The shield, part 1

I want a proper shield for the Battle of Wisby.

I have never tried to make a shield before, let alone used one, only tried a small buckler at fencing training. And I’m not much of a woodworker at all. Even if I’ve had some training at it, I get frustrated handling materials that are less forgiving than fabric.

But I do work in other materials from time to time. I think it is a good thing to challenge yourself with projects out of your comfort zone sometimes, otherwise you’ll never develop and learn new things.


So, when you stand there, all out of your comfort zone, but committed to a new project – what to do? I looked at period pictures and asked around among my fighting friends, what kind of shields do they use?

What kind of shields are common during late 14th century? Are there any types of shields that seem to be only for the more privileged in society? How big should my shield be, and how heavy of a shield can I carry and still be effective and protective in a fight? And how should it be made?


Johan had the answers on many of my questions. He has written an excellent text on the topic of shield-making and I hope I’ll be able to share his tutorial here in a future post.  So, no further details on how to make shields today. I’ll save that for Johans tutorial since I’m such a newbie on shieldmaking. Until then, here are some teasers on of how far I’ve gotten in my first attempt to make a few shields.


Building a jig to shape the shields around. Glueing plywood sheets together and fastening them onto the jig, leaving them to dry. (Pleas note that the paper pattern on the left is NOT a medieval shield shape, it is a “Norman kiteshield”, as seen on Bayeux tapestry from the late 11th century)


The plywood didn’t bend as much as I’d wanted, but I have to make do with what I’ve got. The next time I’ll make a more sturdy jig to shape my shield around. The two shields to the right is for BoW.

My shield is only very slightly arched, but I know now how to do it better.

My shield is only very slightly arched, but I know now how to do it better.

I cut out the shapes after arching the plywood.

I cut out the shapes after arching the plywood.


I dressed the back of the shields with a nice wool fabric and started to work on the interior, straps and padding.

The padding on the small shield is done. Now I'm testing the layout for my straps that are to be the handle. I'll have to figure out a way to fasten them really good since the will be under a lot of stress when I use the shield.

The padding on the small shield is done. Now I’m testing the layout for my straps that are to be the handle. I’ll have to figure out a way to fasten them really good since they will be under a lot of stress when I use the shield.


Here we can see one example of how the interior might look like.

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The medieval pilgrimage reenacted

For today’s post I proudly present a new guest writer, my friend Frida. She has news on a event that will be possible to join during The battle of Wisby, something very special. As I hope I have mediated earlier, The Battle of Wisby is not only about a battle. It is also about experiencing and exploring many other aspects of medieval life.

Remember that I wrote about a photo shoot I did, posing for Fridas reenactment of a medieval pilgrimage on Gotland? She and the rest of the pilgrims came home from their journey the other day with a newly won in-depth knowledge and experience of both the worldly and the spiritual life of the medieval man or woman. This is the story of her medieval pilgrimage.

The rosary and Fridas pilgrim bag with badges from St. Olaf Holm, Sigtuna and Vadstena. Photo: Frida Gamero

The rosary and Fridas pilgrim bag with badges from St. Olaf Holm, Sigtuna and Vadstena. Photo: Frida Gamero

Perhaps it is only now, when I unpack the last of the things from the pilgrimage and sort them into washing-storage-closet-piles that it hits me what I have been through and what I got back with me. From a belt bag I pick up the rosary that Martin Eriksson and Åsa Martinsson made ​for each participant before the walk. When I hold it in my hand, I am suddenly closer to the medieval man or woman than ever before. Now I understand at an emotional level more of the emotional charge these objects had for those who kept them in hand every day and let the beads be accompanied by prayers to God and the Virgin Mary.

The pilgrims wanders over a dandelion field towards the holy well at Bro Church, Gotland. Photo: Johan Käll

The pilgrims wanders over a dandelion field towards the holy well at Bro Church, Gotland. Photo: Johan Käll

The medieval religion has of course a lot in common with my own but it also differs in many ways. As a modern Swedish protestant, there is a lot of superstition, magic, indulgences and perception of sin within the medieval faith which I object to on a personal level, but I can still get close to it and learn to understand this very different world view.

My curiosity about the medieval man’s spiritual life, socio-cultural conditions and experience of the world has always been stronger than my interest in the textiles, cut, stitching and other parts of the physical reenactment. Of course I aim to be as accurate as possible in my re-creation of the clothes, but they become means to reach a different kind of understanding. Behind the clothes we study so closely there was a real live person. She was more than her clothes, she had dreams, thoughts, experiences and emotions that defined her in a far more fundamental ways than her clothes did. It’s her I want to get to know.

