I broke it

Yep. I broke the website. I broke it bad. It’s kind of back, but I think I broke most of my images.


Some of the pages are rather high priority for me to fix because I need them. Some of them less so. It’ll get there. Sorry ’bout that. It really needs a giant revamp and tags and all sorts of things anyway, so maybe breaking is a good thing, aside from hyperventilating.

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Cloak closures

Somebody just asked me how I close my cloak. I thought I wrote a blog piece for that, but nope, apparently not! I did write a very quick tutorial on cloak cutting, but never got around to the full instructions set.

Well, this isn’t full instructions either, but once you know how to cut, and how to clasp, that’s pretty much all there is to cloaks.

First, a little background as to style. I have to mention that I’m not a huge cloak person. I have one, and I use it sometimes, but I much prefer a heavy overgown if I’m cold. I can still do things in it, it doesn’t open up and let in cold air, etc. In my years of looking through manuscript images, it seems that warmth is usually obtained by gowns. Cloaks are there, but often ceremonial, or maybe even as a last resort.

Women’s cloaks seem usually to open in the front. Men’s cloaks usually open on the side, with an attachment point on the shoulder. I’d say these generalizations are good for the 14th and 15th centuries, maybe earlier, maybe later.

On to some pictures.

First, some effigies. One of my favorite places to look for cloaks and closures is on effigies.

Note the cord. It extends horizontally between two clasps or buttons of some sort. Then it falls into a Y shape, with a knot near the tassel ends.

Note specifically that the cord sits behind the fabric of the cloak.

Medieval Combat Society

St Mary John Kyggesfolde 1370 and wife Agnes 1370

Medieval Combat Society

St Edmund, lady, 1370

Medieval Combat Society

Simon de Felbrigg 1351 and wife Alice de Thorp, Roger de Felbrigg 1380 and wife Elizabeth Scales brass 1380

This presents an incredibly easy solution for how to close a cloak. A simple metal ring brooch allows the cord to be attached to the back side of the fabric. The cord is then adjustable, but with the right brooch and weight of cord, will only move when you move it on purpose. It doesn’t slide on its own. It’s completely adjustable: the cloak can sit out on your shoulders for a ceremonial look, or closed for warmth.

I’ve used two ~1″ silver brooches, that I bought from Thor Thor’s Hammer. He does excellent work.

Here are some pictures of how my cloak closure is arranged. Enjoy!

(The tassels are a bit meager, I was going for simple and not very high class…)

Small Cloak 1 Small Cloak 2 Small Cloak 3



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Flocking in the 16th Century?

During my recent trip to Sweden and Denmark, I did some serious museum surfing, like you do. In the Danish National Museum, they had some drawers tucked into a dark corner in a room, like an afterthought. The lighting was terrible, and most of the textiles were 16th and 17th century, interesting, but not necessarily my area of interest. But then I pulled out the very last drawer, and saw a textile, though c. 1600, that captured my attention.

Antependium, from an altar, with printed pattern imitating contemporary Italian velvets with designs of pomegranates. In the centre a rectangular square with a painted reproduction of the crucified Christ surrounded by three flying angels, one of them holding a chalice. Probably Danish,c. 1600. (Linen, tabby; woolen fibres attached with adhesive applied by block printing).

“Skippinge Church, South Zealand Inv. 6100

Unfortunately, this was the best I could do with my little cell phone camera in the half dark. Museums in Denmark and Sweden tend to be very forthright with information, so you could probably go or write to them for more information.

Now, this is an altarcloth, not clothing, but it sure sounds like flocking as we know it, doesn’t it?

A few weeks after my return, I received a message with the following information*:

24 Sept 1482 “The same day, a petition made to the Common Council by the Wardens and whole fellowships of the Misteries of Drapers and Taillours reminding the Council of “the grete untrueth falshode and deceite in late daies begonne and nowe daily used in the makyng fullyng drawyng or settyng of lengeth in the Teyntours Sheryng & powderyng wt Flokkes of wollen cloth…”

From: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-letter-books/voll/pp190-199#highlight-first

Powdering cloth with “flokkes” of wool in order to hide thin spots in the cloth from the shearers. This brings the practice, of a sort, more than a full century earlier than the cloth above.

