Shields in my opinion are a fantastically useful prop/piece of kit to carry in a larp system. You can a) use it to defend your weaker side/legs, b) they look good alone, c) they look good in a group, especially if you’re practised at getting a solid shield wall together, d) they can show your allegiance and e) can show part of your character’s personality. However, I can understand that whilst being able to change your character is a relatively simple matter, changing the symbols on your kit is not – especially if you had a custom paint job done on your shield.
Therefore, I present to you the way I make my shield covers. Whilst this tutorial focuses on a round shield, it can be adapted to suit any shield size/shape/curvature so long as you’re willing to accept a bit of bagginess in the cloth cover.
I have seen many ways of making, fastening and decorating shield covers, but I use the method described below as the covers are easy to slip on and off for washing/changing between playing and monstering, and I can normally make one of these over a couple of evenings after work. I have been known to make and decorate some in a day when I’ve avoided the dreaded procrastination …
Making a shield cover
So, below are the materials needed for an elasticated shield cover. I have seen some shield covers made with tabs through which to thread a cord which gives the tension across the back, which I guess is good for a reneactment type style or for shields which will rarely have the cover removed. However I found it difficult to get the tension right so that the shield cover lies flat on the surface, and if the knot isn’t secure I guess the cover could slide off if you’re not careful.
Instead I create a “bag” with an elasticated lip to slip over the edges of the shield, which does need a bit of adjusting when it’s put on so that the tension is even across the surface but doesn’t slip much during play. If it does you can always do a cheeky adjustment when no one’s looking.
The instructions below are primarily aimed at people using sewing machines (because that’s how I make mine) however I will include notes for those are making this by hand.
- Cloth (in desired colour)
- Thread and needle (thread and sewing machine)
- Safety pins (minimum 2)
- Tailors Chalk
- Tape measure
- Pen/pencil and paper (optional)
- Your shield (this is for the foam and latex larp shields, but could be done for a proper wooden shield if you have one)
- Decorative design and materials (optional)
I usually use cotton bedsheeting for my shield covers as a) it comes in long lengths for a reasonably cheap price, b) I usually have some left over from making tabards/other projects and c) can be bought in a hurry; but you could use cloth you fancy. As shields are often laid down on the mud I would suggest using something hardwearing like duck cotton or poly cotton (because it washes!), but it’s up to you. So far I’ve only made a shield with a single “field” colour (the colour that is the main colour of the shield with all the other elements put on top), but if you’re wanting to quarter a shield with different colours you will need to prepare this before cutting.
1) Preparing your measurements
First of all you need to measure your shield at the widest point (the diameter for circular shields, the widest distance near the top on arrow shields or the length down the arrow shields if this is longer). This needs to include the curvature caused by the manufacture of the shield, so lay your tape measure across the shield making sure you cross things like a raised shield boss etc. This measurement is a rough starting point for the calculations to check you have enough cloth for your cover. Make a note of it.
Now measure the thickness of your shield at the edge. Your cover is going to wrap around the shield, and this depth is important to factor into the design. Make a note.
Now decide how much overlap you want on your shield. This is the “flap” of cloth that will sit on the back of the shield and provide some of the tension that will hold the cover in place. I usually give myself about 2”/ 5cm minimum, sometimes more if the shield is quite large, factoring in the construction on the back of the shield. My medium shield has a raised rectangle onto which my straps go; therefore I try not to overlap this structure. Make a note of your decided measurement.
Now add some extra for the channel through which your elastic will go. Make it a little wider than your elastic so it will pass easily along the channel once sewn. Make a note.
Add a seam allowance. You will be turning the raw edge of your cloth into the channel for the elastic to make the back nice and neat. Make a note.
You will now have all the information to calculate the size of your piece of cloth.
Longest dimension = width/length of shield + 2x thickness of shield + 2x overlap + 2x channel allowance + 2x seam allowance.
You can mark this out on the corner of your cloth or not – it’s up to you.
2) Marking and cutting your cloth
Lay out your cloth as smooth and as flat as you can, before laying your shield in the centre of your working area, giving yourself enough room from the bottom and sides of the shield to the edge of the cloth to accommodate your extra width, shield thickness, overlap, channel allowance and seam allowance comfortably.
Carefully rest on your shield – don’t put your full weight on a curved shield in case you put too much stress through the construction and cause it to shear. You are now going to draw around your shield to give your base template for the shield cover. This is your front piece and will be the piece that will be decorated if you’re choosing to do so. If your shield is curved, carefully roll your shield as you work so that the front edge is touching the cloth as you mark that place with your fabric marker. Once you’ve gone all the way round, lift your shield away and you should have a complete template.
