THE KITCHEN ARMOURY:
CUIR BOUILLI ON THE ELECTRIC STOVE

PART THREE: LEG ARMOUR

INTRODUCTION

After completing the initial shrinkage experiments I decided that I needed to practice on larger pieces than gauntlet fingers in order to refine my skill. This, coupled with a series of heavy bruises to my thighs determined the first items of armour to be made!

CUISSES/THIGH ARMOUR

After considerable research on appropriate thigh armour for my period, I adapted a pattern for steel cuisses by Sir Paul of Sommerton (Patrick Woolery1). Padded cuisses were also constructed (see below).

The original pattern was constructed of corrugated cardboard which was then taped into position. After performing all the movements which might occur in a fight, the cardboard was removed and trimmed at the edges where bend lines appeared. This process was repeated until the armour sat comfortably and moved without pinching.

The trimmed cardboard pieces were then used as templates for the legs - each one being slightly different after trimming (perfect bi-lateral symmetry is rare among humans!). An allowance of 1 cm was added to all edges as a guesstimate to cover shrinkage.


Cuisse pattern

The Cuir Bouilli Process

In an ideal world I would have the skills to make, or have access to, wooden forms on which to shape the cuisses after they came out of the water. I didn’t, so my own legs had to provide the "form".

In that other world I would also have had a big enough element and a big enough pan to immerse all the leather at once. I didn’t have those either, only an ordinary kitchen stove and an enamelled roasting dish approximately 30.5 cm x 38 cm (12" x 15").

Materials

  • Pan, water, tongs, rubber gloves, thermometer, clock, and separate container of cold water (the sink in this case).
  • Leather cut to shape.
  • 2.5 cm (1") strips of panty-hose for strapping2.
  • Towel, bubble-wrap, and masking tape.

Preparation

  1. Not too surprisingly, leather straight out of boiling water is very hot. It also sets into shape rapidly so must be formed before it cools. Therefore, the first step in my less-than-ideal world was to wrap my right3 thigh in an insulating layer of towel, which was then covered by bubble-wrap, and the lot held in place with masking tape.
  2. In the meantime, the first piece to be cuir bouillied was soaking in cold water in the sink, and water was heating on the stove.
  3. After donning gloves, and then checking and adjusting temperature, the leather was taken out of the cold water and placed into the boiling water.

Cuir Bouilling

  1. Because the pan was not big enough to take the entire piece at once, the leather was progressively rolled through the water along the vertical axis (approximately 2/3rds of the leather was immersed at any one time).
  2. Natural curving started to take place as the leather polymerised and this was encouraged by the rolling process. This approach does have the advantage of allowing extra hardening to be applied to specific points by simply holding them in the water a bit longer.
  3. This process worked well for all but the first piece. This piece had (subsequently identified) flaws and distorted badly at the middle of the outer edge – see below.
  4. As soon as the desired hardness was achieved the piece was removed from the water and placed onto the form.

Forming the front of the Cuisse

  1. Working rapidly, the partially curved cuisse was lightly strapped in three places onto my padded thigh (these are the dark straps).
  2. I then hobbled to a chair and repositioned and tightened these straps, taking care not to cut into the leather.
  3. Three further supporting straps (the lighter ones) were added to cope with the distortion of this cuisse. They were not needed on the other cuisse.
  4. In order to minimise distortion caused by sitting, I propped my leg out on a footstool and slouched down far enough that the upper parts of the cuisse weren’t trapped by the chair.
  5. The time taken to sufficiently cool and retain shape before unwrapping was about 15 minutes, so a pre-prepared coffee and a book awaiting you could be useful!
  6. Once the cuisse was cool enough, it was removed and then lightly re-strapped to maintain shape while drying took place.
  7. Thigh padding and strapping were then removed and dry trousers put on!

Cuisse strapping to shape

Drying

The pieces were dried at room temperature for around 24 hours. This may vary depending on temperature and humidity. You’ll know they are dry if they sound "hollow" when you knock on them.

This photo shows both the front and back4 pieces of the dry right cuisse, looking up from the bottom so you can see the curvature.


Right leg dry: end view

View of the inside of the front and back pieces of the dry right cuisse, looking up from the bottom so you can see the curvature. The distortion to the front piece is noticeable in the curved edge.


Right leg dry: inside view

View of the front and back pieces of the dry right cuisse, looking from the outside (the ladder is for photographic purposes only!).