Let these clues be a starting point to further research into this interesting practice!

20150520_141051_LLS - Copy (1280x720) 20150520_141058_LLS - Copy (1280x720) 20150520_141107_LLS - Copy (1280x720) 20150520_141123_LLS - Copy (720x1280) 20150520_141143_LLS - Copy (1280x720) 20150520_141153_LLS - Copy (1280x720)


*Thanks to Mart Shearer for sending me the quote above.

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Double Wars Classes

Earlier this month, I had the distinct pleasure of attending Double Wars, an SCA event held in the Shire of Attemark, located in Southern Sweden. If you ever have the chance, GO. Drachenwalders are friendly and very hospitable folk, and you will have the time of your life. I did, anyway.

Most of the classes I taught are ones that I’ve taught before, but I put together a few new things for the occasion. I refrained from putting the new information up until after I got back, and I wanted to make a page that listed links for all of the classes that I taught. The only class that doesn’t have a full set of slides/tutorial is the Charles de Blois fitting class, but I have webbed the single sheet that I hand out in class. The rest are full presentations or tutorials, along with a handout similar to what I print for classes.

Without further ado, here are the links:

Fitting the Charles de Blois Pourpoint

Gothic Fitted Dress Workshop, and Single Sheet Handout

Sleeve Fitting: Farmboy, Fetch Me That Pitcher, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Reach my Own Damned Pottery, and Single Sheet Handout

Discovering the V-Neck Gown: The Sexiest Bathrobe You’ll Ever Wear (link opens the linkspage to all of my 15th century dress info, and the presentation is the last link, a pdf), and Single Sheet Handout

Working With Fur: Keeping Warm in the Mini Ice Age and Today, and Single Sheet Handout


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Fur or Fabric on the V Neck Gown?

Back in 2003, Jeff and I visited London, and of course, we visited the National Gallery. While we were there, I noticed a dress detail that you could see in person, but I’d never seen a print or web image detailed enough to see it. In van der Weyden’s Portait of a Lady (sometimes called portrait of a women, and NOT the one that looks like Angelina Jolie), the subject is wearing a V-neck gown.

I’d looked through a LOT of images of V-neck gowns by that point, in preparation for the fur lined one that’s documented in the links here. But I’d never been able to find any that didn’t look like fur, or weren’t ambiguous. But the one in the portrait in London had a VERY faint pattern to it. Unfortunately, at the time the National Gallery didn’t allow photos, and I couldn’t find an image with nearly enough detail to see the pattern.

Poking about today, I discovered that the image at Wikimedia Commons is large enough if you click on the original file and zoom in.

Here is the original:

Rogier_van_der_Weyden-workshop_-_Portrait_of_a_Lady_-_1460_(National_Gallery_London) - small


Here is a blown up version that’s been brightened:

about 1460

I will be the first to admit that paintings are not photographs. It could just be that ol’ Rogier wanted to add a bit of texture to the image. But it could also be true that a beautiful brocade is also a valid choice for the collar and cuffs of a V-neck gown. Using this theory, I have made a middle class V-neck gown using wool as the collar, and another silk gown using silk velvet for the trims.


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Fur Lined Hood – Part 1: Cutting the Squirrels

Because my class schedule has been getting more intense lately, I’ve not been doing a lot of new work or research. But I’m going to Double Wars (an SCA event in Sweden) this May, and as I prep classes for that, I’ve decided to do a project that I’ve had on the wish list for several years, a fur-lined hood.

And not just any fur lined hood. I have several bags full of little squirrels with brown backs and white bellies. I want a vair fur lined hood.

20150228_084657 (1)

I’ve been holding onto these little guys for a few years now, and I keep putting them away for the perfect project. The perfect project is largely a mythical beast, and besides, a very common theme with medieval fur was recutting and reuse. Period problems, period solution.

I’ve made a fur-lined garment before. The basic premise is that you sew the furs together, attach them to an interlining, bind the edges, and then baste the interlining into your garment. If you need to go back and wash the garment, you pick the basting out and carry on. That dress has a PDF write up linked from this site already (links to landing page, not directly to pdf).

This is going to be a bit more complicated. First, you have to cut the squirrels. Then you sew them all back up into your preferred pattern in “plates”. Then you go on to the rest of the process.

