How to look Celtic?

Kit Guide.


Préachán Fuilteach is a society which exists to promote re-enactment, of the different civilisations which existed around Ireland between the dark and medieval ages. We enjoy a good bash on the field, but we also strive for aunthenticity. This kit guide is an attempt to achieve a certain ‘look’ within the tribe. The Celts certainly did not wear uniforms,and thrived on diversity and display, but we need to achieve an authentic Ancient appearance. This guide describes the basic Celtic kit you will need and you can either buy it or make it.


AIl members are encouraged to be as authentic as possible in preparing their kit. There are many source books with descriptions of Celts. The Celts loved finery and ornamentation, and dressed to impress. The torc is the first thing you will need, unless you want to be a peasant. lt was worn by all chieftains, nobles and warriors, even when they wore nothing else. This is a partly circular neckband, usually of twisted construction with terminals, made in gold, silver, electrum (gold-silver alloy), bronze or copper. Brass will do. The books tend to illustrate magnificent specimens such as the Snettisham or Ipswich torques, but much simpler ones made simply of twisted bar or wire have been found, and with a little effort could be made for a couple of quid. lt is recommended that new members begin with simple torcs, and graduate to more ornate designs as they achieve status within the group. 

ln theory, this would be enough, but in order to avoid arrest, let’s consider clothing. Material for bracae, tunics, dresses and cloaks must be chosen carefully. This is what we are trying to look like. Preferably no plain materials, go for checks and stripes. Definitely NOT tartans, the public recognises these and knows they are at least l4th century.

Patterns should not be too busy or bright: we are trying to emulate materials dyed with natural vegetable dyes and woven by hand on a vertical loom. The coarser and thicker the better. Pure wool would be perfect, and expensive, but there are cheaper wool/artificial fibre mixes available. We usually find that 2 yards of a bolt of material 2 yards wide is enough for one pair of bracae, one tunic or one cloak. This can cost as little as £10, or less if you really shop around or look for old woolen blankets in car boot and jumble sales.

When making clothing, plan ahead and work out how exactly how much material you will really need before you buy, and be certain that you have enough before you start cutting. This is what tailor’s chalk is for. Bracae or threws(trousers) were invented by the Celts, and could be worn by men or women. These are easiest made by using a pair of baggy comfortable jeans as a pattern. Fold the material: this will be the line of the outside leg. Take one leg and lay with the outer seam down the fold in your material. Mark an outline with tailor’s chalk, allowing an extra 2″.

at the crotch seam, inside leg seam and ankle. Allow 4″ at the waist . (This is important. They must be baggy. Tight bracae are crippling and split embarassingly on the battle field, often in front of the public. This has happened to me.) Cut out two such legs. Stitch each separately from ankle to crotch, then stitch together along the crotch line from the navel to the small of the back, and turn inside out to hide the hems so far. Hem the waist on the outside, and include a 2″ tube all the way around the waist, open at the navel and at the small of the back. This is for threading through a string draw-cord, in the fashion of pyjamas. Remains have been found with modern-style belt loops, but this is more work. Try on for size with the cord drawn comfortably tight, and pin the ankle hem at a comfortable length. Trim the ankles (if necessary) and hem on the inside. When worn, draw the ankles tight with a piece of cloth, string or leather cord. Long bracae were common, but if you want to be cool in Sumner it is perfectly authentic to have a pair that end just above or below the knee.

Tunics can be made in a similar way to bracae, this time using a baggy T-shirt as a pattern. Ignoring the sleeves draw round the T-shirt to make two rectangles, each long enough to reach from the neck down to the mid-thigh, allowing an extra 2″ all the way around. Cut them out. Stitch from the neck opening to the shoulder at each side. Make sure the neck opening is big enough for your head. Alternatively, fold the material and make this the line of the shoulders, avoiding a seam here, and cut out the neck opening. In either case, hem the neck opening.