Virgin Mary at her altar in the church Bro. Photo: Olivia Hansson

Virgin Mary at her altar in the church Bro. Photo: Olivia Hansson

Each day during the trek, I held the rosary in my hand and let the beads go between my fingers. “Ave Maria gratia plena … ” – Hail Mary full of grace – a very direct address to the era’s biggest superhero: a simple, poor woman who became the Mother of God. As a man of the Middle Ages was at the mercy of the uncertainty of reality; diseases, poverty and accidents could not be explained and understood in the same way as today, but became part of the heavenly wrath. In their vulnerable situation they asked for help from someone who had been human just like them, not as alien as the King of Kings, Lord Sebaoth. She was a tender mother who gladly rescued and helped. She’s not really a part of my spirituality, but I have during these days met her in a different way and got a glimpse of how important she was for past generations before the Reformation.

There is also a thought of what a great challenge a pilgrimage would have been at that time, before the safety of mobile phones, cars, extra shoes and maps. Usually with only stories and hearsay to go on, they took off to unknown regions, relying on the generosity and help of strangers. On our pilgrimage we had “both braces and belt”, plenty of equipment and food to get by, while the medieval pilgrim would prefer to go with just a stick and a small bag. If a man broke a leg or fell into an icy creek there was no simple solution or quick rescue to be found – they were at the mercy of the grace and benevolence of others.

The pilgrims in a meadow on Gotland. Photo: Olivia Hansson

The pilgrims in a meadow on Gotland. Photo: Olivia Hansson

My rosary and my pilgrim badge are not just things I bought to create a medieval costume, they carry meaning for me and memories of the trek, hardship, sore feet, joy, nervousness, fellowship, prayers and insights. And all at once I come the medieval human very close …

I know that more people out there share my interest in socio-cultural reenactment, and I want to encourage to take the opportunity this summer to take part in a fun and different experience on the topic:

During Battle of Wisby-event 2013 there will be held two shorter pilgrimages. The participants will take part of both theoretical overviews of what we know about the medieval pilgrimage-phenomenon and take part in Mass, prayers and the pilgrimage to the church of Bro. Hopefully the participants will take with them a bit of the same feeling for the spirituality of the 14th century given to us by our four day journey.

At Väskinde church. Photo: Olivia Hansson

At Väskinde church. Photo: Olivia Hansson

The pilgrimage will go through Stora Hästnäs with its preserved medieval house, Väskinde church that has an old horse parking built in the cemetery wall, Bro church that was one of the island’s most important pilgrimsites in the Middle Ages and the finish will be at the holy spring which lies just east of Bro. There you will be able to fill an ampulla with water from the well and carry around a piece of medieval man’s innermost being.

The pilgrimages will be held on Wednesday, 7/8 and Friday 9/8. Start 09:00 at the Cathedral and end around 18:00 (ride back to camp included). The cost is 170 sek an that includes a simple lunch. Maximum 15 people per group, so sign up now if you want a guaranteed spot.

Registration and questions to

My hunting partner Johan was also in on the journey and made a 35 minutes long film about their pilgrimage – watch it and be inspired!

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Homepage updated, sign up to participate!

The project Battle of Wisby aims to honour the fallen of the battles of Mästerby and Visby, and to remember their sacrifice for freedom by reenacting the battle and putting up a big military camp outside the walls of Wisby.


The Gutes makes a last stand.

Finally the events homepage is updated! Now I hope that you can find all the information you’ll need to sign up, and more is yet to come.

I love all the new amazingly inspiring pictures of camp equipment, clothing and tents! Important information about when, where and how is found here.


Our camp. Soon outside the medieval town wall of Wisby, Gotland, Sweden.

To sign up, send an email to When doing so you will get an Excel file in return. Fill in the file and return the file to the same email address where it came from.

For new participants at Battle of Wisby we would like you send us a photo of yourself in your medieval outfit and a picture of your tent, if you are planning on staying in the camp. Send the photos together with the application file.

Why do we need photos?

Reenactment/living history can be described as a way of teaching and learning history. Living historians and reenactors conduct research to learn more about their chosen period, including customs, material culture, martial arts, cooking – the lot of it. The (impossible) ambition is to be a 100 % accurate, and although it isn’t really achievable, most of the recreated objects and costumes are of pure museum quality.

