Building a Helm - Pt 1: Pattern Making

I was contemplating a new project and happened to be reading through the play test document for V8. I spotted was a nice little +1 bonus to torso armor for wearing a helm. I was intrigued and had never made a full helmet before, so here is part one on making a leather helm for Amtgard combat. This guide covers basic pattern making and applies to just about any sort of leather armor.

Research Phase

The first thing is to decide on what sort of helm to make. I didn't have a design in mind, so I considered what I needed out of a helmet.

My Considerations

  • Good visibility, even if that leaves face/eyes exposed.
  • It needs to shade me from the sun since it would be worn in place of my wide brimmed hat.
  • I would rather make a historical looking helm than a fantasy helm.
  • It needs to cover at least 50% to get the bonus.
  • Most parts need to be small since I'm using scrap leather.

With those in mind, I went through a simple image search on Google for helms/helmets/medieval helmets looking for an ideal helmet shape for Amtgard. I found this roman helmet, which seemed perfect if the crest was ditched. The face is wide open, so visibility will be unobstructed. The back extends out covering the neck to block the sun. The deflector/visor bit could be moved down a bit and the protrusions over the ear holes should help with the sun a little bit. It has many assembled parts so I can use smaller pieces of leather. Even though I wasn't considering it, the time period fits right in for my character.

There is a wealth of information out there for reconstructing many historical helms. Things may get a bit harder if you are doing a fantasy based helm, but take a look at historical designs that you can adapt. I searched for more photos of this helm type to see how things went together and stumbled across Legio XV's guide to making a steel helmet from a kit, which broke things down into individual parts.


Now that I had an idea of what the individual parts should look like it was time to start breaking things down into components. I sketched out some parts that would become my first paper prototype. Since I am using scraps, instead of forming the main body of the helmet out of one molded piece, it will be a cross of leather with 4 panels filling the gaps. I will also be stitching this helmet together, so most of my parts will fit flush against each other. For rivets there would need to be overlapping parts or tabs so both pieces could be joined.


I grabbed a measuring tape and wrapped it around my head about where I felt the helmet should sit. This is going to be for Amtgard combat so I was not worried about installing any strapping or padding; it should sit on the head like a hat. If you are going to add padding, make adjustments to the measurement as necessary.

Break out the Poster Board

Posterboard is great for prototyping as it is much, much cheaper than building your test parts out of leather. Even if you are working from a pre-made pattern, making your first piece out of paper will probably end up saving you time and money.

If you can find it, the posterboard with the preprinted grid on it is great. The board in the picture has a super faint 1/2" grid on it and it saves a lot of time. If you don't have posterboard, old cereal and food boxes work great.

I am using small bits of duct tape to hold the prototype together for this project. A simple tape joint does a decent job of pretending to be stitched together. Paper brads (split pins) work great for emulating rivet attachements and are reusable.

Now we start building something. The first bit to cut out is the band that will make up the base of the entire helmet. Tape that together and make sure it fits and is not tight. Once it is in place, you can take 2 more measurements to determine the length of the cross pieces that make up the top of the helm. Once those are all attached, make sure it still fits.

For this helm, the band gets cut back a bit for the ear holes. To determine the position, I simply put the helm on and centered it as best I could and then traced around my ears. From the grid marks on the paper it was easy to tell that I had the hat about 1/8" rotated to the right, so I adjusted the marks and then cut them out. Everything still fit, so it was time to move on to the directly attached trim bits.

The cheek guards fit flush against the ear cuts in the band, so no measurement was neccesary. The same with the extension in the back. After assembling this far and trying it on, I wound up trimming the extension in the back a little bit to line it up with the angle from the ear cuts. Adding the tail and the front piece of the visor went perfectly.

I also put in one of the top panels and it was a pretty close fit. It was at this point that I decided that I won't fill those holes with a complete panel. Instead I'll leave them out and figure out another way to cover them while allowing them to ventilate a bit.

Before it's disassembled, mark each part with it's location. For mirrored parts, such as the cheek guards, consider using only one for the pattern and simply flipping it for the other side. This can save you from the small variations that you get from making a copy of a copy.

So now we have a complete prototype and it's time to pull it apart. Carefully pull all of the tape off and flatten the pattern parts out.

A Pattern Emerges

The entire helm breaks down into this small collection of paper bits.

Now that you have a pattern, it's an excellent time to make a backup. If you have access large pieces of butcher paper or more posterboard, trace all your shapes out onto it and label them.

The Future

Part two will cover final material choices and sources along with the cutting and preparation of the pieces. The final part will cover assembly and finishing of the helmet.

Glenalth's picture


Computer is down. Cleaning up pt 1 and writing pts 2 and 3 are waiting until I can do it with a keyboard that doesn't fit in my pocket.

Mihr's Best Friend

Glenalth's picture


Since I don't seem to ever get around to writing the rest of these articles, here are the photos. They are fairly easy to follow along with.

Mihr's Best Friend

Copyright 1999-2016 - Amtgard, Chapter of Pegasus Valley - Mail Admin