Make the sleeves by stitching two tubes. Make each a slightly truncated rectangle, again using the T-shirt sleeves as a guide. Fold the material along the (ine that will become the top of the arm. The distance from this fold to what will become the armpit will typically be the same as on the T-shirt, plus 2″. Make the equivalent distance at the wrist slightly less (remember your hand has to go through it).

Measure from your own arm-pit to your wrist, add 2″, and make the sleeve this long. Cut out the two sleeves, and stitch them from arm-pit to wrist. Remember, at this stage the tunic body seams should still be visible on the outside, the same as the sleeves. Stitch each sleeve to the tunic body in two stages, first from the shoulder to the arm-pit down the front, then again down the back. Finally stitch from the arm-pit to the thigh on each side. You can leave a 4″ split at the bottom unstitched if you like, for extra freedom of movement. Hem the bottom of the tunic. Try it on, and pin the wrists at a comfortable length, then hem the wrists. Finally, turn it all inside out to hide all the hems. \par Tunics can be short or long sleeved, and come down to the upper thigh. They may have a 4″ split at each side above the thigh for extra mobility. The neck may be a simple T-shirt neck, or have a ‘V’, or a front split with thongs. They are usually made in wool, but also sometimes in linen.

If you like, you can add a border in another suitable material round the neck, wrists and waist. Some Celts add tassles at the waist by pulling through and knotting coloured wool. Dresses may be preferred by women. Few images exist of Iron-Age women’s costume, but any basic dress pattern is acceptable. Cloaks are simple rectangles of linen or woollen cloth, about six feet square. Some car blankets are ideal, if the pattern is suitable. They must be hemmed, and can also can be given a border or tassles. They are fastened at the shoulder with a brooch.

Brooches to fasten cloaks or for ornamentation were usually fibular, 1 to 3″ long. They were made in gold. silver, electrum, bronze or copper. . Heritage shops do some useable ones. Also, some of the Celts have learned how to make them. either simple ones for a couple of quid or museum quality replicas for nearer a tenner. Sometimes penanular brooches were used. but always of a very simple design, small (about 1″ diameter) and without any ornamentation, you can make these from copper wire in 10 minutes. The highly decorated penanular brooches as found in some English Heritage shops are from a later period and as such are not suibtable for our use.

Belts are useful for making your tunic look less baggy and more sexy, and for hanging things like pouches and daggers. Use leather, straight or plaited. If straight,you may want to engrave or burn a design on it. This pattern must be Iron Age Celtic, NOT DARK AGE CELTIC, there is a difference. The belt will fasten at the front with a buckle.

Buckles for our period are distinctive, and hard to get hold of. Typical modern, or even re-enactment Roman or Dark Age buckles are completely wrong. The Iron Age Celts always used hook buckles. These can be a simple ring and hook design, easily carved with a little patience from a piece of thigh bone from a butcher, or antler if you can get hold of one. Proper anthropomorphic belt buckles can be bought from High Tower crafts on Anglesey, and cruder iron hook buckles from Ivor lawton of Dawn of Time crafts. We are also working on getting some of our own cast up by a bronze caster. To start with, any kind of simple, un-ornamented not obviously 20th century hook will do.

Shoes are not too difficult. Leather shoes preserved in an Irish bog for 2000 years look remarkably like modern moccasins, available on market stalls for about £20. Choose a pair in a natural looking colour, buff or tan is good. Soak in Mars oil, or rub with leather food or dubbin, to preserve and waterproof them. Finally, modify the fastening around the foot with a leather thong (you can buy thongs from leather suppliers, or get leather shoe laces from a shoe shop.


Or you can make your own pair of caligae. Take a piece of vegetable tanned cowhide and with a Stanley knife (with a normal or special leather cutting blade) cut from it a certain shape , then fold it around the foot, drawing it closed over the top of the foot with a leather thong. If the leather is very thick it is a good idea to soak it for 12 to 24 hours in water first, making it easier to fold and shape by hand or with a ball-peen hammer. This is impossible to describe, you just have to try it. Or you can buy a pair. A lot of re-enactment smiths do shoes, and many simple designs from Iron-Age right up to early medieval are suitable. The shoe did not change much between 3,000 BC and AD 1200. Alternativly you can go barefoot. If you are happy to do this, it is perfectly Iron-Age.