Right leg dry: outside view

Assembly

  1. The front and back pieces were joined by creating a hinge of thick, non-cuir bouillied leather. Holes were then drilled in both of the sides and in the hinge leather. and the pieces riveted together with tubular rivets.
  2. On the right cuisse, the mid-section of the front piece was so distorted that I decided not to risk drilling a hole so close to the edge. Instead I made up a oval badge (tooled with my arms) which I riveted using smaller rivets at four points outside the distortion.
  3. The cuisses were then strapped on again using the handy panty-hose strips, and marked for straps to secure them to the leg and straps for hanging from arming coat or belt.
  4. Tags for buckles were riveted onto the front pieces and then the buckles riveted to the tags. The cuisses were then donned again and the placement of the leather straps checked.
  5. Leather straps riveted to back pieces and to top of front pieces for hanging.

Right cuisse: side view

Close-up of the badge


Badge to cover distortion weakness

The left cuisse didn't have the distortion problems the right side did, so the hinging went easily.


Left cuisse: side view

The two cuisses side by side for comparison. Note the difference in length between the two caused by the distortion of the right front piece. Initially I decided to leave them as they were and simply adjust for the difference with the hangers, as the left thigh usually takes more attacks than the right. After trialling them in combat, however, I ended up trimming the left front at the bottom in order to get a better fit with the poleyns and lames.


Cuisses: outer thighs

Front views for comparison - note that the flare at the top differs because of the distortion further down.


Cuisses: front

Back view showing straps and buckles. Note again the effect of the distortion in the right piece means that the back piece doesn’t wrap quite as far at the left piece does.


Cuisses: back

KNEE ARMOUR: Poleyns, Lames, & Padded Cuisses

Genouillieres or poleyns appeared at least by the late 1200's as the effigy of Sir John D'Abernoun, 1277, shows5.


D'Abernoun's Effigy

Process

Poleyns require significant shaping and so it was some months before I tackled them. When using steel the poleyns can be gradually and precisely shaped using sinking or dishing. However with cuir bouilli the shape has to be right the first time round.

With the experience of the ability of imperfect leather to distort in mind, great care was taken to position the pattern (Sir Paul's) on good leather.

Distortion can also work for you, and I decided to try David Friedman's6 suggestion of achieving a dished shape by hardening the poleyns in stages. Briefly: a pin is pushed through the middle of the poleyn from the flesh side of the leather; the pin is held by pliers, and then the leather immersed in stages from the outer edges in. The theory is that the parts which are in the boiling water longer shrink more, so a natural ‘dish’ is achieved. He then finishes the shaping by leaving them to dry between two appropriate sized bowls.

Did this work?

Overall this worked fairly well, though I was in my non-ideal world still so had no appropriately shaped bowls! I therefore shaped them on my insulated knees. I was also not confident enough that a pin would work, so used a small nail instead. As a result I was left with a small scar where the nail went through the leather. This seems to be a cosmetic rather than a strength issue.

Lessons

  1. Use as small a pin as possible.
  2. Acquire "forms" in advance, and preferably raise them up on something so that the side-pieces can dry on a flat surface rather than a curved one.
  3. Mark the poleyns both ‘right’ and ‘left’ and ‘up’ and ‘down’ as soon as they are shaped as failure to do this caused a lot of time wastage!
  4. The difficulties in attaining a good shape make it clear why poleyns (and then couters) were the first pieces of steel nearly universally adopted regardless of the construction of the rest of the armour.

View of the poleyns from the front. Note the nail holes!


Poleyns: front

View of the poleyns from the side showing how the side pieces are positioned. Holes have been drilled in the right-hand one for attaching to padded cuisses.


Poleyns: side

View of the poleyns from the top. The left-hand one is near perfect in plane, the right-hand is slightly off.

Regardless of these inconsistencies in shape, they actually work well and can even be kneeled on.


Poleyns: top

PADDED CUISSES

The approach for the padded cuisses was adapted from a pattern by Sir Michael DeLacy (Mike Earl7) and from a photo from Joris de Sutter (of De Liebaart8). Padded cuisses act both as additional protection and to provide a base for attaching poleyns and lames.

In practice, I based the pattern on a pair of hose which fitted well, rather than the more segmented approach suggested by Sir Michael. (NB He interprets the lames as “decoration” which I do not think is born out by other authors or by the experience of wearing them – see below.)

The construction is of unbleached calico, cotton padding (old towel in this case for maximum air-space:thickness ratio), hand sewn eyelets and silk laces up the back, and finger-woven silk points at the knees and top with brass aiglets at the ends.

LAMES

The lames are based on Sir Paul Sommerton's patterns (see footnote 1) and modified by extending the bottom lames into five downwards-pointing triangles as seen on some effigies. For example, Ashdown9, discusses the Genouillieres of Sir Thomas Cheyene. (At 1368 this is slightly out of period but is the best illustration I found.)

Note: the lames are not cuir bouillied as their main role is articulation of cuir bouilli surfaces which are not of consistent thickness.


