Protective Gear for the Lower Body to Match your Chinese Gambeson
|Blue Banner Armor|
f you already have a gambeson for your Chinese swordfighting, you might want some protective gear for your legs. Chinese warriors wore a tasset made in the same way, with small brigandine plates rivetted between two layers of cloth. This gave it the effect of being nailed together, hence the term Dingjia (nail armour). Take a look at the picture of Bannermen warriors in the Forbidden City armor collection. These outfits are from the Pure Blue, Bordered White and Bordered Yellow banners. This armor was the inspiration for my gambeson and tasset set - that, and the fact my teacher wanted me to make one for him and supplied some pictures and historical comparisons for me to copy.
The tasset makes really good protective gear. Ours are made of thickly layered cloth and they have no steel plates inside. One day I'd like to have a good armourer make a real set for me, but in the meantime, this one is perfect for full speed Chinese swordsmanship with wooden swords. I also fight in it at my NVG reenactment group. It's thick enough to protect against blunt steel.
Its important to get the shape right from the beginning. The closest familiar thing I can relate it to is a set of chaps worn by American cowboys. The tasset is constructed from a shaped waistband and two leg aprons - one for each side, attached to each other until below the groin, and then left to split apart for the rest of the length. If you make this protective gear correctly it will protect the entire lower body, from the waist to the ankles. A well made tasset feels easy to wear and doesn't inhibit movement. The original Dingjia protective gear was tied around the legs above the knees. Our tasset will be lighter. I think it needs a second tie below the knee to hold it in place enough to protect your shins.
Draw out your pattern pieces on large sheets of paper. I used sheets of newspaper stuck together. You only have to cut out one leg piece but make sure you turn it over to cut out the material for the second leg. It will be a mirror image of the first. Try the pieces against your body for length.
The waistband will look really long. It's meant to be. It crosses behind your back and ties in the front for stability.
The waistband doesn't need to be thick. You will already have the gambeson covering that part of your body. It just has to be strong enough to hold the weight of the lower tasset. I usually cut out an outer and inner layer, and two pieces of iron on interfacing - one for each side.
Cut out long lengths of 6cm wide material. You will fold this into four layers and sewit into one 4 layer thickness for the waistband ties, leg ties, and loops to guide them through. It doesn't matter if you have to sew pieces of fabric together to make them long enough.
|Two tassets I made|
Turn the two pieces right sides together. Both interfacing layers will be on the outside. Overlock the lower edges. Pin the pieces together and overlock them from the edges of where they will join to the tasset legs, all the way around. Sew an inner line of stitching just inside the overlocking for neater edges. Clip the corners and turn. Use the point of scissors to poke the corners into position and iron the waistband flat. Make sure you turn in the lower open edges and iron a crease into them. You should now have a waistband for your protective gear that is sewn together except for the edges that will go each side if the tasset legs before sewing into place.
Fit the top of the tasset apron inside the open section of the waistband. Pin it in place and then handsew the front firmly on. I like to give it extra strength by machine sewing the folded under section to the tasset top first, then turning it and handsewing for neatness. When the front is secure and neat, handsew the back opening to the inside top of the tasset. Your protective gear is almost finished.
|Position of loops and ties for the legs.|
Now make four loops. place two of them wide of the centre - wide enough to tie a bow with the ties, and the other two closer to your hips. When you tie your tasset on, it crosses at the back before threading it through any loops. Some people like to use just two of them but if you want a completely firm, non slip tasset, use the four loops on your protective gear.
When you have the tasset tied to your waist, get someone to position pins in a line across the inside of each leg piece so that the ties will fit just above your knees. You can make a second tie to fit just below the knees if you like. I usually get bored by then and just do the one set of ties. It's your protective grear. They're your shins - you decide if anyone is going to hit you there as the tasset flips open. I've never been hit on the shin hard enough to care. The day that happens will probably be the day I decide to make my lower set of ties.
|Protective gear in use - two gambesons by Annika Tiko and another of my gambeson and tasset sets - this one with a sleeveless vest.|
Here's a slideshow with some of our protective gear working for us.I've tried to catch some of the joy of being a student at the GRTC school.