So, what’s vair? Heraldically speaking, it’s pretty simple:



In period art, there’s a definite look that’s popular. A note on “period art”; this is very much a 14th century and earlier style. By the 15th century, squirrel furs were declassé, as evidenced by some poems and textual references. Those are a little more in depth than I want to get in this post, so stay tuned. In any case, when you see this sort of patterning in art, it’s almost certainly a stylized depiction of fur. If you want to see more examples of fur, check out my Pinterest board on the subject.

I’d probably call that more miniver than vair, though. What’s the difference?

According to Elspet Veale, in her book The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages, there are different ways of cutting squirrels for different effects. Vair and miniver should be thought of as cutting and piecing methods, not as different types of fur.

Vair (or varium opus): grey squirrels made up into plates of alternating bands of grey and white.

Miniver: The same as vair, but only the bellies are used with an edge of grey around them.

Pured Miniver: Only the white bellies, with all of the grey trimmed off.

Gris: Only the backs of the squirrels used.

So far, I’ve just been cutting. I was unable to find any information on whether I should cut up the sides or the back, so I was going for the sides first, thinking that I’d alternate them like in the heraldic version. Since then, I’ve spoken with somebody with more experience in individual pelts, and I tried cutting one up the spine. Once I piece them all together, it *should* be largely irrelevant (gosh, I hope so), but I’ll write about that when I get to that.

For now, here are some more pics of squirrels and what I’ve done so far.

This is not for the squeamish. The furs still have legs and head fur and whiskers:



A few cut pelts laid out next to each other. In reality, big rectangular plates would be made, and then cut. The trapezoidal nature of the pelts will work well with the skirt of the hood, so I might just cheat.

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I cut one up the spine, and I like how that worked. I’ll try a few more of those. As long as each tier, or row of horizontal furs on the plate, is the same, I’ll be ok.



A dry interior. I’m going to get some neatsfoot oil or leather conditioner and see if it helps.

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Even beyond the pelts being dry and scaly, some of them have these dry red globs on them. Fat? Incomplete removal of the flesh? Not sure. Glad this will all be backed with heavy hemp.



More later, I’m sure! As an aside, if you have opinions on fur, and whether or not I should be using it, save yourself the time and keep them to yourself. I won’t approve them, and will summarily delete any comments of the sort. Fur was a fact of life in the middle ages.


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Breastbags and Kerchiefs

Back when we all first heard word about the Lengberg finds, I was crazy excited to test some of the patterns. Then, I heard a few other people express interest, life happened, we moved, and I was happy to let others experiment. I’ve seen a few reconstructions of the “longline bra” in the linked article, with the two piece breast cups. They look pretty good. On well-endowed women, they look… impressive… to say the least. The brashirt example, by Deventer Burgerscap, is also a beautiful piece of work, and I encourage people to look at her images of sleeveless shifts, and review her blog.

I’ve also really been hoping for more detail. MUCH more detail. There’s a lot of data on each of those finds, weave direction, stitch holes on the edge, etc., and I just don’t feel like I know enough to move forward. However, I went to a couple of events this summer that made me want to just dive in. First, Lilies War, in Missouri, in June. Hot. Sticky. Humid. I just couldn’t stand lacing myself into a fitted dress. I lounged around in my bathhouse babes shift as much as I could (photo credit: Kate Newton)


Next event, 10,000 ft up in the mountains, northwest of Boulder, CO. Now, I can draw a full breath in my fitted dresses. But when you’re climbing around at 10,000 ft, you need *more* than a full breath. It’s absolutely the altitude, not the fact that I’m out of shape. Trust me.

The “longline bra” version seemed like it would end up fairly like my bathhouse babes dress. It would work, but still be tight around my chest. I’d probably want to make it into a full shift. A lazy part of me wants as little bra as possible, and a single layer linen dress over that. Humidity will do crazy things to a person.

Bring on the breast bags.


This image drives me crazy. There’s so much there, but so much that we can’t see.



Even this one just doesn’t tell me enough.

I’m still messing with a version of the pattern for this. It’s kind of a hot mess right now, so that’s not why I’m posting. Suffice it to say, I want it a little like a halter top – gathered at the bottom of the bust into a tight band around the chest, necessary for good support. I’m at the 90% point. My version, intentionally, doesn’t have the needle-lace or sprang insert in the center.

