[Shield]The Making of Wisby Plate

By Rick Steeves (SKA Master Corwyn Sinister)

Copyright 1993 (rev. 1996, 1997,2009)

Introduction and Notes

These instructions should enable you to construct a suit of Wisby plates, named from the Battle of Visby in 1361, fought at the walled city of Visby, on the Island of Gotland, Sweden when the Danish King Valdemar conquered Gotland. The resulting gravesites at/near the battle site were part of an archeological dig in 1928-1931. The battle itself lasted the course of several days, during which time the dead were left in the summer sun. By the time these soldiers were buried, the armor must have no longer been in any shape to be worn again, as many were buried in full suits of armor. A large number of relatively intact suits were unearthed from several mass graves. Wisby plate is primarily constructed from overlapping plates riveted to the inside of a coat of heavy fabric or leather.

The following images are extracted from the Armour from the Battle of Wisby, by Bengt Thordeman, as examples of the level of detail provided by this archaeological dig. This is clearly the defininitive work on the Wisby dig. The book covers the details of the dig, as well as the history of the town of Visby, and in-depth discussions of the battle and the events surrounding it. Buy this book!

There are also several really good diagrams in the Known Worlde Handbook, a publication produced by the SCA Corporate Office for a reasonable price. It has a set of instructions as well, but are less detailed than mine. However, it also has 2-3 pages each on a variety of SCA activities.

Plastic plates and upholstery fabric are used here as an alternative to waxed/boiled leather, steel, or aluminum plates, for price and weight considerations.

Some people, instead of using rivets to hold the plates in place, sew overlapping cloth pockets/pouches on the inside of the material (using vertical seams) and place the plates into them. For those w/o access to rivets (or those that love to sew), this is a viable alternative. The pouches allow the plates to be removed for replacement and for washing of the gambeson.

Pauldrons should be added for shoulder protection, placed after the armor is constructed. I also strongly advise riveting either plastic or leather to the inside of the material in the shoulder/neck region as well.

Supplies

BODY

LEGS

TOOLS

Vocabulary

I. Cutting the Plates

Tailoring the Plates

There are three types of plates: 1) flank plates, 2) stomach plates, and 3) chest plates (left, right, middle). People that vary significantly from my own height and weight (5'10", 150 lbs.) might want to consider tailoring the plates. Standard plates DO cover quite a bit of deviation though.

Flank Plates (122):

Length. Flank plates should be the distance from just above the point of the hip to approx. 2" below the arm pit (where the arm intersects the body). The idea is to get the maximum length that will still not bind arm movement or cut into the waist when the body bends.

Width. In period designs, the number of flank plates varied, ranging from four to fourteen plates (7" to 3" wide respectively). Here we are using 14, although the number used is strictly up to the individual. More plates makes the armor looks prettier (because it has more shiny rivets on the outside), and provides somewhat better protection. However, this (obviously) means more plates to cut and more rivets to set.

Stomach Plates (5):

Width: 3" wide, slightly wider if you have a long torso. The bottom plate may be made wider to provide more protection for the lower body.

Length: These plates should almost, but not quite, reach the points of the hips (11").

Chest Plates (3):

Chest plates should be approx. 8" x 3", with slight bulges extending from the bottom of of the left and right plates for additional breast protection.

Cutting Instructions

Trace out the plates. If making plastic leg armor as well, legs should be traced first to maximize plastic use. On a bucket, the flank plates should be traced vertically and the stomach plates horizontally, so that the curve of the bucket matches the curve of the plate on the body.

By current Atlantean rules, plastic kidney protection must be 1/8" thick. Therefore, flank plates must be either doubled up or cut from a thicker source of plastic, such as a plastic 50 gallon drum. When using 1/16" plastic (5 gal. plastic bucket), cut enough flank (kidney protection) plates to be able to double them.

Cut out the plates using a jig/sabre saw. Trim the fuzz and round the corners using a utility knife.

Drill three holes down the center of the length of one flank plate - one in the center, and one in each end about 1" from the edge. This plate will be your template for cutting out the holes in the rest of the flank plates. Using the template, drill holes in the rest of the flank plates.

Drill 5 evenly spaced holes down the length of one stomach plate, about " from the edge the long way. Using this as a template, drill holes in the rest of the stomach plates.

Drill three evenly-spaced holes down the center of the length of each of the chest plates.

II. Cutting the Fabric (all measurements without seam allowance)

You will need to cut the upholstery fabric into a "T", or sew together 2 separate strips for the same effect. A hole is cut in the vertical bar of the "T" for your head (see Figs. 1 & 2). Length EF should be: 16" or (dist. from points of shoulders + 2" wide). Length GC should be: (point of hip to 1" below armpit+ 2") wide and length DG should be 43" or (circum. of chest + approx. 8"). Ideally, length DG should be left as long as possible until the flank plates are set in.

The positioning of the hole is the tricky part. Cutting the fabric in 2 separate pieces enables a more accurate positioning.

Optionally (but recommended), sew a layer of denim or other heavy material to the back of the upholstery fabric for additional support. I recommend folding the material onto itself for added strength against tears, but some machines won't sew through 2 layers of denim and 2 layers of upholstery fabric.

III. Attaching the Plates to the Fabric

Lay out the fabric with the outside facing down. Lay out the plates on the fabric (overlapping) as shown in Figure 1. The flank plates should overlap the stomach plates however. Mark all the holes. All of the stomach plates overlapped should equal approximately the length of the flank plates. The flank plates should be placed such that they run from slightly above the point of the hip to just below the armpit.

To make sure everything lines up correctly (before attaching over a hundred rivets) punch out holes in the fabric for ONLY the bottom stomach plate and the first flank plate on either side. Affix the plates with a minimum number of rivets. I sometimes use small screws and bolts to increase the ease of removing them if necessary.