Cheyene's Genouilliere

DEMI-GREAVES

Demi-greaves were also based on Sir Paul’s patterns and use the same cuir bouilli processes as for the cuisses. Straps and buckles attached the same way.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER

  1. The lames are put on the points first and then the poleyns are placed on top before tying off with a weavers knot (single loop bow).
  2. The padded cuisses are then put on over whatever leggings you are wearing, and the points tied at the top to arming coat or belt. The back laces are adjusted for fit at this stage.
  3. The points at the knees are now re-tied if necessary. (Note: silk is very slippery for points and they tend to undo themselves. I solved this by dripping melted beeswax onto the areas which need to grip, removing excess with fingers once the wax hardened, and then tying them off.)

Note: these photos show the trial positioning of points using shoelaces pinned to the approximate height needed. Once this was set, the silk points were sewn on.


Padded Cuisses and Poleyns

I couldn’t find any evidence for padded shins, despite Sir Michael’s pattern. As my boots come up well over the ankle I decided not to worry about padding there. The base of the demi-greaves therefore intentionally make a slight curve out over the tops of my boots.

Note: the top of the demi-greaves slide in under the bottom lame before fastening.


Padded Cuisses, Demi-greaves, and Poleyns

Finally, the cuisses are put on. The best order has proven to be:

  • Attach top strap to arming coat/belt.
  • Slide bottom of cuisse under the top lame.
  • Do up cuisse leg straps.

The outcome is that all except the inner parts of the thigh, the very back of the knee, and about 1/2 of the back of the calf are armoured. On horse-back very little unarmoured leg would be exposed, and on foot a frontal attack can reach very little unarmoured flesh can be reached.


Complete Leg Armour: front

The view from the right side shows the left upper lame opening too far; this was adjusted before the points were permanently attached. (Note - photos taken in mirror so apparent sides are reversed!)


Complete Leg Armour: right side

The left side view shows how far the demi-greaves come down over the boot.


Complete Leg Armour: left side

SEALING THE WORK

Although you can go ahead and use the armour at this stage, it is somewhat vulnerable to deterioration if it gets wet. Some people choose to wax or oil the armour, some choose to dye it, I chose to seal it with acrylic paint. For an explanation of that choice go to Part Eight: Notes on Colour.

COLOURS

  • Yellow was chosen for the poleyns and lames after coming across a reference in Ashdown10:

"Genouillieres were invariably of cuir-bouilli, and where illustrated in MSS. or shown in stained-glass windows are of a yellow colour."

That fact that yellow ('or') happens to be one of my livery colours was pure co-incidence!

  • Red ('gules') was chosen for the main parts of the armour as it was my other livery colour. The cuisses and demi-greaves are pictured. For the fully coloured harness go to Complete Armour.
  • For an explanation of the specific intensities of colours and their application go to Part Eight: Notes on Colour.

Painted Leg Armour (plus Gauntlet)

FOOTNOTES

1 Sir Paul of Sommerton's patterns found on Daniel Fenwick's page at http://web0.greatbasin.net/%7Efenwick/

2 Panty-hose/nylon stockings are useful to stake plants as they don't cut into the soft plant tissue, so they seemed a logical choice for this exercise as the wet leather marks easily.

3 The right thigh was chosen for the first piece as it typically receives less attacks than the left thigh – unless facing a left-handed fighter. This turned out to be a good choice as there were problems with the leather as discussed later in the article.

4 The back pieces went through the same process as the front pieces. In order to ensure they would match the front pieces, they were strapped on with the dry fronts in place to match seams.

5 'An Illustrated History of Arms & Armour'; Ashdown, Charles Henry; Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Hertfordshire; 1988; ISBN 1-85326-914-X, pg 98

6 David Friedman's discussion under 'Experimentation' - http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/%7emarc-carlson/leather/hl.html#cb11

7 In 'Building your own Armour - Part 5: A 14th Century Leg Harness'; http://www.eredsul.org/earl_mike/ArtsofWar.html

8 http://www.liebaart.org/cuisse_e.htm "a Living History and Experimental Archaeology group Belgium (Flanders) which focuses on the “life in Flanders around the year 1302".

9 Ashdown, op cit, Chapter X, 'Camail and Jupon Armour Period 1360-1410', pg 189. He goes on to comment:

"Sir Thomas Cheyne, 1368, also has studded cuissarts, and jambarts of studded splints - but his genouillieres are most remarkable and quite unique. The appear to be constructed entirely of cuir-bouilli with pendent tabs of singular form reinforcing the jambarts (Fig 236)".

10 Ashdown, op cit; Chapter IX 'The Studded and Splinted Armour Period 1335-1360', pg 156.


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Created by Sue Leader - July 25 2007