I’ve stared at this image for quite some time, I guess for a couple of years now. It’s always bothered me that the straps are so wide. I thought that maybe it would be worn under a fuller gown, something with a higher neck. Then I was looking back through all of the images on the various Lengberg websites.

"The world turned upside down" (gender-role reversal)

“The world turned upside down” (gender-role reversal)
Alois Niederstätter: 1400 – 1522:das Jahrhundert der Mitte: an der Wende vom Mittelalter zur Neuzeit, aus der Reihe Österreichische Geschichte, Wien 1996



Look at that.

For years, now, while I’ve been doing 15th century, I’ve pinned a scarf in under my kirtle, kind of like an early partlet. Maybe it’s not a scarf, after all.

So, I took my 90% “breastbag” bra, and put it on under a dress. This is a late 14th c. gown, not supportive, but the neckline isn’t all that off from the 15th century one.

Here’s the result:



Damned blurry image. You still can tell what’s going on, though. And by the time I got it off, I wasn’t putting it back on.


Never mind that I can’t button my dress properly!

Looks an awful lot like the scarf that I’ve been pinning in for years, with one advantage – it stays held in place. And it’s useful.

Is this a be-all, end-all answer? Probably not. There are certainly enough images of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding, where that white linen layer is pulled out loose around her bust. It looks to me like a shift in those images, but it also could be a “bra” untied or loosened.

Is there one solution? I doubt it. There were four of these “bras” found, and each one looks quite different. Undergarments were probably wares made at home, in a way that worked for an individual. What works for a smaller woman might not work well for a larger busted women. We have a textual reference that different people did different things, as I already wrote about in this post.

Some women, unable or unwilling to resort to a surgeon, or not wanting to reveal their indecency, make in their chemises two sacks proportioned to their breasts, but shallow, and they put them on every morning, and compress them as much as they can with a suitable bandage. Others, like the women of Montpellier, compress them with tight tunics and laces…

Translation and original found at Will’s Commonplace Book.

Even if what we’re seeing in these images is not the “bra” layer, the straps would be covered by the pinned in scarf or shift. In any case, between the archaeological record, that is, the “breastsacks” themselves, and the images showing that look from the same time period, I think we have a good argument for wearing this style in this way.

I have a pinterest board where I’ve gathered some of these scarf-partlet-breastbag possibilities. Check it out!

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Mid-15th Century Butterfly Hennin

This past Saturday at Twelfth Night, I wore some fun new headwear. Enough people asked me about the construction, that I put together a page detailing out every step. Please let me know if there is something I don’t cover, or something that’s confusing! I’ll try to cover it all, but I’d prefer to not take it apart for pictures. 😀

Have fun hat engineering!



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On Cleavage and Breast Mounds

Got your attention, didn’t I?

One of these days I’m going to learn to write a whole article when I start it. I had a fantastic article all started, I just hadn’t put together the images, all about breast support. It had literary quotes, analysis, disapproving monks, the works! Then the Lengberg Bra news broke, and more organized people got those quotes together, including much more than I’d ever dug up. So far, the most comprehensive piece I’ve seen on the subject was at the Medieval Silkwork blog, Supportive Underwear in Written Sources. Good stuff. Go read it.

In recreating the clothing of the 14th and 15th centuries, I’ve always stuck with the idea that there was more than one way to go about doing things. I doubt that all women always used a bust support method. I doubt that the only bust support method was similar to the Lengberg bras, with separated “breast sacks.” I doubt that the only way to create a integrally-fitted dress or chemise was with a straight front seam or a curved front seam. Many people like absolutes. Not me.

Personally, my favorite of all of the quotes that support, well, support, is this:

Some women, unable or unwilling to resort to a surgeon, or not wanting to reveal their indecency, make in their chemises two sacks proportioned to their breasts, but shallow, and they put them on every morning, and compress them as much as they can with a suitable bandage. Others, like the women of Montpellier, compress them with tight tunics and laces…

Translation and original found at Will’s Commonplace Book.

It seems to me that this quote, even without the others at the Silkwork link, does a good job of explaining that different women had different methods.

Not to mention that the idea of breast sacks just tickles me to pieces.

