One of the most interesting aspects of Bruegel’s work and parts of Gerard David’s work, from a costuming perspective, is the depiction of a seam treatment for bodice and sleeves which is different from the common 4 panel bodice with rounded armscrye. One of my friends, Salaberge de Granson, constructed a dress based on these images, which I was able to look at in 2004. Salaberge was kind enough to send me her pattern pieces for further examination. As a result I started to wonder whether the Leiden style bodices that I was constructing at the time were also constructed this way, or was a 4 panel cut used.

The easiest way to determine this is to examine the art.

The Flemish seams are best seen in this picture, the woman on the far right of Bruegel’s “Peasant Dance”

Armed with this information I went searching for evidence of seam lines in van Leyden’s work. Here’s what I found:

shoulder detail from 1500s print shoulder detail from 1500s print cropped image from 1500s print
Woman at her spinning wheel, Lucas van Leyden Samson and Delilah, Lucas van Leyden The Dance of the Magdalen, Lucas van Leyden
shoulder detail from 1500s painting shoulder detail from 1500s print
Portrait of a man and a woman, Joos van Cleve The Dance of the Magdalen, Lucas van Leyden

Lucas van Leyden’s preferred aspect is front or 3/4 view, so it’s very hard to find pictures showing the back of women’s dress. The only one I could find is a small woman in “The Dance of the Magdalen” which is shown above. most of the above pictures are inconclusive, and simply show that sleeves were set into the shoulder, usually with a quite a few gathers. However the shoulder seam from Samson and Delilah is much more useful. This shows a seam which runs across the the shoulder and meets the sleeve, which is used in 4 panel bodices and not the V backed seams in the Bruegel style cut.

pattern layout diagram

Possible pattern layout for a V-backed Breugel bodice

However to make sure I had completely explored every possiblility I sketched out an idea for a pattern based on a V seamed back with these shoulder seams built in (previous image). The problem with this layout is that I can think of no logical reason why there would be this strange V shaped insert in the back, however it is needed to create the high-neck that is a feature of dutch clothing. I think unless I see evidence to the contrary that this would not have been a common pattern style for the high-necked dresses of the Leiden style.

pic of two women with different seamlinesAn interesting clue can be found in an illumination from Flanders in the early 1500s. This illumination shows two women watching a show, one more wealthy than the other. The wealthier woman’s bodice is a 4 panelled construction while that of the other woman is follows the V-shaped patterning of the Bruegel dress. As the Ledien style that I am re-constructing is most similar to the first style, I am satisfied that the Leiden dresses were patterned with a 4 panel bodice.

The evolution of the pattern pieces I have used to construct the curtain dress, the pink dress and the green dress are in order:

pattern pieces for Gerard Davide dress

pattern pieces for my first Low Countries dress, dubbed “The Curtain Dress”

This was the first pattern, based on a very simple 4 panel bodice cut, with the front rounded to mirror the rounded fronts of the early sixteenth century Flemish dresses. The sleeve was cut on the fold as per the enclosed pattern piece shown here, it was then unfolded and the lower half of the armscrye was cut into it. This is shown by the extended armscrye line on the pattern.

Pink dress pattern layout

pattern pieces for my first Leiden style dress, dubbed “the pink dress”

This pattern was developed to emulate the high neck that is a feature of the Leiden style. It is slightly strange in that the shoulder piece meets the back piece at a right angle, but this seems to fit together fine. To achieve the overlap that is seen in Engelbrechtsz.’ painting one edge of the bodice was extended 1 inch. I then found the straightest line possible through this new curve and cut along that line. The sleeve length shoudl come to at least the end of your hand, so that it can be turned back properly. If you are unsure of the length and fullness requried start draping witha length of cloth.

pattern pieces for my second Leiden dress, dubbed “The Green Dress”

This last pattern developed as I was not happy with the height and line of the previous pattern through the neck. The curve at the shoulder fixes this problem and creates a very comfortable fit. You can see the finished version at the end of its dress diary

Many thanks to Mistress Marguerite de Rada y Sylva for her help in developing these patterns.

If you are interested in the Flemish square cut sleeve you can find out more information at these sites:


“Stand with Quack Holding a Urine Sample” illumination from the Songbook of Zegere van Male, Bruges, 1542. Cambrai Bibliotheque municipale, ms. 125-128, fol.53. Smeyers, Maurits. “Flemish Miniatures: From the 8th to the mid-16th century”. Uitgeverij Davidsfonds, Leuven. 1999. ISBN: 2 503 50966 5