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How to Draw Folds in Clothing and Fabric, a Step-by-Step Tutorial

So you want to learn to draw folds well. You want to learn to draw various types of folds. You wonder what kind of folds exist, and if they combine together to make more folds.

You are in the right place! And yes, folds do combine to create more complex arrangements of folds.

This is a detailed tutorial with three step-by-step sections, process videos, and many quick tips ! Scroll down to the table of contents, and have fun drawing folds!

Gvaat’s drapery study (Procreate/iPad Pro)

If you are someone who likes the quick answer, here is my best quick answer to how to draw folds well, summarized in just one sentence:

To draw folds in clothing or fabric, you must (1) provide an accurate (and often swiftly simplified) depiction of folds for the viewer, AND (2) through the editorial process, depict them in an arrangement more pleasant to the eye than mere reality.

If that sounds good, let’s get going on learning to draw folds. At the end of this tutorial, you can download .pdf posters to help you learn to draw folds, as well as large .psd files of examples in this tutorial.

Drawing Folds, Table of Contents:

Drawing Folds in Fabric and Clothing, Step-by-Step

Here is a basic breakdown of drawing folds, before we really get started, I want you to see the overall picture of what is involved. Believable folds often require shading, so here we have from left to right (1) lineart, (2) base color or mid-tones, (3) shadows put in, (4) highlights put in.

You can download the high-resolution image above, as well as other materials that go together with this tutorial by signing up for my free, once-a-month newsletter here.

Here are the steps I will be using to draw folds in these examples:

Step one: Identify the form underneath, identify tension points, and types of folds, and all other areas of force applied to the folds – (all of this in detail below!). After this identification process, draw general shape and account for main folds

From this first step, I used a simple rendering technique of blocking in the local color, then shadows and then highlights. identify local color and paint it in. Because I wanted to give a three-dimensional feeling to the folds, I decided to shade them in using this type of rendering.

Step two: identify local color and paint it in

Step three: paint in shadows

Step four: paint in highlights

Drawing Folds in Clothing, Step-by-Step 1:

Here, essentially we are putting together the line art, the midtones, shadows and highlights together.

This first step – the line-art drawing, the underdrawing of the fabric/clothing and folds you plan to draw is the most important in this process. Here we need to think about how the underlying form impacts the shape of the clothing and folds.

We also need to sketch out placement of the main folds, so they are easy to return to later when you ready to render them.

I added a simple local color to this drawing.

Continuing to observe from step 1, I rendered out the shadows, trying my best to make sure they make sense for the form underneath the clothing.

We will cover each individual type of fold in a bit in this tutorial! For now, I want to go over some examples to give you an idea of the process.

Here, the highlights are added to make folds stand out. The focus is on planes that are hit by most light.

Drawing Folds in Clothing, Step-by-Step 2

Okay, let’s quickly go through another drawing of folds on clothing one more time, before we get into different types of folds. If you want to skip to the fold types, click here!

(Note, below you will also find a third step-by-step overview, as well as videos of process for all of these renditions.)

So here you see again, rendering folds through an underdrawing, then local color, shadows, and highlights.

When creating the initial drawing, start to think about tension points, and how the fabric is pushed or pulled by various underlying forms. Tension points are also called points of support and are origin points for tension in the fabric. For example, at the elbow of the left arm (on our right), there are folds caused by compression of fabric, since the elbow is bent and the clothing is somewhat baggy on the frame.

Here, I added local color to the drawing.

In this step, I added shadows. Again, carefully thinking about which planes are in shadow and which planes are still seen light.

Finally, I added some highlights to the hoodie. You can see light hitting the surface from the top.

Examples of Different Types of Folds

I found a good listing of the types of folds in Bridgman’s art book “A Complete Guide to Drawing from Life”. Bridgman’s book is an excellent source and one I highly recommend, it is also not the easiest to understand.

I found many places online where Bridgman’s section on folds is posted without context, and did not find that too helpful.

Below, I will be adding my own comments to the best way to remember and study each fold in hopes of making things easier to learn.

If you are contemplating if you should even study different folds or not, yes study them. Just draw each one a few times, it will take a day, but it will be time well spent in the effort to improve your drawings of folds in clothing. I definitely saw improvement in my overall drawing of folds after I spent time learning each type of fold.

Once you know them, it almost becomes a game to identify them on your reference, also forcing you to break down a complex folding fabric into simple parts, which in-turn makes the entire arrangement easier to draw.

It is important to note that different types of folds can, and often do, mix with one another. Therefore, the study of different types of folds is a departure point and not the destination to drawing folds in clothing and fabric.

Look at the different types and try to spot them in real life and picture reference as a start.

