Guide to Padded kit

This page will hopefully cover all things padded. A lot of it is pretty speculative from the historical point of view as there are no extant bits of padding from our period. A lot of this stuff is based on guesses and picking up info from people who know better than I do.

History Bit

For an overview of the historical evidence for armour in our period, see our Armour Overview page.
quick write up… needs more research & references
Opinions differ over when padded armour first appears (for our purposes i.e. in the medieval period). Certainly padded gambesons are around by Hastings on the continent as armour on their own right. Padded armour probably starts off to added protection under mail. It adds a lot against blunt impact.
Jacks are common among ordinary soldiers from the crusades on, and were apparently very effective. By the 15thC we know that these jacks tend to be many many layers of heavy linen.
At the same time, padded armour continues to be worn under armour – under plate as it develops – the arming doublet. There is probably a continuum between arming doublet and jack – arming doublets are quite lightly padded, and arming jacks are independent armour. There are examples of late padded jacks of only two layers of linen, stuffed with cotton wool, but quite heavily stuffed, probably worn under some armour. It appears that multi-layered padding was worn as sole armour, and padding under armour was probably stuffed or a mixture of stuffed and layered.
The appearance of immediately post dark-age gambesons (worn alone) is of a garment with vertical lines of sewing. There are a few that seem to be much more flexible garments with dotted lines of stitching in the same pattern as tubes. It might be that the contrast between the solid lines and the dotted lines is between stuffed and layered jacks. On the other hand it might be that layered garments started to be worn under mail earlier, and the dotted garments are lighter versions of this, and the lined garments are stout versions rather than stuffed versions.

Practical Padding – choices

Stuffed or Layered

In my view, under mail, which is what is appropriate for our period, stuffed gambesons are preferable to layered. Based on hearsay a multilayered gambeson is extremely hard to sew and would be much more expensive if it was made from linen through and through, however I have not made or worn a layered gambeson myself so I can’t say what protective value it would have.


What a jack is stuffed with, how heavily it is stuffed, and how wide the tubes of stuffing are determine what it’s like to wear and be hit in it. It will also determine how much of a nuisance it is to make, how much it costs, and how much maintainance it needs.
scrap-padding: one option is to use any bits of cloth you have around the place. This uses a lot of scrap cloth and includes things like polyester that aren’t really period. Woolly jumpers, ex-school jumpers and similar work quite well – anything with some bulk to it. Corduroy does not work very well. Scrap-stuffing has poor consistency i.e. it’s lumpy and should be stuffed quite hard to give a reasonably consistent strength. At 15th century inventory records Sir John of Gaunt as having a box of scraps for making cloth armour which could suggest scrap stuffing.
Cotton wool: strange as it may sound, extant late medieval jacks are stuffed with cotton wool. On experimenting it turns out that cotton wool is remarkably good padding - firmer than poly-cotton batting - and when compressed actually quite resistent to cutting. However, cotton wool was probably not in use in the dark ages, as it would have been imported from the east.
wool: as in either washed raw wool or wool clipped off a sheepskin. This is relatively easy to stuff, and it’s possible to vary the weight of the padding. However there is a chance of the wool being gradually turned into felt though use (compression and damp…)
double sided felt: two layers of felt with a foam layer between them. Doubled over rammed into the tubes this makes reasonable padding, but its weight can’t be varied and it is rather stiff.
modern toy stuffing: this has the advantage of being quite cheap. It seems to behave similarly to wool, but without the risk of being converted into felt over time.

Weight of Stuffing

Heavy stuffing is more protective that light stuffing. The weight of padding should be suited to the application. Heavier padding has the disadvantage of actually greater weight, it traps heat better and is stiffer. Heavily stuffed jacks are more likely to suffer from the stitches of the tubes being burst and requiring re-stitching. Heavier padding also gives the disadvantage of making it hard to feel blows.

Width of Tubes

The width of the tubes into which padding is stuffed is important to the pattern of the padding and how much can be stuffed into the tubes. The thickness of the tubes can also be used for tailoring. Very narrow tubes are much harder to stuff.