The participants of Battle of Wisby collectively take on a responsibility on how we pass our knowledge on, what picture of our period we convey to others. As a participant, therefore we want your equipment to fit in the context of the Baltic sea region during the middle of the 14th century. We will be very rigid when it comes to this, which means some of your equipment might have to be modified to fit in. The earlier you send us your pics, the better; then you will have more time to adjust. Read more about what we want to see here.

To sign up, send an email to

 Welcome to Battle of Wisby 2013, 2-11 of August

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It is easy to make 14th century buttonholes. The hard thing is to make them look neat and pretty. The first five hundred is a bitch. 😉

DSC_0033No, not really. But it takes a little practise and patiance to get it right. And since I’m not the most patient medievalist around, I sometimes I feel that buttons and buttonholes are the curse of the 14th century.

Whenever I state this, my friend Johan reminds me that I only say so because I’m vain. (He is right about that.) Then I reply that he only says I’m vain because he is old(er) and not as good looking as I (not true). Then he gets grumpy, and I keep on sewing buttonholes…

It is perfectly fine to make your 14th century clothes without buttons (or lacing), if you make them not so tightly fitted. Here are some pictures on how I work my buttonholes, but mind you, I’m not sure I’ve done my first five hundred yet, so they are far from perfect…

DSC_0027I place my buttonholes close to the edge, about 3 mm is fine. Before I cut a hole in my fabric, I stitch the outline of the buttonhole around the needle marking the placing of the buttonhole (above). I think that makes the lines nice and straight.

DSC_0029I make the hole in two steps. First I cut a short slit only halfway towards the middle of the buttonhole. Then I repeat the procedure from the other end, working towards the middle. Be careful not to cut of thread that outlines the buttonhole.

DSC_0030This is how I do the buttonhole stitch itself. It is as if the thread knots itself on the inside of the buttonhole, strengthening the cut edge and protecting it from tear.

st_buttoDSC_0031Sometimes I work my buttonholes from the inside of the garment, sometimes from the outside, but always I use the same strategy throu the hole garment. If the garment is lined with linnen as on these pictures, I can use the pattern of the linnen weaft on the inside to make sure I get an even spacing between the stitches. But sadly, that doesn’t guarantee your work looks pretty on the right side. It is often a bit harder to sew your buttonhole from the right side of the garment without the guidance of the grain of the linnen, but you can see exactly how it turns out as you work.

I decided that folding this fabric would be to clumsy, so I secured the raw edge with a two-tablet weave instead.

I really hope my tips have been more helpful and inspiring than discouraging. If you need more guidance on the topic I think that The Medieval Tailor has the best and simplest guide I’ve been able to find on-line on how to make your own hand stitched buttonholes 14th century style.

Good luck with your buttonholes! I’m looking forward to see you all buttoned up at Battle of Wisby, only ten weeks to go now before the event!

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Tight and tidy rows of buttons seems to have been at the hight of fashion during the later part of the 14th century. Sometimes the buttons were so tightly placed that each button touched the next one. (Read more about the placing of buttons at Cotte Simple!)

If you prefer a hands on-guide on the subject in Swedish, Sarah ( also a most peculiar mademoiselle) has written an exellent guide here.

Effigy of Isabelle Cloville, England 1361,  contemporary with the Battle of Wisby in Sweden.

Effigy of Isabelle Cloville, England 1361, contemporary with the Battle of Wisby in Sweden.


A poor mad man with his cotthardie unbuttoned, hoses rolled down and broken boots.

A messenger with his cotthardie unbuttoned, hoses rolled down and broken boots.

The buttons could be gilted, silver, tin or bras. They could be decorated with precious stones or imitating gems with coloured glass beads. Or, the could be made of cloth.

It is not at all hard to make your own cloth buttons. They are super easy to mass-produce. When you’ve got the hang of it you’ll be able to effortlessly make a cloth button in less than 2 minutes. There are many ways to make buttons. This how I do it, based partly on how I perceive some of the buttons from Herjolfsnes, the instructions in Medieval Tailors Assistant and my own experience. (A guide to making make buttonholes are found in this post)

Knappar1Knappar2 knappar3 knappar4 knappar5 Knappar6When you have your buttons ready you should attach them straight on to the folded edge of your 14th century garment – not an inch or so from the edge as on clothes of later times. This saves fabric since no overlap of the edges is needed. Save the thread, you don’t have to cut it of. You can use the same thread when attaching the button to your garment.


Buttons attached tightly together, with a little bit of a neck to make them easier to button up.