Note: When attaching plates, either a) punch holes in fabric for each individual plate, and then rivet it, or b) punch all the holes first, and then affix all the plates. The more conservative solution is (a), since if you've screwed up, you have fewer holes punched in the wrong place, but it IS somewhat annoying to keep flipping the armor over to punch the next set of holes. Remember, each flank plate needs to be made two plates thick if using conventional 1/16" plastic buckets in order to comply with current Atlantean armor regulations.

Attach the rest of the stomach plates, working from bottom to top.

Attach the flank plates, working from the stomach plates. Once 75% of the flank plates are attached, put the armor on for a more accurate estimate of how many plates will be needed. Plates can be added as needed. Remember that between the armor and your skin will be a layer of foam or a gambeson, so you will need more plates than it looks like initially.

Once all flank plates are riveted, put on the armor. While having it held closed in the back, place the chest plates on the chest to figure exact positioning. The bulges should not impede arm movement, keeping in mind that they will flex slightly with the armor. Mark the holes, remove the armor, punch out the holes, and attach the chest plates (left, right, and center).

Buckles

Buckles are necessary to attach the two sides of the flank plates in back, and to attach that to the back flap of the armor, so that the weight of the front plates doesn't pull the front of the armor down.

Place buckles at the top and bottom of the flank plates on one side, and the tongues on the other.

One buckle should be placed in the back with the other buckles, but facing so that it attaches to the back flap (the one with the neck hole in it). It takes an additional person to place the third buckle.

Padding

Cut a strip of foam slightly wider than the length of a flank plates and as long as the length of the plates wrapped around the body. This length needs to be measured in the curve as the armor would be wrapped around the body, not laid out flat on the floor - the two lengths are different.

Next, coat the top center stomach plate and the two end (farthest from stomach plate) flank plates with contact cement. Coat also the corresponding spots on the close cell foam. Let dry according to instructions on cement. Cement the foam to the inside of the armor.

Notes:

1. Some people prefer at this point to sandwich the plates and foam with yet another layer of material, but it is not necessary.

2. Instead of (or in addition to) foam, a heavily padded gambeson can be worn.

The Making of Plastic Leg Armor

First, cut bottom out of the 5 gal. plastic bucket.

Place the leg pattern against your leg. Stand in stance and see if it will bind. Adjust the pattern for binding and/or gaps.

Next, trace out pattern on plastic, preferably inside the bucket (due to a size difference caused by the curving). There is a right and a left leg; be careful. If also making body armor, trace those plates at the same time.

Cut out legs/plates. Trim and round edges using utility knife.

Place the plastic leg against your leg. Stand in stance and check again to see if it binds. Trim any (un)necessary plastic. (Check from your knees as well.)

Drill holes (inset about ") aound the perimeter every 3" and at each corner.

If you desire a decorative rivet pattern (such as a Celtic cross or just lines) in the plastic, mark and drill out those holes.

Mark and drill holes for the thigh straps.

Again, place the plastic leg on your own leg and stand in stance. Mark one hole 1" from the edge of the center top of the leg. Next mark another hole 1" straight down (as if you were using a plum bob). This should make the leg fit more comfortably and ride better on the belt. Drill out these holes as well. Note: This makes these left and right strap angle different.

Cover the outside of the plastic with upholstery fabric, giving approx. 2" overlap (with plastic curved as on the leg). After folding fabric over the edge, mark and punch through the two layers of fabric, and then rivet it. (The idea being to sandwich the plastic between two layers of fabric.) On the opposite side of the leg, repeat procedure, streching the cloth to prevent wrinkling. Work around the edges until all rivets are set.

Punch the holes in the cloth and set rivets for decorative design.

Punch the holes in the cloth and rivet the thigh buckles and tongues to the plastic (on the outside).

Punch the holes in the cloth and attach the leg harness straps (on the outside). These should be made to loop around a belt.

Attach knees. If using simple (unarticulated) knees, I recommend one solid square of 12 oz.+ leather on the inside of the leg and knee. Attach leather to knee with 2 Chicago screws. Attach other side to plastic with two more screws. Remember to apply Thread lock to screws so they don't come undone.

Cut out foam the same size/shape as the inside of the plastic leg. Remember to measure this with the plastic curved as if it is worn on the leg.

Coat the inside of foam and the inside of the plastic with contact cement. Let dry. Attach the foam to the plastic.

APPENDIX A: Setting Jiffy/Speed Rivets

Place the base (male half) of the rivet though the layers of things you want to connect, so that the tip is on the outside (side you want people to see). Next, place base of rivet on a rigid striking surface, making sure you don't have too much or too little of the tip showing. Next, place the cap (female half) of the rivet over the tip. Take hammer and strike cap firmly several times until it looked flattened. Be careful to strike it evenly, or you will get dents in your rivet. Next, try to pull the two surfaces apart, to check that the rivet holds. Discard flattened or bent rivet. Do NOT try to reuse rivets, esp. caps after they've been hit.

A bolt can be used to provide a backing for setting rivets in a hard to reach place, such as a curved surface (i.e. the inside of a metal knee). Place the head of the bolt on the cap of the rivet, and then strike the other end of the bolt to mash the rivet flat.

For attaching one or two layers of upholstery fabric to one layer of plastic, use SMALL rivets.

For attaching fabric to either a layer of plastic and a layer of leather, or two layers of plastic (or one layer of thick plastic), use MEDIUM rivets.

Note: You might need to buy small rivets AND larger rivets, just to get the larger caps. Small caps, although (marginally) acceptable against leather or plastic, generally pull out when used on fabric.