Now that you are dressed, you might want to ceIebrate by going on the warpath. You will need three things. Woad is a blue dye, a vegetable form of the pigment indigo. As well as dying cloth the Celts used it as body paint or for tattooing, covering their whole body with designs. Since woad is extremely difficult to process as a dye (the double fermentation process takes months) we cheat and use blue food colouring, realistically applied with a hog’s hair brush. This goes on easy, dosn’t fade or run much during the day, washes off easily and is non-toxic (presumably). We can only speculate on the designs used, and derive our patterns from surviving metal work such as iron and bronze scabbards, shield bosses, helmets and so on. Again, do not use Dark-Age Book of Kells designs. You must use Iron-Age patterns. Apply liberally to as much skin as possible.

Hair is next, stiffened and whitened for battle with limewash. Since limewash burns your scalp, bleaches your hair and eventually sends you bald, we cheat again and use kaolin. This can be bought very cheaply at the chemists (it is a cure for diarrhoea) , and is applied by mixing with water to make a thick paste and working it into the hair, where it dries in ten minutes. Suitable styles are “Shock” (hair standing on end),”Mohican”, “Spikey” (lots of indiv~dual spikes) and “Horse’s Mane” (drawn back to the nape of the neck). at the end of the day most of it just brushes out, then the rest comes out with one wash. Which just leaves one more thing…


Spears were carried by all Celts. and it is strongly recommended that all members have at least one. lt is the cheapest and easiest weapon to aquire, so it is a good one to start with. Battle spears must be extremely blunt and used with great care. Blows must never be aimed at the head, but at the shield or body well below the chest with light force. Jabbing at the body is discouraged, instead try sideways blows. Sharpened spears may be kept for static display purposes during living history displays, but must never be used in practise or stage fighting. Spears may never be thrown in combat, but may be thrown against inanimate targets for display purposes in a secure area, or at a willing idiot as a demonstration of the spearfeat.


The only missle type weapons we use are arrows and these have to be fired twords the ground as missile weapons are too dangerous and every re-enactment society’s first rule is



Javelins are similar to spears, only shorter (about 1 to 1.5m long). The points are smaller, and there is not usually a butt-spike. They are normally sharp, since they are never used in combat and only for target practise and display. A real Celt would carry about three into battle, in his shield hand, and throw them at the enemy just before going in hand-to-hand.

Slings were a common weapon, made in leather. They may not be used during stage fighting, but with suitable warning may be fired in volleys before battle for demonstration purposes, if aimed well away from the opponents or public. They may also be demonstrated in living history displays, or just worn for show. I spent months learning to use mine, its a lost art.

Bows were used for hunting by the Celts, but curiously were seldom used in battle. if you want to carry one for show or demonstration, you will have to show provenance. A modern short bow isn’t good enough. Long bows are completely wrong.

There are several suitable designs, all graceful, some decorated. Many weapon-smiths make suitable spear heads for anything between £15 and £40, and butt-spikes for about a tenner. Then all you have to do is add a wooden shaft between the two. Do this by planing, filing or power-filing the wood to fit the spear head or butt-spike snugly, then glue it in with lots of PVA adhesive. Drill small holes through the metal and knock in nails or rivets for extra strength. Round off the heads with a ball-peen hammer to remove sharp points for safety . The whoIe spear shouId be about 2 to 2l~m Iong , or whatever will fit in your car.

