JERRY-RIGGING - Building My First Set of Armor
Updated: Feb 17
THE FIGHTERS - Gawking at My First Heavy Weapons Tournament
DAMSEL OUT OF DIS-DRESS: My First Time in Heavy Armor
22 years old
It is official. I have, at long last, found Home.
The SCA is the exact thing I have been looking for all my life. I mean, come on. Dance, costuming, arts, crafts, food, history, theater, character creation, music, storytelling, and now heavy weapons combat all in one magical place filled with people driven by chivalry, honor, and a devotion to excellence?
I’ve never seen anything like this. It doesn’t matter what the project is. Making garb, choosing a persona and a name, acquiring the appropriate period gear to feast in public, getting a camp set up, finding a ride to out-of-town events, putting up a tent in the dark, breaking it down. All the dancers share moves, and the more experienced ones teach on the fly around the fire. The fighters were so generous and thrilled to welcome a new shield-maiden.
Last week at my first event, Lord Berwyn threw me in his armor so I could try it out. Then Sir Saeric stayed around on the field to teach me after he’d already fought in two tournaments.
I swear, my heart is about to swell and pop, thence to rain kittens and rainbows down upon everybody! I've become quite ridiculous about my newest fixation. Because when Scadians say honor and chivalry, they truly mean it. Everybody seems to help everybody, especially we newbies, so when one of the fighters offered to come up and help me build my own set of armor, I jumped at the chance.
Alas, none of the other fighters had a schedule that could accommodate another out-of-town trip between events to accept my invitation and make it an official armor party. But I have no time to lose. Pennsic will be here in less than two months and I really want to be authorized before then. Some of the guys didn’t look terribly thrilled at these plans. I think maybe the single ones wished they could spend another weekend playing knights-and-swords with me, but I have made it clear to everybody--I am engaged to a man I love.
This is about armor, not romance, and thus the boundary will remain for anyone who wishes to interact with me.
“No problem,” everybody says, and it feels so different from the slimy way a lot of guys at the college say that, then turn around and try to worm their way into bed with me. But this is the SCA, and when a maiden fair expresses such a degree of passion over becoming a shield-maiden of the North, this desire--dare we say, instantaneous, undeniable, voracious obsession--must be answered.
They call him Satyr because of how many different girls he’s chased. It’s also a play on his name. But more often, behind his back, they have another name for him. It's a cruel name and I've asked them not to say it in front of me, because bodies don't always come in ideal makes and models. Bodies are weird and annoying. Sometimes they do things we can't fully control. Sometimes we can't control them at all. I suspect that this is actually the biggest reason the guys growled when Satyr offered to help me make armor. Because of his…
I try really hard to accept people as they are, to accept that we don't always get the bodies we wish we had (more so, that other people wish we had). I prefer to base my opinions on who someone is and how they treat me, rather than their physical characteristics.
After all, I’ve been one of those people shoved to the fringes, called horrible names, ignored and attacked for most of my life. I refuse to propagate that trend, especially if it’s merely based on a health issue and a bit of social awkwardness. I'm the Queen of Social Awkwardness, so when Satyr offered to drive up here and help me make armor this weekend, I said, “Hell yes and thank you!”
On Saturday morning, he arrives at my apartment just as stores are opening. “Let’s go,” he says before he’s barely put his stuff down.
“Oh!” I blink, then grin at all the butterflies flipping circles through my stomach. “Okay!”
Shield-Maiden City, here I come!
As we get into my car and Satyr starts thumbing through the yellow pages of the phone book we’ve brought along, that now-too-familiar knife in my heart gives a stab. Hal had promised to teach me how to make my first set of armor. There always seems to be somebody willing to step into the myriad vacuums left by his death, but it’s never quite the same. Everybody’s favorite Viking will have to be with me in spirit today.
Satyr and I spend the morning buzzing around town at a variety of locations I’ve never been to. We begin at Play It Again Sports, rifle through the Army-Navy Outlet, pass through a hardware store and a place that sells hand-me-down medical apparatuses, and end with the leather and hide shop. We spend the remainder of the afternoon and into the evening jerry-rigging a rig that is good enough to pass an armor inspection on my college student budget.
The hard, molded hockey pads protect my shins and knees as they are. We cut thick, slightly flexible foam into the shape of a knight-in-shining-armor’s thigh plates, then glue concealing leather over that and string it all from the belt of a parachute harness. Only my ass and the backs of my thighs remain uncovered.
(I would eventually learn that putting all that weight on my shoulders was the worst possible idea for someone of my petite stature and feminine frame, but hey, we start with whatever we can. Besides, most of the guys in our area weren’t accustomed to designing armor for the female body.)
Satyr suggests that I make big puffy pants out of sturdy material to cover it all because it’s quite homely and garishly modern. Since the belly dancer already knows how to make harem pants, I should be set.
Lower body armor: check.
The gorget (neck guard) is easy enough to make from a neck brace, a buckled strap, and more thick leather. Hockey gloves and elbow pads, like their corresponding knee-guards, are also apparently good to go by themselves. Ugly, non-period, and obnoxious, but functional. With my thickest sweatshirt sufficing for a gambeson (the padded under-armor garment), the hockey gear will get me started. It'll be even better once the elbow pads are hidden by an oversized tunic.
