Patterning and Making Padded 14th-Century Armour: Aventails

I have been making padded aventails for a few years for my husband to wear when fighting heavy combat. This is some of what I have learned in further researching them and experimenting with the design.

There are not a lot of images of padded aventails, but there are a couple of very detailed effigy sculptures. The effigy of Philip the Bold shows the joining between the aventail and the helmet liner and the shape of the channels on each and on the effigy of Sir Walter Von Hoenklingen the aventail looks like it might be attached to the outside of the helmet rather than the inside. The aventails in the fresco from St. Stephen’s Church, Milan, Italy do not give any indication as to whether they are padded or mail, but drape with a similar stiffness as the other images and personal experience. Additionally, as on the effigy of Philip the Bold many of the mail aventails could have also had a padded aventail under them. This would provide different types of protection, with the mail protecting against cuts and the padded aventail protecting against concussive hits and also protect the wearer from the mail.

Examples of Padded Aventails in Medieval Images:

The first two aventails, the grey and yellow, were made for my husband and the green was finished by a friend, I did the patterning work and sewed the channels and then she stuffed the channels, hemmed the bottom, and attached the aventail to the helmet.

The first padded aventail that I made was a full circle that did not work as well as hoped. Because it was a circle it laid flat on his shoulder and would catch on other parts of his armour and did not move well with his head rotation. It was attached with the mail aventail directly to the bottom of the helmet and basically acted like ruffled collar. Additionally, it did not provide as much protection as hoped for.

The second padded aventail that I made was draped on the helmet using muslin and large amounts of duct tape to see if a better shape could be achieved. This aventail has been much more successful for a couple of reasons, 1) because it is about ¾ of a circle it creates a conical shape rather than a flat collar shape and does not catch on the shoulders when the wearer turns their head, 2) it was sewn to the padded helm liner which helps it to hold the conical shape and move more easily with the wearer’s head movements, alternately it could have been sewn directly to the helmet. Additionally, a more conical shape is what is seen in the two most famous images of padded aventails, the effigies of Philip the Bold and Sir Walter von Hoenklingen. And at least in the case of the Philip the Bold effigy the aventail appears to be sewn to the helm liner as well.

The yellow aventail was made for my husband and has held up amazingly well to being fought in at least once a week for over a year. Some minor patches have been needed, but as long as I patch holes as they appear he usually won’t lose any stuffing. Also, the padding in the aventail is varied so that it is stiffer in the front and back quarters and softer on the side quarters. This allows it to move more easily while still providing protection to the vertebra and throat. Overall the design has been effective and I would only make a couple of changes to the design. When I first designed the stuffing channels I decided that they all needed to run the full length top to bottom of the aventail, this makes them much thinner at the top than at the bottom. This actually made them somewhat challenging to stuff and I think attributed to the stitches popping along some of the stuffing channels. When looking more closely at the effigies I realized that the channels are actually sewn so that they are parallel to each other the length of the channel from the top to the bottom, which creates the triangle shape at the front and back of the aventail.

The dark green aventail is made on a slightly different pattern, the bottom edge is a little bit smaller than the yellow one making the shape even closer to that seen in the images. I also changed the direction of the channels so that instead of all of them running from the top to the bottom they are parallel creating a triangle shape front and back, more similar to the lines seen in the Philip the Bold effigy. So far this one recreated the lines in the imagery the best of the three patterns I have made.

The padding on the aventail can provide quite a bit of protection. On the ones that I have made the front and back quarter channels are stuffed very stiffly with wool, with the side channels being more flexible. This provides a lot of protection from thrusts and hits to the throat and spine while also allowing for flexibility and the aventail to move easily with the wearer’s head. The wool used to stuff the channels is cold washed fleece, that I do not worry about combing since it is being stuffed into the channels. I use a cold wash for the wool so that it retains some of the lanolin in the wool. Lanolin is a natural antimicrobial which helps to cut down on fighter sweat stink. On the aventails that I have made I make the inner layer from a medium weight linen and outer layer from a dense weave suiting weight wool, I have found that the wool holds up to strikes from rattan swords the best and most people prefer the linen next to their face.


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