Diaper (U shape) fold

example of a diaper fold 1

The diaper fold is the U shape fold. There are two points of tension, one on each side holding the fold up, it sags in the middle creating a U shape. It is the fold found in a hood as it descends down the back.

example of a diaper fold 2 - how to draw

To draw the diaper fold well, follow how the sagging volume moves down from each point of tension. As Bridgman notes “follow to where the two sagging opposing forces meet and study carefully how they interlock”. Your ability to properly document this meeting of opposing forces in the middle of the U in the diaper fold will directly reflect how well you can draw this fold.

Zigzag fold

example of a zigzag fold 1 - how to draw

When a tubular fold is bent, the inner side buckles onto itself as the excess cloth is revealed from compression, creating a pattern that often replicates a zigzag.

The best way to draw this and most other folds is to analyze your reference and be sure that you understand every separate plane of the cloth, know which bents into where, before you put it down on canvas.

Otherwise, you will just be drawing lines going in different directions, without an effort to describe form, and it will not lead to a result we can call good.

Study the object enough where you can identify what happens at each crease and bend, then draw. When drawing you may choose to simplify, and only keep that which is of utmost importance to communicate what you, the artist, are seeing, and discard the rest.

example of a zigzag fold 2- how to draw

Spiral (twisting) fold

example of a spiral fold - how to draw

Spiral folds radiate from the one point of support, and although they start out in a similar path, they fan out as they move further from the supporting point, and move further and further from being parallel.

Think about what you choose to represent on canvas. Your reference, depending on the fabric, may have twenty radiating spiral folds in an area that you choose by design not to focus on.

If you choose to focus somewhere else, this area will need less attention, therefore you’d choose to simplify and show just a few spiral folds instead of all twenty of them.

Half-lock (elbow) fold

example of a half-lock fold - how to draw

A half-lock fold sounds confusing but it is really not. It is the fold that happens when fabric changes direction. Most prominent around bending elbows and knees, I like to call it the elbow fold.

Think of the name half-lock, the fabric folds on itself, creating a thinly shapes U in the middle, with edges of the created folds almost locking together to hide the crease out of view. Look at the example above.

Remember two things: change of direction, and elbow fold.

Pipe (cylinder) fold

example of a pipe fold - how to draw

Pipe or cord folds, descend down from a point of support. It is a tubular shape that radiates down. Look for these pipe-like forms in different photographs of drapery, realize what the form is actually like. Since pipe folds are essentially cylindrical in nature, they can be rendered as cylinders. Study these in the context of a complex drapery arrangement.

Drop fold

example of a drop fold - how to draw

A drop fold is what happens when the drapery is suspended at a point of support and it drops down without any impediment, giving itself to the force of gravity. No other folds or forms get in the way of the drop fold.

Reading multiple materials on folds, I found that it is suggested that the drop fold has high ornamental value, and can be used to create interest in your compositions.

Of course this is true, but I believe it to be true about any folds. The point here being, that a masterful representation of folds will both (1) provide an accurate (and often swiftly simplified/focused) depiction of folds for the viewer, AND (2) through the editorial process engaged by the artist, will depict them in an arrangement more pleasant to the eye than mere reality.

Inert folds

example of an inert fold - how to draw

Inert folds. Inert folds are folds that form when the drapery is thrown to lay on a surface. A fallen piece of cloth that looks still is a good description of inert folds. Think about what has to be represented in the drawing to let the viewer know that the drapery is still. A good drawing of inert fabric will lack even a hint of inertia or momentum. Think of the surface it is on, and work through all the plane changes in the design. The goal is to show to the viewer that this section of cloth is still.

Inert folds lay on a surface still, and are generally made up of various other folds.

Forces Affecting Folds: Tension Points, Underlying Form, and Gravity

Gvaat’s sketches of folds in preparation for this tutorial

Points of Tention (Points of support)

Trying to identify points of tension (points of support) in every single fold can become maddening after a while. Here are some tips to make the process easier.

Remember that points of tension are the origins of tension you see in the folds. Folds usually radiate out from points of tension.

Ask yourself, what is fabric doing at any particular surface, where is it being pulled to, is it twisting, folding on itself, or it is being stretched? AND – what information do I need to depict on canvas to convey this action, (or inaction), without more detail than absolutely necessary to accomplish that goal.

Further, note that in some situations, it may be enough to know the general direction of tension, without being precise with exactly where the point of tension is on the canvas (sometimes it can be hidden on the side of the form away from view). Yes, you should identify where the fabric is pulled or where it is pushed to, but also focus on the overall gesture of the fabric and try to depict its character.

What do you mean the fabric’s character? Well, is it tense, stretched to it’s limit, or is it lose? Are the folds many or few? Are the folds sharp, or are they forming round bellies like a thick fabric would? That sort of thing.