To give my buttons a bit of a “neck”,  I put two wooden matches between the fabric edge and the button. Then I sew up and down between the button and the fabric around the matches a few times. I finish my work with a few “buttonhole-stitches” around the cord/neck of the button and attatch the thread down in the garment edge. If you have enough buttons placed tightly together and a pattern well made, there will be no gap.

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A pilgrim in a patched dress

I was flattered when I was asked to do a photo shoot a few weeks ago in order to make some nice press pictures for another reenachtment event. My friend Frida is organizing a traditional medieval pilgrimage at Gotland now in May. I really, really wish I could have joined in on that, I think it will be totally awesome. I saw one of  the pictures we did in Allt Om Historia the other day, but sadly the article is only available in Swedish.

In medieval manuscripts or church paintings you often see pilgrims wearing simple and comfortable travelling clothes, a shoulder bag, a staaf and perhaps also a rosary, like I do in this picture. Male pilgrims are commonly portrayed wearing a certain hat, sometimes with a big shell on it in front. The scalop shell is the sign of St James (also know as St Jakob) who’s grave in Santiago de Compostella in Spain was the goal of one of the most popular pilgrimages at the time. In fact, I think it is still a very popular goal for modern pilgrims.

Today I got the comforting news from the BoW organizers that there will be another chance for me and any other 14th century pilgrim prospects out there! And we don’t have to walk all the way to Spain – Frida will also be responsible for a smaller pilgrimage just over the day at Battle of Wisby 2o13. I’m so exited, this will be fun! (The details will be on the official web page soon.)

Remember the blue dress with grande assiettes I finished a few weeks ago? I call it the patched dress. I wore it as an under dress during the photo session and afterwards my friend Jan-Åke behind the camera took a few proper pictures of  it for me so finally I can show you what it really looks like on me.

Above you can see the largest patch, necessary as the material started to tear apart just between my shoulders. I don’t remember the toille behaving anything like that, so I just suppose I got bigger there since I made the pattern long ago. Everywhere else I think the dress fits nicely, slick like paint.


The belt I’m wearing is tablet woven in silk and inspired by a finding from the excavations by the River Thames in London. The original fragment is not much longer than 10 cm, if I remember correctly. It has little brass mounts on it, and I’ve had copy’s made, but I haven’t mounted them on my belt yet. The colours on the original is light pink and green instead of blue and green like mine, but in any technical aspect otherwise it is a copy, the measures are almost exact.

Because of the placings of the mounts on the original, it is suggested in Textiles and Clothing 1150 – 1450 (a book I really recommend to anyone in to 14th century dress) that it perhaps is not a part of a belt. It may have been a part of the structure that holds a spur on its place around a boot. But there is no way to know for sure what the fragment acctually was used for. And as there are other tablet woven belts preserved that seem to have been either plain, striped or patterned in some other way, I think this is a plausible interpretation.

I know that our perception of colours and our ideas of how they can be combined are a product of the time we live in now. The medieval man and woman had completely different ideas. But still, the picture I have in my head of some macho 14th century nobleman with pink and green striped silk ribbons for his spurs always makes me smile… 😉

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The First Hunt

Last Saturday I went up early  in order to go on my first “hunting tour” together with Johan. We’ve been thinking of reenacting medieval hunt for some time now and decided that we’ve been waiting long enough for the woods to dry up after the winter.


Me posing in front of a boars mark. Boudica wasn’t up for any posing this time.

I like the idea just of being in the woods in my medieval gear, hanging around with my friends, simply enjoying our camp fire, make some good food and eat it. I imagine we’ll stay out over night when it gets warmer outside, so we can easily get up at dawn to watch the game on the move.

We could also practise with bow and javelin or try to put up some traps (careful not to ever leave them sharp of course!). Most medieval hunting techniques are illegal in Sweden, like putting up snares and hunting with nets, bow and arrow or a spear. But it is not illegal to pretend or to take nice pictures of it while pretending.

That said, I’d like to share two films Johan and I made. Johan has edited them and we both helped filming the material. Even thou it isn’t exactly Battle of Wisby-related, I hope you’ll find it inspiring and suiting for the season we are in now.

This first time it was just the two of us and the dog, but hopefully we can get the rest of our hunting party with us the next time. I had a great day out in the woods and the weather was just perfect – sunny and beautiful but not to warm. We didn’t catch anything, we even failed to catch the bus on our way home. But when I finally came back home I had my stomach full of wine and cheese, my right arm was aching from practising with the javelin and I’d got the first tan of the season. Couldn’t be any better!

I have to get a javelin of my own and keep practising, it was so much fun!


Spring is officially here!

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