When Jeff and I were in Belgium a few years ago, I took photos of an elaborately-carved retable (altarpiece) in the Musees Royaux d’art et d’Histoire which had some very interesting costume details. One was this woman:

Retable - Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire in Brussels, Belgium

Retable – Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels, Belgium

She’s not pushed up too far, but she looks gently supported. Looks like breast sack-type support to me. What do you think?

There are many arguments against breast support. The most common that I’ve seen is that the extant garments we have don’t appear to be supportive. A second is that many illustrations, especially mid-century and earlier, don’t feature the breasts. The third is a suggestion that breast support is a medieval-ish solution to a modern problem.

With respect to extant garments, we have so few. And even though there are many different cuts from the Herjolfsnes garments, they are from the same culture and location. Even taken all together, we don’t have necessarily a good representative sample covering time, location, and class.

Illustrations are easy. We can also find illustrations which do feature the breasts, cleavage, and lower necklines. I’ve found them from the 1370s – 80s on, but keep your eye out and you might see them earlier. (Be careful on dates of brasses and monuments – some are dated from the death date, not the carving date.)

More on the illustrations in a bit.

As for it being a modern problem, well, I doubt it. But don’t take my word for it, read the text at the Silkwork link above. There are multiple references throughout the middle ages, even before the fitted dress era, describing women who attempted to somehow support their breasts. Boobs aren’t new.

Back to the point about the illustrations.

And on to Cleavage and Breast Mounds.

Over the years since I’ve been looking at this, and since I first read some of the arguments saying that supportive garments are a reenactor-ism, I’ve noticed plenty of representations of the lifted and compressed breast in artwork. Even that, though, critics will point out might be idealization of the female form. This isn’t a bad argument. For example, I’m not sure that Jean Fouquet ever saw a nude female who wasn’t lying down.

But breasts don’t creep up into cleavage on their own. Even the most blessed and perky of us don’t have that little dip or breast mounds without help. Even when we’re lying down, they creep off to the side leaving a more generous space between. Sure, artists will make up a lot of stuff. But what’s more likely, that they just invented the concept of cleavage and breast mounds, or saw them in life?

Wait. They were mostly guys. Don’t answer that.

Moving on. Here is a sample of these representations.

(Note: I’m a bad blogger, and I don’t have great citations for everything. I have them somewhere, and I think that the raw photos where I took pictures of the citation are on a hard drive on the other side of the country. I’ll do my best. My apologies.)

Effigies and brasses are where I first started noticing cleavage. They’re simply rendered, without much extraneous information.

St Andrews Esmoun and Isabel de Malyns, 1385

St Andrews Esmoun and Isabel de Malyns, 1385

Ms. Isabel de Malyns does seem to be showing us her cleavage. Well, many brasses were made from an artist’s template, but I’m sure you get what I mean. There’s potentially the explanation that the cleavage-like lines are just other artifacts on the brass. Perhaps? But the brasses don’t exist in a vacuum. We do have other examples.

Margaret de Cobham, 1375, Cobham Church

Margaret de Cobham, 1375, Cobham Church

You’ll probably have to click through to the full size to see it, but there it is, on another roughly contemporary brass.


Another one you can click through to see.

Maud de Grey, 1394, Stanton Harcourt

Maud de Grey, 1394, Stanton Harcourt

Here’s one on a stone effigy.

She’s lying down, so perhaps her breast mounds are a little more enhanced than they otherwise would be. However, considering that the veil and cloak are not rendered as if she were lying on her back, we might not be able to make the assumption that the artist was attempting that level of perspective.

St. Mary the Virgin, 1390, Swine in Holderness

St. Mary the Virgin, 1390, Swine in Holderness

This one is my very favorite. She’s got breast mounds. And she has a stunningly low neckline. The bodice of the gown is flat, so how lifelike was it meant to be? That’s unclear. But what’s clear (to me) is that the artist has seen breasts pushed up like that.

small2009 12 13_1052


Here’s a woman with some definite cleavage, drawn in. She’s upright. She’s rendered in detail. Her dress shows curves. My citation for this is not with me, but it looks to me like the early 15th century illustrations of Boccaccio’s Decameron.