Underlying Form

The underlying form will stretch, and pull the fabric. Fabric will also rest on the underlying form, be it a human arm or a table or a couch. While the underlying form is always underneath the fabric, tension points can come from the outside. For example, holding up a piece of fabric by the pinch of the index finger and the thumb creates a tension point for the fabric at the point where the two fingers meet.

Many times, an underlying form will act as a tension point. The shoulder, for example, can act as tension points at each side of a diaper (u shape) fold handing around the neck and chest. At other times, the underlying form will change the direction of the fabric – when an arm is folded for example.


Don’t forget that unless your subject is in outer space, drawing fabric folds must account for gravity. At all times fabric folds are being pulled down to the ground.

Other forces

What about a long coat hanging off a figure, and blowing in the wind? Are the folds impacted by the wind in this situation? yes, they are.

What about a figure in the same long coat spinning around fast, is the coat impacted by the forces created by the spin? Yes. Or the same figure jumping in the air? Yes.

So think through these situations. In these special cases, it is easiest to recreate what you are trying to draw, and to take reference pictures, and study them carefully.

I’d like to mention here, that so much of how we draw in childhood has to do with looking at something and trying to replicate it on paper, or imagining something and drawing it as we see it in our head. It is a very direct input and output process.

For drawing anything complex, folds including, this approach learned in childhood is not going to work.

Instead, think more along the lines of: input – lots of thinking about what you are seeing – then output. When we draw folds, even when looking directly at reference, we need to really think about what the material is doing as it folds onto itself, bends, and covers underlying form.

This approach will always yield a better drawing than just blindly copying shapes and dark and light spots. Your drawing of folds is the expression of your understanding of the structure you are looking at.

Additional Points When Drawing Folds in Fabric and Clothing

Identifying Points of Tension in Folds for Drawing

Sometimes, instead of looking for points of tension in the folds fabric or clothing for your drawing, it helps to take the reverse approach. Look at your reference and think to yourself, what has to happen for the fabric to be stretched or pushed in the way that it is? Asking this question will lead you to the points of tension you are looking for.

Another way to find points of tension is to follow the folds back to their root. Folds will usually fan out of a point of tension. These points usually occur on bend knees, inside bent elbows, at shoulders, at glutes, at the pelvis, at the chest , at armpits, and often are created by the costume itself, by a belt, or suspenders.

Study of drapery and clothing

Some more words on points of tension in clothing. Do not forget about motion when drawing folds. If you are drawing a dynamic figure, remember to question the path of motion in the context of points of tension.

For example, with arms being raised up, when wearing a dress shirt, clear points of tension are created at the armpit and the elbow. Try it and look in the mirror, you should see folds radiate and fan out from those areas. This means that these points can change depending on the action, and the garment itself – how loose or tight it is on the body.

Study of drapery and clothing
Study of drapery and clothing drawing
Gvaat’s studies. Note: bottom right drawing is a study from a painting by J. C. Leyendecker. Definitely look up Leyendecker’s work, there are some exceptional examples of drawing folds – and many other things!

Shading Folds in Clothing

Drawing folds in clothing and fabric comes down to being able to represent various forms in a convincing way. To do this, the artist must divide the drawing in the light side (the surfaces that appear lit up) and the dark side (for the surfaces in the shadow).

Be careful, do not make the light areas of the shadow side too light, and the dark areas found in the light side too dark. Generally, the darkest area in the light side of the drawing should be lighter, than the lightest area in the shadow side of a drawing. If this sounds confusing, check out my tutorial on drawing light and form here.

Video Process of Drawing Folds in Clothing

Before we get to the next process video, here is a breakdown of the drapery study you saw at the beginning of this tutorial:

How to draw folds in drapery

Additional Step-by-Step guide on Drawing Folds

Now that we went over different types of folds and the points of tension, let’s look at one more step-by-step process for rendering fabric folds.

How to draw folds, step-by-step process 3.

Create an underdrawing sketch, a roadmap to how you will depict the folding fabric in your reference.

Be sure to identify all large folds you find relevant.

Think about how the fabric wraps around the forms underneath, then compare to your sketch, did you represent this aspect of the fabric well in your initial sketch?

How to draw folds, step-by-step process 3.

Here I added 1 color for mid-tones.

How to draw folds, step-by-step process 3.

In this step, I break down the composition into two – the light side and the shadow side.

How to draw folds, step-by-step process 3.

Here I added darker darks of the shadows, to create more depth.

How to draw folds, step-by-step process 3.

In this step, I added lighter tones to where the light hits the surface.

How to draw folds, step-by-step process 3.

In this final rendering, I added brighter highlight spots and fixed a few details.

I hope this guide helped you study this important topic! Masters from Da Vinci to Sargent all studied drapery to improve their art skills, and I know we can too! Good luck on your art journey!

Download Posters of Drawing Folds, and High-Res Images

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