To protect my torso and spine, we string together two molded, plastic back braces by their wide velcro straps. The back one fits the way it was designed; we turn the front one upside down to accommodate the swell of my chest. We have to slice a bit off the top corners to keep it from gouging my armpits.
The final and fancy layer is a leather…
The front and back pieces of molasses-hued hide conceal the back braces, while the hanging scales cover up the football shoulder pads. This is great.
However, while I am busy riveting buckled straps onto leg guards, my armor-meister has been making the item. I’m not quite certain how the four crescent-shaped pieces of leather protruding from my chest are supposed to protect my breasts better than the hard plastic plate mashing the real items into smithereens against my ribcage. I’m also not sure how my tits are supposed to fit into the cut-out holes.
Really, they’re not.
I think the protrusions are supposed to be decorative and to distinguish me as one of those strange creatures you don’t often encounter like mermaids, faeries, and Bigfoot. I've heard that, except for the Twin Cities, shield-maidens are not a common occurrence here in the north woods. I can see how this is true, because I've still never met one.
Upon donning the item and checking myself out in the mirror, I blink, then lift the corners of my lips in the appropriate direction.
Shield-Maiden in the Making
Since all this time, energy, gas money, and creative problem solving has been generously gifted by someone who barely knows me…well, proper shield-maiden-wanna-bes do not act like ungrateful bitches when presented with leather Madonna-cone armor. We say, “Thank you,” we accept the gift graciously, and then, the millisecond we are alone, we promptly yank off said cones, riveting a decorative piece of leather over the now-visible, tawdry boob-holes, through which my squished boobs cannot possibly protrude.
The Boob Holes & Cover, Me & Maghnuis at Pennsic XXIV
Chivalrous shield-maiden-wanna-bes also start practicing our grateful-but-apologetic smiles and our socially acceptable excuses: “Ohhhhh, yeah. Those boob cones? I had to take those off. They kept getting in the way of my strikes.”
Which is 100% true. Ahem:
Got it? Groovy.
Back to the makeshift workshop on the wooden floor of my little third-story, Third Street apartment. No shit, here I stand in my brandy-new, passable (enough) armor. I am one step closer to becoming a genuine fighter-chick. Now all I have to do is:
Acquire the only piece of armor that cannot be jerry-rigged: the all-important helmet.
Acquire a sword-n-board. (Also known as a duct-taped hunk of rattan with a hand-guard, plus a shield. You know, because…shield-maiden.)
Learn how to fight (enough).
Pass armor inspection and my authorization test to prove that I have learned the rules, safety practices, and basic skills to make a good (enough) showing on a tourney or battlefield.
Truly learn how to fight so I won’t get “clubbed like a baby harp seal” on my first step out the tent.
(I know. That’s absolutely horrible, and it's how a great many of the fighters phrased it to me back then.)
Once Satyr and I complete our armor-making project, and the tools and scraps have been put aside, food happens. Rest happens. And then showers and sleep need to happen. Since my armor-meister has driven for several hours to come help me, he needs what the SCA commonly refers to as “crash space.” No problem. I have a couch that is even more garish than my hockey gear armor, but it, too, is functional. After I brush my teeth, change into pajamas, and take a pre-slumber pee, I open the bathroom door to find all the lights out in the apartment.
All the lights, that is, except for my bedroom.
To my ice-veined shock, I find Satyr sitting on my bed with the covers pulled back.
Instantaneous hackles of alarm: engaged.
Brain function: bwow-wohh-wohhh-wohhhhh…CRASH.
From this moment on, everything happens very quickly. If you’ve ever been in one of these situations, then you know. Time doesn’t exactly work right. It definitely doesn’t transpire in any fashion that could be described as “normal.” Nothing does. All the colors go a weird hue. Not quite sepia. Overexposed.
Here’s your flashy lights and your warning klaxons. Can you see them? Can you hear them? It’s about to get ugly in here. You probably wanna abandon ship now.
I make mention of the couch out in the living room. Satyr snickers it off as though I’m acting really immature and reminds me that the SCA is one big puppy-pile family. Amidst the clashing, colliding brain static and the panicked arguing in my head, I attempt to wrangle up a variety of deflection tactics that will shut this down. He comes onto me anyway. I keep throwing up roadblocks as I try to figure out how to get out of this mess I've inexplicably blundered into.
He doesn’t take no for an answer.
And that, my friends and foes, is how quickly everything can turn on its head.
For my next acrobatic feat of loquacious locution, I shall demonstrate why I so desperately needed to learn the arts of self-defense, including management of the fight-or-flight chemical dump, effective communication under duress, trusting my instincts, assigning responsibility for wrongdoing to the correct party, and building rhino-hide armor specifically designed for my girlish needs.
🤘 Female Fighter Fun 101. 🤘
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: BUILDING ARMOR - The Hard Way. A shield-maiden series NOT for the faint of heart or the easily triggered.
--OR: You can find out how my adventures in sexism, armor, and boundaries influenced my fictional series about a female fighter in a male dominated world: TAKE THE HIT - Asking Fighters to Critique My Gladiatrix
--OR: You can find three decades worth of tales about being a female fighter HERE.
**It should be noted that I’ve never known anyone who was nicknamed Satyr. That makes this tale a work of fiction.
Based on the pieces of my life that aren’t.
MORE GEEKY LINKS
2) Female Armor - History or Fantasy?
5) The SCA