St Ursula and her Virgin Companions. Medieval miniature by Giovanni di benedetto, 1385-1390. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France.

St Ursula and her Virgin Companions. Medieval miniature by Giovanni di benedetto, 1385-1390. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France.

This was the one that really threw me for a loop. I’ve looked at this image SO many times. And yet, until recently, I never noticed the breast mounds on the companion on the far left. How many other examples of cleavage or mounds have I been missing?

Keep your eye out, and I’m sure you’ll start seeing them too.

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Research and Thoughts about Frilled Veils

I put together this research several years ago to justify the shape and construction of a frilled veil for use in my 14th century reenacting group. The topic has come up elseweb, so instead of sitting on it forever, and never getting around to the long tutorial and webpage I meant to write, I’ll post my initial research findings. I hope the long tutorial and webpage I meant to write will be forthcoming soon. Or eventually. Or something.

August 1, 2010:

I’ve been poking about at the frilled veil problem, reading what’s out
there, sorting through pictures, and I’ve found a few interesting
tidbits. I’m planning on starting a first version of this soon – if
all goes spectacularly well with other packing, I may make it a sit in
camp and stitch project at Pennsic. We’ll see. 😀 In any case, I
wanted to get some ideas out there so I could get started when I was

The first problem is whether or not the frills were woven as part of
the fabric or attached. I found some interesting archeological
information in this article:


on page 13:
“The pieces may overall be grouped as four different
types according to shape and style of the frilled
Type 1: [woven pleats on the edge]…
Type 2: [pleated the entire width]…
Type 3: Sharp pleats on additional bands
This type has additional pleated bands sewn to the
edge of the fabric. These bands are thicker and
more coarse than the fabrics they aresewn to. The
aditional bands are c. 2 cm in width.
The bands are folded in sharp, crisp pleats forming
a zigzag-shaped appearance.”

They’re Spanish (of course!) and 13th century, but are at least real
examples of what might have been going on. There were examples of both
the sewn on pleats and of woven in pleats, which looks like what we
might be seeing in imagery.

The second problem is bulk at the frill attachment point. These seem
to have one ribbon attached to the edge, which is folded and wrapped
in many layers. I’ll look for some sort of ribbon or tape like that at
Pennsic, but barring that, I thought I’d make a narrow
double-thickness strip of my linen to act as the thicker tape. I’d do
the attachment like in the article, at each pleat. The veil itself
would have many layers, three or four or more, folded over and over.

The third problem is shape. I think this could go a couple of ways. We
usually see an arch over the face, with the frills going from jaw to
jaw (or longer) or as short as temple to temple. There’s a second set
of frills usually draped across the shoulder.

Solution 1 is to have a semicircle, with frills along the center part
of the straight edge, the rest of the straight edge plain, and then
frills all along the round edge. That would allow it to easily rest on
the shoulder. This German one seems to look like this:

Solution 2 is a very long and narrowish band, maybe about 16″ deep,
and 13″ long times as many folds as you need. It would be frilled on
both long sides. I think that would work well for an example like

Also, there’s an image on page 20 of this pdf
http://www.middelaldercentret.dk/pdf/nyhedsbrevjan07tilweb.pdf that
shows some of this. It looks like an integrally woven one (Type 1),
but you see the long veil folded over and over again.

I think since solution 2 looks more English to me (or at least the
examples are English), I’d start with that. The downside is that it
might need pinning to have the bottom edge of frills sit on the
shoulders right.

The fourth problem, or element, is the shape of the frills once
they’re layered. Some of the effigies have a very honeycombed look,
like this:
You could get this with four or more layers, all pleated with creases,
and the layers stitched together to keep the honeycomb exactly even.
It wouldn’t be difficult, but it could also just be a stylized image.

The other option is to gather each ruffle in tighter, so that you
would get a series of loops, like these:

And a reconstruction here:

With this possibility, the layers would not need to be sewn together.

To sum up, I think I’m going to go for this look:
I will use a sewn on frill, with a sewn linen tape as the frill
(unless I find something good at P to use). The frill will be pleated
on closely, to form a loop. I’ll start the experiment with a long
band, layered three times. I want to make the folded version work, but
it might need pinning. If nothing else, her frills are shorter, it’s
less work, and if it’s wrong, it’s not as much time wasted.

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