MAKING A HELMET LINER

In April 2004 I bought a bascinet helmet which didn't have a liner, so I approached Peter Lyon (Wellington Medieval Guild) for advice on how an historical liner would have been constructed. Peter willingly provided a sketch along with advice on what materials were in use at the time. I went from there, and any errors of interpretation are mine own.

THE DESIGN

Peter's sketch (the dark blue lines) shows that construction of the helmet liner has four parts:
  • the area which lines the helmet base (the vaguely rectangular area at the bottom);
  • the area which keeps the top of the helmet off your head - the suspension points (the blunted triangular pieces);
  • the loops on top of the suspension which allow size/height adjustments; and
  • a mechanism to attach the helmet liner to the helmet. (You can glue the liner to the helmet, but it is useful to be able to remove it and wash it occasionally).
Click on thumbnails for full sized images

Peter's sketch

STEP ONE: MEASUREMENTS

  1. Measure the distance around the inside base of the helmet;
  2. Measure the distance up from the base of the helmet to the face opening;
  3. Measure the distance across the face opening;
  4. Measure the distance from the top of your ear to the crown of your head (this is approximately the same as the distance from your eyebrows to the top of your head);
  5. Note that the loops should be approximately 2 cm wide by 4 cm long).
Peter's sketch annotated

STEP TWO: MAKE A PATTERN

Use the measurements to create a pattern based on the sketch. As you can see I ended up constructing the pattern in three pieces as the original sketch-based pattern with four suspension points became ungainly when I scaled the diagram up. My solution was to cut that part of the pattern off and make *five* suspension points, each cut as a smaller triangle than the original four. Note that I’ve added a small "tab" on the final suspension point so that the liner can be joined securely – over-stitching is another option. (This is the most fiddly part of the exercise and it needs to be right before you cut out your leather!).
pattern for liner

STEP THREE: CUT IT OUT

Materials:

Lightweight leather (1.5 - 2.0mm/4 - 5 oz), linen or canvas; leather cord, wool or horsehair for padding.

For this exercise I used materials I had to hand (hence black leather which is not perhaps the best in the summer sun!):

  • the outer part of the liner is black leather with the flesh side out (to keep moisture – sweat – inside the padding);
  • the inner is heavy calico (more correct would be linen or light canvas – whichever it is, your hair is going to get messed up unless you also wear a coif and that raises the temperature, too);
  • the padding is 1 cm thickness of wool (taken from wool carpet underlay – make sure the "binder" is removed or it will get really hot and sweaty in there!);
  • the "drawstring" is 3mm leather cord (from leather boot-lacing);
  • the attachment strip is more of the black leather cut to 2.5cm width – this time with skin side out (so moisture doesn’t contact steel of helmet).
sketch pattern and liner

STEP FOUR: MAKE IT UP

Equipment:

Awl & Leather needle (or one of those nifty combined units), heavy waxed linen thread, pins, hole-punch (optional); [Possibly: electric drill and drill bit.]
 
1. Pin or tack the inner to the outer with right sides together1;  
2. Stitch the inner and outer together. REMEMBER to leave a hand-sized gap somewhere so that you can turn it right-side out and stuff it as well.  
3. Turn right-side out and carefully insert padding. Start with the suspension points as it’s really hard to get the padding up there if you pad the bottom first! (I chose to make each section of padding separately so that I could add more if needed, but you could do it all in once piece if you wanted to.)  
4. Over-stitch the remaining gap, turning in whatever seam allowance you've chosen.  
5. Top-stitch the padding into place through all three layers. These stitches can be quite big ones as they're more precautionary than anything (see the big white stitches on the outside of the liner for an example). N.B. The following photos show completed liner, but illustrate points made in text. liner side view
6. Curve the front top around to meet the back and pin/tack the tab in place. liner front view
7. Insert the liner into the helmet to ensure it fits properly around the edges. Adjust by moving the position of the tab as needed. liner and helmet
8. Top-stitch tab into place. liner 3-4 view

stitching detail

9. Fold the loops in half outwards and top-stitch at the base. Make sure this is a strong seam as this is the mechanism to keep the top of your helmet from hitting your head when you take a strong blow! liner top view
10. Thread the lace through the loops (I "persuaded" it through with a chopstick!), draw the suspension points together, and tie a knot which won't slip. Now try it on - if the top of your head touches the top of the helmet when you hold the helmet in line with the bottom of the liner you'll need to make adjustments! (This is way easier to do now than after you've stitched everything together). inner liner
11. Check that the leather attachment strip is the right length to both go around the inside of the helmet AND around the outside of the liner. (I didn’t and this caused problems later).  
12. Top-stitch the leather strip around the edge of the liner. Keep stitching as close as possible to the edge of the liner - you'll need the rest of the space for the next step. liner side view
13. Make holes (awl or punch) in the leather attachment strip which line up with the holes in the edge of your helmet. I chose to use a hole punch as I had the idea that I would later be able to also fit the ventails through to attach the aventail (wrong!)  
14. If you don't have holes already drilled in the bascinet now's the time to get the drill out! The liner must sit securely over the forehead, so you will either need to drill holes here as well, or take the risk of a very small strip of glue holding under the force of a blow. I drilled the holes.  
15. Slip the liner inside the helmet and top-stitch it to the helmet.

I found that I needed to go round twice, once clockwise and then counterclockwise (i.e., filling in the gaps) in order for it to be secure. I had to redo this several times when I found that the attachment strip somehow wasn't long enough when I got to the end. Eventually I realised that the curvature of the front affects things, and I was finally successful by starting at the base of the face opening, working up to the "forehead", going across to the other side of the face opening, down the other side, and only then heading around the bottom of the helmet. That way any "easing" required wasn’t in a high stress area. NB: Make sure that you don'’t sew your D-rings/chin strap inside the lining!

 
16. Ultra-glamorous picture of completed liner and helmet. Note that extra adjustment at the suspension points may be needed to keep the back of the helmet from digging into your neck. helmet in position

1 Or you could simply over-stitch wrong sides together. It doesn’t look as neat, and it makes later seams rather bulky, but it will work. However, don’t forget to leave hand-space to insert the padding! Return to top

 

Sue Leader

Wellington Medieval Guild

Liner Constructed February 2005