Now add concentric rings around this template at your measured widths. You should end up with an “expanded” template with lots of lines evenly spaced around the central shield. You will probably reach the edge and side of the cloth as you mark your seam allowance. If you get a little close it doesn’t overly matter, just be careful when you turn in your seam allowance.
Carefully cut the outer edge with your scissors. If you want it to be perfectly flat, give it a quick iron.
Optional: if you want to add additional heraldry/decoration, now is the time to do it. You should only work in the central marked area on the “outside” where there are no chalk markings as this is the side anyone looking at your shield cover will see. The chalk markings will be hidden away against the shield when this is completed and will disappear through use/washing. A tutorial on adding felt embroidery will be coming soon, using this shield cover as an example!
You are now ready to make your shield cover.
3) Sewing your raw edge
Turn your edge in along the first chalk line – this is your seam allowance. Pin it in place. As you work you may find the cloth bunching a little. This is because you are turning a larger circle into a smaller circle and the difference has to go somewhere. As no one will see this side of the cover, I tend not to worry about it and try to ease the lumps out along the length of the project.
Once you have pinned your seam allowance, turn to your “right” side and repin the length. This is so you can sew all the nice stitches on the “good” side and any snarls/tangles will be hidden away. You could skip the first round of pinning if you’re confident at keeping your edges even.
Sew along your seam allowance reasonably close to the edge. I try to use about 3/8” on my sewing machine but this means I have to be super careful with sewing. This can be done either at a sewing machine using a zig-zag stitch or by hand using a back stitch.
4) Sewing the channel for the elastic
On the “wrong” side turn your worked edge back towards the centre and your next marked line to make the channel for your elastic. At the top of your shield (either at the mid point of your front design OR choose an arbitrary point). Put two pins about 1” or a thumb width apart at right angles through the cloth so that the pin “cuts” the channel. This marks your opening or “pocket” through which to pass through your elastic later.
Check your elastic will pass easily through the channel you’re marking out with your pins. When satisfied pin the rest of the folded channel, easing any lumps or bumps along the length, or turning them so that they form a slight point when they get too difficult. Again, people are unlikely to see this side of your cover, so a few lumps aren’t too bad.
Turn to the “right” side and repin the pinned length and the markers for your channel.
Now carefully sew along the edge of your channel leaving enough room for your elastic. I usually use about a 1/2” – 5/8” seam allowance to make sure the channel stays “open”. When sewing, sew from the lower of your two marker pins until you meet the upper of your marker pins, fastening off with a couple of stitches on the back of the cloth. I use a straight stitch when working with my sewing machine as I am less concerned about fraying cloth, but you could work in back stitch if hand sewing. Put your finger into the opening between the pins just to make sure you’ve left it open and you can feel the channel.
5) Threading the elastic
Thread your elastic. I always enjoy this bit as the cover starts to form as you work. I use the elastic straight off the reel rather than cutting a length to begin with as I like to pass the elastic through the channel then knot it at a reasonable tension when trying it on the shield. Put a safety pin through one end of your elastic by folding about an inch of elastic back on itself and putting the pin through that. You now have something to “pull” through the cloth and a way of finding your end should you drop your project.
You are now going to feed this end through the cloth by scrunching up the cloth and pushing the pin on a bit, repeating the process and smoothing the bunching back long the elastic towards the opening and your reel. It takes a bit of time, so bear with it. When you’ve worked your pin all the way back to the opening, safety pin it to the edge of your shield cover and work the rest of the bunched cloth evenly along the elastic still in the channel. If working with a loose length of elastic safety pin the loose end to the upper edge of your project so it doesn’t get dragged into the channel by the tension.
6) Your shield cover so far …
Looking a bit shapeless at the moment? Don’t worry about it, it’s designed to have shape when stretched around the frame of your shield.
7) Fitting your shield cover
Now put your shield cover over your shield and adjust the fit. If it’s got any heraldry on the front you’ll want this to sit squarely in the middle of your shield. Pull the bottom, top and sides until your shield cover sits as you’d like, then pull on your elastic to take in any slack. You want this to have some tension in it, but not to be over tight as it will be sitting “at rest” on the back of your shield.
Pin the edge connected to the reel to the cloth with another safety pin and cut the elastic from the reel leaving about 1” from your safety pin. Carefully unpin these two ends and tie in a secure knot, before tucking this knot away into the “opening” at the edge of the shield cover.
You may find you need to adjust the tension on your shield cover during use if the cover sags or falls off. If this is the case you just need to add another knot or so to the elastic to add more tension.
You now have a shield cover. Go and show off your work or co-ordinate this with a matching belt sash, tabard or other heraldic piece.
8) The shield
Fancy making something else? Find more tutorials here!