Protective Gear for the Lower Body to Match your Chinese Gambeson

Protective gear for Qing warriors
Blue Banner Armor

If you already have a gambeson for your Chinese swordfighting, you might want some protective gear for your legs. Chinese warriors wore a tasset made in the same way, with small brigandine plates rivetted between two layers of cloth. This gave it the effect of being nailed together, hence the term Dingjia (nail armour). Take a look at the picture of Bannermen warriors in the Forbidden City armor collection. These outfits are from the Pure Blue, Bordered White and Bordered Yellow banners. This armor was the inspiration for my gambeson and tasset set - that, and the fact my teacher wanted me to make one for him and supplied some pictures and historical comparisons for me to copy.

The tasset makes really good protective gear. Ours are made of thickly layered cloth and they have no steel plates inside. One day I'd like to have a good armourer make a real set for me, but in the meantime, this one is perfect for full speed Chinese swordsmanship with wooden swords. I also fight in it at my NVG reenactment group. It's thick enough to protect against blunt steel.

Its important to get the shape right from the beginning. The closest familiar thing I can relate it to is a set of chaps worn by American cowboys. The tasset is constructed from a shaped waistband and two leg aprons - one for each side, attached to each other until below the groin, and then left to split apart for the rest of the length. If you make this protective gear correctly it will protect the entire lower body, from the waist to the ankles. A well made tasset feels easy to wear and doesn't inhibit movement. The original Dingjia protective gear was tied around the legs above the knees. Our tasset will be lighter. I think it needs a second tie below the knee to hold it in place enough to protect your shins.

You will need:

  • 2 metres outer material
  • 2 metres inner material
  • a double bed size woolen blanket
  • 4 metres edge binding
  • lots of antique brass colour press studs
  • press stud tool
  • half metre iron on interfacing
  • narrow ribbon for inner border decoration
  • iron
  • sewing machine
  • red and white sewing threads
  • sewing needle

How to make the tasset:

    I've made a rough drawing of the measurements so you can make your tasset in proportion. This size fits most people from about 3XL, down to medium. If you are very small, it will be a little big, but you can try the pattern pieces against yourself and adjust before cutting out the material. If you are very large, make the ties longer. If the pattern length is wrong for your individualised protective gear, adjust it for your own fit. The markings on the pattern drawing are:

    protective gear for legs - tasset measurements

    • A Waistband width 14cm
    • B Waistband top length 129cm
    • C Waistband lower edge 88cm
    • D Inner leg straight length 72cm
    • E Widest part of tasset leg 60cm
    • F Waistband tie - 104cm
    • G Length from leg tie to tasset bottom 40cm
    • H Width at leg tie 56cm
    • I (not marked) leg tie length 106cm

    Draw out your pattern pieces on large sheets of paper. I used sheets of newspaper stuck together. You only have to cut out one leg piece but make sure you turn it over to cut out the material for the second leg. It will be a mirror image of the first. Try the pieces against your body for length.

    The waistband will look really long. It's meant to be. It crosses behind your back and ties in the front for stability.

    Use your pattern piece to cut out 4-5 thicknesses of woolen blanket. This is protective gear. It has to be thick to save you from bruising with wooden or even blunt steel swords. Also cut out an outer layer in the same colour as your gambeson, and a lining layer. There will be six or seven layers for each leg. Overlock the outer material so it doesn't fray - the lining as well if it needs it.

    The waistband doesn't need to be thick. You will already have the gambeson covering that part of your body. It just has to be strong enough to hold the weight of the lower tasset. I usually cut out an outer and inner layer, and two pieces of iron on interfacing - one for each side.

    Cut out long lengths of 6cm wide material. You will fold this into four layers and sewit into one 4 layer thickness for the waistband ties, leg ties, and loops to guide them through. It doesn't matter if you have to sew pieces of fabric together to make them long enough.

    Chinese armor
    Two tassets I made
    Cut the interfacing narrower than the fabric layers so that there is room for neat seams. Iron it into place on what will be the insides of the outer and lining fabrics.

    Turn the two pieces right sides together. Both interfacing layers will be on the outside. Overlock the lower edges. Pin the pieces together and overlock them from the edges of where they will join to the tasset legs, all the way around. Sew an inner line of stitching just inside the overlocking for neater edges. Clip the corners and turn. Use the point of scissors to poke the corners into position and iron the waistband flat. Make sure you turn in the lower open edges and iron a crease into them. You should now have a waistband for your protective gear that is sewn together except for the edges that will go each side if the tasset legs before sewing into place.

    Quilt one or two layers of blanket to the outer layer. Quilt the rest of the blanket layers to the lining. Fix all the studs in place (see below) before putting the two halves of each leg together and attaching them to the waistband. When you have put the studs in place, machine sew each tasset front to its lining layers. Then hand sew the edging to the front, wrap it over the rough edges, and handsew it to the back so that no rough edges show,
    Measure out the positions of your studs and mark them lightly. Put them through the top layers only, according to the intructions on the packet. Make sure no studs are close to the edge because you will have to bind the edges with a border and sew an inner border of fine ribbon inside that again. Make sure none of them are too close to the waistband because you will sewing through that area as well.
    Cross over the upper inside parts of both tasset legs, just enough to sew them securely together. You will either need a very strong sewing machine, or to do it by hand. I suggest sewing it by hand with doubled and redoubled thread - the outside first, and then the inside. It's worth the effort to make your protective gear last for many years.

    Fit the top of the tasset apron inside the open section of the waistband. Pin it in place and then handsew the front firmly on. I like to give it extra strength by machine sewing the folded under section to the tasset top first, then turning it and handsewing for neatness. When the front is secure and neat, handsew the back opening to the inside top of the tasset. Your protective gear is almost finished.

    Chinese tasset
    Position of loops and ties for the legs.
    Make the top ties first so that you can tie your tasset on and measure the leg ties accurately. sew the waist ties to the ends of the tasset waist. It's a matter of choice whether to sew them on under the points or under them. I use a machine and sew until I have a box with a cross through it for strength.

    Now make four loops. place two of them wide of the centre - wide enough to tie a bow with the ties, and the other two closer to your hips. When you tie your tasset on, it crosses at the back before threading it through any loops. Some people like to use just two of them but if you want a completely firm, non slip tasset, use the four loops on your protective gear.

    When you have the tasset tied to your waist, get someone to position pins in a line across the inside of each leg piece so that the ties will fit just above your knees. You can make a second tie to fit just below the knees if you like. I usually get bored by then and just do the one set of ties. It's your protective grear. They're your shins - you decide if anyone is going to hit you there as the tasset flips open. I've never been hit on the shin hard enough to care. The day that happens will probably be the day I decide to make my lower set of ties.

    Your protective gear is now ready to wear to its first battle. You'll be surprised how easy it is to fight in a tasset. But what about that line of narrow ribbon to finish off the border inside the wide one you already have. Go on - finish it off properly. It's a hand sewing job but it will only take you about one more hour, so you might as well. Then, if you don't place in the tournament, at least you can look good on film in your outfit! That's my plan B. Plan A is to do well. Plan B is to at least look good doing badly.
Sword fighting training
Protective gear in use - two gambesons by Annika Tiko and another of my gambeson and tasset sets - this one with a sleeveless vest.

Here's a slideshow with some of our protective gear working for us.I've tried to catch some of the joy of being a student at the GRTC school.

Leave Protective Gear and return to Gambeson

Go to Qing Dynasty Tasset Video Instruction

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