After a season you may want to move up to the classic weapon of the nobility, the sword. Swords were carried by nobles and chieftains. These were one-handed broadswords of a distinct design. No Dark Age or Viking sword will do for specifically celtic gigs. Handles were small with almost no guard at all: the sword was seldom used for parrying, that was what the shield was for. Blades must be made of hardened steel, such as spring steel, EN45 or EN47. MiId steeI becomes serrated too quickIy. making sharp edges that can be dangerous in combat.

The blades must have parallel edges, not tapered, of oval or diamond cross-sectien: no furrow. The end must be rounded for combat. Any blade size is acceptable. between 4cm wide by 60cm long up to 5cm wide by 90cm Iong , not incIuding the tang for the handle. Battle swords must be blunt and their edges de-burred. Sharpened swords may only be used for living history static display purposes. Typically suitable handle designs are the anthropomorphic, Embleton, Thorpe. Hod Hill, Marne Valley and Kirkburn. You can buy complete swords for between £80 and £200, depending on quality.

Very few smiths know Iron-Age designs, so make absolutely sure the one you are dealing with can supplv an appropriate blade and hilt, such as Ivor Lawton or Ulfric. Alternatlvely you can buy just a sword blade for about £40, and add your own handle.

This is tricky. Pine wood is useless, you need something really hard such as 30 year old seasoned oak, fruit wood or mahogany. Or you can use antler or bone, or go the whole hog and have one cast onto the hilt in bronze. Some Celtic swords actually had iron handles built directly onto the blade.

Scabbards are the thing to carry a sword in, unless you want to carry it in your hand all day (never stick it in the ground: it makes the blade rust and increases the chances of giving someone tetanus). These were made in several ways, out of leather, wood, bronze sheet and iron. You can make them yourself, or pay a smith. Leather is the easiest, cut and stitched to carry the sword snugly. Vegetable tanned cowhide is best. Glue, stitch and rivet a bronze plate around the top. This is for show, and to attach the belt fastening. You can also add a chape at the bottom, either made yourself, or Hightower crafts do a useable one.

If you feel really flash you can decorate the scabbard in repousse. Research this yourself, I’ve never done it. At the top at the back of the bronze wrap-around plate rivet on a fastening loop. \ Wood is easy as well. The scabbard is basically a wooden box open at the smallest face into which the sword slides. We have learned that lining the scabbard in sheepskin with the fur inwards makes it grip the sword securely, and the lanolin in the wool oils the blade. Paint, carve or add bronze repousse plates for decoration. The scabbard is hung off the widest part of the hip using a cunning arangement consisting of three leather straps (about 8″, 18″ and 48″ long respectively) , three metalrings about 1 to 1.5in diameter , a hook buckle and a leather thong. Scabbards had a unique decorative art form associated with them, so choose any decoration carefully. Fighting sword-on-sword is fun and reminds us all of “Highlander”, but is probably not very authentic and claims a heavy toll in wear and tear on the sword. It is best to fight with a shield. It is even better to fight with your own shield, since they wear out eventually as they are steadily hacked to pieces, and it is not fair to expect someone else to go to all the effort of building a shield, .iust so you can borrow it and get it wrecked.

Shields are a lot of work to build. To be fully authentic we should fight on the field with long infantry shields, but this is exhausting unless you are Arnold Schwarzeneggar, so many choose to make smaller, lighter, easier-to-make round shields (such as normally used by cavalry). Cut a circle in 9mm (or l3mm if you think you’re strong) ply, about 60 an in diameter. This is reasonably close to the laminated strips of oak the Celts used to glue together to make a kind of ply wood.

Cut out two ‘D’ shapes at the centre to leave a handle. Make sure this is big enough to get your gloved hand in, but not too big to be covered by the boss. Take a raw-hide dog-chew “bone” and soak it in water for a few hours until it becomes soft. Undo all the knots, and lay out in lengths. Cut each length in half length-ways. From now on the magic ingredient is PVA adhesive (excellent for shields, useless for sniffing), and lots of it. With a brush spread liberally around the rim of the shield and on the dog-chew, then with a staple gun (or using small tacks) fix the dog-chew round the entire rim of the shield. Leave overnight to dry; the dog-chew will dry hard and perfectly take up the shape of the shield, held securely in place by the staples and the PVA.

