Medieval re-enactment

We have been doing medieval re-enactment for the last 13 years. We belong to a small group called the Swords of Mercia, there are about 15 of us and sometimes we do shows with just our group at various castles and historic sites in the UK.This picture shows me (I’m the nun) and the kitchen peasant (my friend Bev from my previous group Order of Fighting Knights) at Ashby de la Zouche Castle.

Kitchen at camp

This is a picture all of our old group’s tents taken from the tower of the same castle a few of years ago.
Ashby camp

The insides of some of the tents had beds, hangings, chests and ornaments. As you can imagine people are always really surprised to see inside the tent and can’t believe we really slept there.

Our medieval tent
Our double bed inside the tent
The living room in the tent

Other times we meet up at bigger events (known as multibashes!) where there can be anything from 100 to 1000 knights on the battlefield. We portray the period from 1300 to 1470 depending on the event so our costumes, weapons and armour change each weekend depending on the date of that event. We make the majority of our costume which gives me a chance to practise my not very accurate dressmaking skills (I am far better at headgear and embroidery!).

The whole family really enjoy doing this and we have made some fantastic friends through it. As well as the battles we also have banquets – the second picture here shows me at one  a couple of years ago in Wales, I am very proud to say that I make most of our costumes including the hats though not the black velvet bag which my fantastically talented friend Kat made for me. Do go and see her wonderful creations on her web site.The woman is a genius!


Alison at banquet

I have three roles in re-enactment – the one I do depends on the event usually. If it is a show with just our group I portray Sister Margaret, a Carmelite nun and widow. This is a wonderful role as I get to stitch all day, I have displays of the costumes and headresses that I have made people are always really interested in this. All the little girls (and some of the boys!) who visit get a chance to try on the headresses which they love.  I have also started weaving and we demonstrate how to weave what are known as ‘narrow wares’ which is braid using a lucet and a trollen wheel.

When we go to bigger events the other role I portray is that of a water carrier, an archer’s widow who is on the battlefield dispensing water to the troops ( and fixing helmet straps, sorting out gauntlets and occaisionally mopping up blood!). I came across this role by accident as we were at an event a few years ago when they were very short of water carriers so asked for volunteers. I did not have any suitable costume with me so borrowed some clothes and a helmet from a friend and went on – lots of cannon and arrows which was a bit scary but generally it is great fun. For this role I wear a linen shift (which is a bit like an old fashioned nightie)  and a linen dress. I am quite posh as I have two linen dresses but that is mainly as I often spill something down one when back at the tent sorting out lunch!

The troops are usually in full armour at most events and in the summer the temperature can reach 38 degrees. They fight for about an hour depending on the event with time spent assembling ( called muster) before they march on to the battlefield so we are usually busy giving people water throughout. I really enjoy it and I have met lots of new people through being on the battlefield. It is really nice when you go to the beer tent in the evening and they say hello and thanks for the water and it is nice to have a useful role at the bigger events.

My other role is as a medieval lady,  which is probably my least favourite one. Although I like making costume and headresses I do not relish wearing them as this involves getting into a tight corset, totally impractical dress and headress and parading around. All very well but since then I usually have to go back to the tent and get lunch and wash up and then change to water carry I do it very rarely though am getting more used to being a lady!. There are other people in the group who do the lady role so much better than me and do not get ratty when in a corset! You can see why women of status did not do much in those days – you can’t breathe or bend and any sudden movements make your headress or veil fall off! Give me a peasant costume any time!

Ladies at CosmestonKat and Richard

The picture below shows me at one of our shows talking about embroidery and costume. As you can see I have lots of examples to show the public – some done by me but I also have some fabulous goldwork bags which were made for me by Kat.

Embroidery talk

25 thoughts on “Medieval re-enactment

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your blog. I have become involved this year with a mediaeval archery group and have been making basic costumes for my husband, son and friend and now feel ready to tackle something a little more complex. It was while doing some research that I found your site and have found it very useful. Also, as a non shooting member of the group, I have been looking for a subject in which I could become sufficiently well informed to demonstrate and talk about. You’ve really given me plenty of ideas.
    Thanks again

    • Hello Lorna
      Thank you very much for visiting and for your very kind comments. I am glad that you have found it useful. If there is any further info you would like let me know and I will post about it.Which group have you joined?

      • Hi Alison, I’m with the Wolfshead Bowmen based in Sussex and had our last event of the year earlier this month. I’ve just spent a weekend going through the kit, making repairs and finishing some hems and have only finished half of it. I’m also making cloaks for the four of us.
        Thanks for your offer of further information, I really appreciate it.


