – but, before paying a bunch of bucks, realize that you can make a belt out of two smaller pieces of leather. To do so, you'll cut the waistband pattern in half at the back with a quick snip. Now you can lay out each piece easily on another of those nice, medium-weight pieces of scrap leather. Make sure, when you're drawing out the pattern, to add back in the curves where the cuisse top took the "bite" out of the flap.


When you lay this out, take two extra steps.

1.     One, extend the back edge of each piece about 1 inch. Mark the pattern end on the leather. You're going to "skive" the extra leather using a sharp knife or razor blade, shaving it down so that, seen top edge on, it makes a long slant feathering toward the end. Make sure to mirror-cut the ends, so that when you put them together, you have two pieces coming together within the single thickness of the leather. See the sketch.

2.     On the piece that will become the left front end, sketch in an appropriate belt-strap length as an addition. On the piece that will become the right front end, extend that one additional inch. Now you'll have a comfortable overlap (no pinching) and you'll be able to place a buckle on the right surface to receive the belt and cinch it in.


As you construct the belt, you'll need the contact cement, a nice hammer and a smooth, firm surface (basement floors are great; anvils are also nice). Apply an even, moderate layer of glue to each of the "skived" surfaces you created. Allow the glue to dry for perhaps 10 or 15 minutes – to the point where you almost believe it will never stick to anything. Place the skived sides together, and then hammer the heck out of them. This will form a bond as strong as any stitching you might care to use (I've got a glue-skived shoulder strap on my leather bow case that is older than my son, who is no longer a teenager). My waist belt has lasted through two years of regular drenching and is still holding together (knock wood). If it should happen to fall apart – well, you can always stitch it back together with your handy leather repair kit, right? Or rivet it.


When you wear the belt, plan to wear it high in the back, lower in the front. It should use your hips and body structure to advantage, without putting chafe points on those hip points. The ideal is a nice, even pressure. The belt is meant to be worn under, not over, the jupon or gambeson. If you have cut this right, men will have full access to use a port-a-san or other convenience without needing to undo the leg armor. Bonus!


8. Fitting and final details:


            I suggest you make several pairs of holes in the flap area of the waist belt. This will not significantly weaken the belt, but it will give you a range of options for where you attach the points that hold the cuisses up. As you wear the armor for the first few times, leather will stretch and fabric will begin to take on its new conformation, and the mounting points that were precise on the first day that you wore it now will be too loose, too tight, or in the wrong place. Experiment to see how things come together best.



            You will need to re-calibrate significantly with this leg harness in order to recognize blows appropriately. The tubing has its own give and spring, and the flexibility and blow distribution capacity is remarkable for its low weight. Shots that formerly bruised you to the bone may now seem light; recognize that and work hard with your most trusted fighting partners to gain correct calibration. An important tournament would NOT be the correct first outing for this armor.


Copyright <year> by <author's regular name>, <mailing address>. <email address>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>










Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org