Next, find some old cloth (anything, old curtains, tea towels, whatever). Put plenty of PVA on the front of the shield in sections, and lay on the cloth, brushing more PVA on top. Allow the cloth to overlap the edge of the shield by 2″, covering the dog-chew and staples, and glue to the back. Add more layers of cloth, always using plenty of PVA, not necessarily waiting for the previous layer to dry. A total of 3 layers will do, 4 or 5 is best. Leave to dry

Paint the front of the shield with 2 or 3 coats of white emulsion, not gloss. We are fairly sure that the Celts never invented gloss paint in the Iron-Age. Now paint it whatever colour you like, and add on whatever Iron-Age Celtic patterns you fancy, again using matt paints.

Cut away the cloth over the ‘D’ shapes. With wood glue and screws, fix a rounded piece of wood to the handle, if necessary extending it past the grip so that the coach bolts secure it as well as the boss. Finally sand it smooth for a comfortable grip. Fix the boss to the shield, using coach bolts with the lettering filed off so that they look like rivets from the front. Cut all the bolts to length with a hacksaw so that they stick out at the back as little as possible, and try to countersink the nuts at the back into the wood slightly to hide them.

Finish off with a single layer of cloth glued on the back to cover the nuts, and paint.

If you get serious and decide to try for a long shield, then this is a lot more work. Again using 9mm ply cut a lm long oval, lozenge or “horned” shape (the last is a peculiarly British design). Make a long, graceful boss out of wood, preferably a hardwood such as oak, mahogany or fruitwood. Make a hollow in the back large enough to take your gloved hand comfortably. Screw and glue this to the front of the shield, and fashion the handle as before.

Edge the shield in dog-chew as before, and again cover it in layers of cloth. Alternatively you can use leather, which is more expensive, heavier, much harder to make but much more long lasting.

If you decide to splash-out and use leather, use vegetable tanned cowhide. Cut it to shape, allowing 2″ extra at the edge to be beaten round, plus a difficult-to-judge bulge at each side to allow for the leather that will cover up the bulge of the spine at its deepest point at the middle. Soak the leather for 12 hours at least, then let it dry for 6 hours or overnight. With a drill and a small drill-bit, carpet thread or gut or similar and a leather needle, and a ball-peen hammer, stitch, pull, stretch, beat, pummel and intimidate the leather into snugly covering the front of the shield, including the boss, and overlapping the edges by at least an inch. This is incredibly difficult, but it is possible and I know it is possible because I have done it. Let the leather dry completely, and it will be formed hard around the shield, and close to indestructible. Paint the shield however you want.

As a finaI touch add a metal boss across the front of the long shield over the spine, made from bronze, brass or steel plate, and rivet it on with copper rivets and a ball-peen hammer.

Daggers are made like swords, only much smaller. These are sometimes large and blunt, and used for fighting, or small and sharp, and used for display or as a tool, eating utensil or whatever.

Real Celts spurned armour, and frequently fought naked except for their torcs, woad and limewash. Rich Celts wore it to show their wealth and status. If you’ve been doing re-enactment for a few years and think you’ve got some status, you might decide to make the hardest piece of kit of all. Chainmail can be knitted easily with about 20,000 zinc galvanised split steel washers (worth about £100) , two pairs of pliers and 400 hours of your time. Or you can commission a set off a smith for between £400 and £700. The Celts invented chainmail in the West, and there are a couple of distinctive Iron-Age Celtic patterns known.


This is the kind of look you should be looking for.Helmets look deceptively like Roman issue, but they are not. The resemblance is there because the Romans copied our design. The Agen/Port type were of a bowler hat type construction in iron, with neck and cheek guards. These are possible to make at home with a lot of effort and ingenuity, or you can commission one off a smith for about £120.





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