I did a thing. I stitched myself a new and better panzar. I’m honestly very proud and happy with how it turned out, so I thought I would tell you all about it. Just a sneak-peak picture of the chest here, more will come, I promise.
”Panzar” is the word I prefer to use when I’m talking about a kind of quilted jacket that a 14th century soldier would wear, it could be either a thin one to fit under mail or a sturdier one as a stand-alone protective piece of armour. There are many other terms for this type of garment and I don’t claim to have found ”the right one”. If you read this you might think of what I call panzar as gambeson, aketon, paltok, pourpoint, doublet or whatnot.
The problem is that it is difficult to deduce names for types of armour from narrative sources and historical documents. The description is usually poor. English and French terms are mixed up with Latin or local terms and they change meaning over time. Sometimes a term used in one source for what must be one particular piece of armour (or clothing) is later used for what must be something else entirely – in the same document. The discussion about what to call types of medieval armour is probably not about to come to a final conclusion any time soon, so I think it best to decide for oneself what criteria to choose a preferred term from and then stick to it, while you try to stay in touch with the ongoing wider discussion.
A long time ago the Swedish reenactment group Albrechts Bössor (that I’m now a member of) decided to continuously search for 14th century words for armour in Swedish sources and use them, hence the term panzar – you can read more about it here. From the group’s ambition and the following research a lingo has developed and matured over time, but we are always ready to change our ways when we learn something new. It remains important to keep an open mind and have a general understanding for a wider variety of terms used in other countries or in the reenactment subculture as such.
Anyways – what do I need from my panzar and why do I need one in the first place? The background is that I’m part of said reenacment group who display Swedish/German soldiers (and their families) in the reign of King Albrecht of Mecklenburg in the late 14th century. We do not portray knights, but instead show the common soldiery connected to the Hanseatic towns of the time. We travel throughout Europe to show the daily life and equipment of Hanseatic mercenaries/conscripted militia. As is customary within Swedish reenactment, we perform both living history and battle reenachtment, all year round.
This is why I aim to portray a soldier, the group as such and my belonging to it is more important than my actual personal expression within it. I chose to turn to Albrechts because I like the way the company always tries to get a little better at what they do, how serious they are in their portrayal and how much fun the members seemed to have together, not because I was looking for military reenactment. I’m not a fighter, but I think I can do a reasonably convincing militiaman or mercenary with the right equipment. That is why a really good panzar is important, it’s a sort of foundation that will help me do the mercenary thing.
The visual is very important to me, but it is not enough to end up with an expression that perfectly mirrors 14th century images of a common soldier. What rocks my boat is when I get to learn new crafts or develop my skills within those I’m already familiar with, pushing the limits on what I can achieve and how close I can get to the real thing. I want to feel it, I want to believe that sometimes I’m very close to what it really was like. This means that I try to work with the right materials and historical techniques. I do my research to the best of my ability (and with some help from my friends), occasionally experimenting a little based on what I already know.
A panzar can be a part of the foundation for a soldiers armour, something to protect the skin from cuts and the painful nibbling of mail, or help attach plate armour. It could also, if it was thick enough (padded or with many layers of fabric), function as a stand alone piece of armour. I feel that the tradition within the reenactment has, for a long time, been to make rather heavily padded panzar and wear mail over it. So that is how I made my first attempt at a panzar. Since then I have come to realize that this bulky look is rarely seen in pictoral sources fron 14th century and I now believe that it is a misinterpretation. If the panzar is to be worn with maile, you’d want the textile foundation to be as slick and flexible as possible to promote good mobility and lessen the need for the amount of heavy maile needed to fit over it.
My first panzar looked ok, but after some use I felt that it wasn’t good enough. What I really needed was something to wear under my mail shirt that would offer as much protection as possible with as low a cost in bulkiness and weight as possible. I want my armour to allow me to take advantage of what I may have of speed and agility, so it must be well fitted. I’m aiming for that elegant hourglass profile we see on men in 14th century manuscripts, both in military and civilian context.
For inspiration, I allowed myself to look at something that is a little bit off. The Charles de Blois pourpoint is a high-status silk garment. It is civilian, dated 1370-ish and French. All wrong. I’d prefer a proper surviving panzar from 1390-1410 in Sweden or northern Germany. But I only know of one existing garment similar to those on the pictures that inspire me. The Charles de Blois pourpoint with it’s grand assiette sleeves, (traces of) quilting, flat belly and protruding chest looks just right. It also has no waist seam in the front, only in the back, which would solve a problem I’ve had with my old panzar.
My old panzar is constructed a bit like the Charles de Blois pourpoint in that it is made with layers of cottonfelt. But instead of silk I used a store bought half-linen fabric that has linen in the weft and cotton in the warp. Medieval half linen fabric would have it the other way around as you want the strongest kind of thread going lengthwise in the loom (warp), taking all the tension during the weaving. Linen (flax) have longer fibers than cotton, so when spun, longer fibers makes stronger thread.
I hand stitched my first panzar over a period of several years, sometimes trying it on for an event, only to afterwards go back to fix things that didn’t work out. I started to make it in 2011 and gave up on it in late 2018. By then I had actually changed every single part of the original panzar, that is why it looks so fresh on the picture above… It still had many flaws, like the ugly piecing at the neck where I cut the neckline to deep and then had to fix it somehow. The main problem at that point was that the weight of the ”skirt”-part below the waist was pulling in the waist seam and the fabric in that area, tearing and stretching it. This created a vulnerable spot just where my breastplate ends.
At this time I had become more active in our military and fighting displays but not yet found a maile shirt in my size, so it really was a bit of a safety issue. I wouldn’t make that mistake again when drawing a new pattern for the next panzar, I had to make a better pattern. My plan was to draw something a little similar to Charles de Blois pourpoint. It should have proper grand assiette sleeves, clean and tidy quilting lines, 2 panels in front, waist seam only in the back and (almost) no padding, just layers of hand woven linen. That was the idea, now I just had to get started.
Next, in Panzar II: Getting started – choice of fabric, the making of pattern and a method for stitching, etc. AND more pictures of my new panzar, so you can have a proper look.
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