Making Garments


The main difficulty in padded garments is that the padded tubes have the effect of contracting the pattern when it’s stuffed. There is no accurate way of accounting for this except experimentation. So when drafting a pattern it is important to remember that contraction will be across the lines of stitching, and will depend on the width of the tubes and the weight of stuffing.
The tubes are also quite stiff along their length, but more flexible across their width (the lines of stitching act as pivot points).
My own experiments regarding the contraction problem give suggest that:
A tube 40mm in diameter will contract by 20% when stuffed
A tube 20mm in diameter will contract by 10% when stuffed.
so as a rule of thumb allow 10% extra material per 20mm increase in tube width
(note that this means 10% for the total width of the peice, not 10% per tube)


Seams parallel to tubes are unproblematic, and merely leave a small strip unpadded, depending on how close the stitching of the seam can be to the two tubes. However, seams across the tubes are more difficult. This will usually occur at the shoulders and the tops of the sleeves. The problem is that the tubes of the front and back portions tend to press together and pull the seam apart especially when the garment is not being worn. This can be deal with by building the garment from stuffed panels connected by buckle and strap (rather like a later period brigadine) or by lacing the panels together. The shoulder seam can be removed by constructing the garment from a pattern like a giant poncho (leading to very square shoulders). The sleeves-seams can also be disposed of by overlapping the sleeve and the body and sewing eyelets into the body and top of the sleeve to attach the sleeves. Otherwise the seam should be made as strong as possible as it is likely to be under a lot of stress.


Similar considerations apply to shaping padded garments as do normal ones. In periods where clothes are not generally fitted, padded garments probably are not either. If there is shaping, this poses a problem about how the tubes of padding will work. Either the tubes can follow the line of the shaping, or they can remain straight. The stiffness of padding can have the effect of making the shaping quite rigid, holding the padding away from the body.
'A Gambeson Pattern for Byzantine Re-enactment' by Peter Beatson has a pattern for a fairly basic sleeved gambeson, but an unsleeved or short-sleeved pattern would probably be best for our purposes.

Sleeve Joints

Although late medieval garments sometimes have separable sleeves, all the earlier examples seem to have either no sleeves or integral sleeves. Quite how this is done is not clear. Underarm gussets do not seem to be shown, or for that matter side gussets.
Depending on the stiffness of the tubes, they may interfere with a movement of the arm. If gussets are used it is hard to see how they would be padded.
Some later garments with full length sleeves exhibit cut outs at the inside of the elbow joints – allowing more escape of heat and better flexibility.

Sewing Patterns

The earlier examples of padding all exhibit vertical tubes of padding. Later on more interesting things are seen – horizontal tubes – a mixture of the two in different places – even no tubes, being replaced by “French knots” – or a checkerboard pattern.
French knots are probably used for multilayer garments.

Other Padded items

A very useful item of padding is the padded coif, probably worn under coifs in the late dark ages, and certainly later. Alternatively some helmets have a leather ring riveted inside the helmet with triangles of stuffed padding in the form of a suspension liner.
Later on Gamboised cuisses are know, and perhaps even padded hosen (no not padded there).

Maintaince and Care

Burst Tubes

A heavily stuffed, or heavily used padding with almost certainly burst a few tubes at some point. What happens is that the thread used to sew the tube breaks, and the padding in the two tubes next to one another merge together. The burst will tend to spread gradually along the length of the piece of broken thread, so this is best dealt with quickly. To repair the tube it’s best to start re-sewing a little before the burst patch, then as far as possible separate the padding material back into two tubes and then re-sew. The longer a burst patch is left the more the padding from the two tubes merge and the harder it will be to repair the tube.


After a while any padding with suffer the effects of being sweated into on a regular basis. One of the major disadvantages of padding is that washing it is a nuisance and time consuming. A heavily padded garment like a gambeson or jack is unlikely to be machine washable as it won’t move around in the machine in anything like the right way. Just about the only way to wash a really heavy jack is in a bath, alternating soaking kneading and changing the water when it turns black.
Washing can also cause materials in the garment to shrink or turn wool stuffing into felt.
Drying the garment will take a lot longer than ordinary clothing, even for quite light garments they can be days in drying. The garment will tend to stay damp for some time, they may acquire a damp-wool type smell nearly as bad as the worn padding smell, but this can be sorted out by airing.
Various things were done to padding that might have had an effect on the necessity and practicality of washing – several late examples are coated with pitch (though this jack may have been used in a maritime context). There are also accounts of multi-layered jacks being soaked in salt water.
An alternative to washing might be smoking – or simply wearing near wood fires a lot. Clothing might have been deliberately smoked over an fire to kill lice. The smell of wood smoke is persistent and might mask the smell of well worn padding.


shrinkage of padding, burst tubes or simple wear can lead to padding being pushed away from some areas, particularly, where the belt sits, the shoulders and the elbows (if they’re covered). There are ways of preventing migration – checkerboard sewing instead of tubes alone at effected areas. After it’s happened there’s not a lot that can be done about it. The only way to replace the stuffing is to cut the tube open on the inside of the garment, insert more padding, and sew it up again.

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