      • Hello Lorna I have only made one cloak and made it out of a semi cirle of fabric with a separate hood which I cut in two parts. The cut out the same in lining fabric and made each part then put it together by machine – only having to hnd sew the hem to hide all the machining. What sort of events do you do and do you do any of the larger ones? Thanks Alison

  2. Hello there. I’m making separate hoods too. There doesn’t seem to conclusive evidence that hoods were always attached. I also machine stich most of the hidden seams and hand sew the rest. Amazon delivered “The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant” yesterday which l hope will be as invaluable as the quick flip through it last night promised that it will be.
    Our events tend to be smaller ones, we were also at Caldicot this year, a lovely location. The events range from Archery demonstrations and talks to a Robin Hood show. The group is on Facebook with quite a few photograps.

    • Hello Lorna Yes that is a great book. I sadly didn’t make Caldicot due to work this year but it is a lovely venue – my daughter and some other friends were though.I will look for you on Facebook. Thanks Alison

  3. Does anyone know where I can buy a wooden braiding or Trollen wheel? I bought one at a re-enactment fair in Essex a few years ago,and have lost the leaflet that came with it. I would like to buy another, and ask them to make finer slits so I can make braids from slippery yarns. Please email if you have any info.

  4. Alison Hi,
    my name is Tom Humphreys and I am so glad i stumbled across your page! I am setting up a medieval campsite in April this year and would love to talk to you about some of the photos on this page. The hangings on the interior of the tents and the bedspreads particularly interest me as i have spent a lot of time looking for similar products but am not having much luck. We were trying to work out where the aerial shot was taken, is it Ross on Wye? The costumes are fantastic! regards,

    • Hello Tom

      Thanks for visiting and for such nice comments! In answer to your questions the aerial pics of the camp were taken at Ashby de La Zouche Castle where we have been doing shows for a number of years.

      I made all the tent hangings myself with brocade and tapestry fabric sourced from local suppliers.

      The bed covers were bought at an antique shop near Warwick years ago – they are not antique but look it. I have seen similar things in my local market.

      I have tried as much a possible to get medieval style things – E Bay is a great sourc of things especially tapestry hangings and cushion covers.

      If you would like further info on ideas please contact me at

  5. Your blog is phenomenal. I bet you have seen some amazing battles in 10 plus years of reenactment. Would you mind clarifying something for a bit of a noob looking to join in? Are medieval reenactment and SCA the same thing? I have a medieval history blog which initially exposed me to SCA and got me thinking I should try it out. Thanks for your help and cool site.

    • Hello Matt
      Thanks for visiting and for your lovely comments, yes I have a great time and love the battles! I think SCA do very similar to what we do in the UK – don’t know very much about it apart from the great blogs that some of the SCA members write about costume making but have not really researched much into the battles side. I think they do tend to cover all periods of history whereas in the UK groups focus on quite tight time periods for the purpose of equipment and armour etc. We mainly cover 1300 – 1350 in our groups shows but go all the way up to the Wars of the Roses in the 1470s for multibashes (means the boys can have lots of shiny armour not just maille) but each show we do is specific to a period and there is usually a specific battle or scenario from a fixed date. Hope this helps.

  6. Very interesting to see the costume side of things! I’m trying to improve my kit at the moment, and I do have to say, your work looks really great! Male kit is a little easier to make I suppose but still, mine needs a lot of work and sewing skills are not yet there… Have you ever tried making/wearing any Early Medieval costume? (I am into Viking re-enactment myself)

    • Thanks for visiting – yes I agree male costume is much easier and I really enjoy making things for friends, not so much need for shaping. I have not made anything earlier than medieval though I do love earlier embroidery and would love to do Viking re-enactment as well if I had the time.

  7. Loved your pics & dress designs , I too work on chain mail with some cotton clothes,, But your work is too good. I have been working for re-enactors in metal costumes, battle ready head gears and more,, Fabric s are a challenge though.. Hope yo will share more of your work here, will follow your blog. I sell my products via Erakart..

  8. It might be good to have a experienced bodice/stays / or corset maker make you one if they are giving you grief. I also found that modern posture and breathing from the chest makes for discomfort. A good pair of stays or pair of bodies for this era should fit like a glove and be like a hug corded and made of buckram or heavy linen. As far as I have researched. Also the Lemburg bra find is a historical acurate alternative to stays.

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