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The Secret to Drawing Realistic Fabric and Clothing Folds

Drawing clothing folds can be a challenge for many artists with the potential for drawing too many or too few folds, and the nuances of different fabrics from jersey, knit, polyester, and chiffon.

Four different types of fabrics: tan jersey, mint knit, red chiffon, white satin

When drawing clothing folds, you have to consider the fabric's qualities — such as tension, fit, thickness, and stiffness — and how they react with the wearer's position and environmental factors like wind.

In this blog, we’ll go over the basics of how to draw clothing folds on various fabrics. Whether your art style is cartoon or realistic, understanding these clothing principles will help you add depth and realism to illustrated outfits.

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3 Types of Clothing Folds & Where to Draw Them

Fold #1: Bunching Areas

Drawing of a sleeve bunching at the elbow
Example of sleeve bunching at the elbow. Bunching areas are marked on the body in red.

You’ll find most clothing folds happen at bunching areas where your limbs bend. The main bunching areas are located at the elbows, knees, and midsection of the torso.

Fold #2: Gathering Areas

Drawing of pants fabric bunching at the ankle
Example of gathering at the bottom of pants. Gathering areas are marked on the body in blue.

Loose and oversized clothing will have prominent gathering areas where excess fabric gathers or bunches up. Gathering areas usually happen at the cuffs of sleeves, the bottom hem of the shirt, and the bottom of the pant legs.

Fold #3: Tension Areas

Drawing of hand pulling on the front of a person's shirt, and drawing of a shirt when arms are raised
Tension is created when pulling on a shirt and when raising your arms. Tension areas are marked on the body in green.

Tension areas are tricky, they could be anywhere fabric can be pulled! Tension is caused by an external force from the wearer’s pose or movement. For example, tension happens when someone is grabbing and pulling your shirt, or simply when the force of gravity pulls on your clothes while you’re jumping, falling, or raising your arms.

How Many Folds Should I Draw?

A drawing of a sleeve with too many folds compared to a drawing of a sleeve with less folds

Less is more. In cartoon styles, you don't need to draw every single fold – if there's too much detail, it'll look like there's none at all!

Anime characters wearing sports jerseys, anime character wearing a sweater vest

Even in semi-realistic styles, like anime, artists often use value and colour rather than line art to create folds. If you’re unsure, look up some reference photos of art you admire.

How To Draw Fold Shapes in Clothing: Thick vs. Stiff vs. Thin

Thick & Heavy Fabrics Have Large Folds

Drawing of a turtleneck sweater next to a close up photograph of a sweater

Folds usually appear as loops in thick fabrics like knits, heavy cotton, fleece, and sherpa. Due to the thickness, these fabrics have large folds and less bunching area.

Stiff Fabrics Have Sharp Folds

Reference photo of a person wearing a three piece suit, drawing of a suit

Stiff fabrics like leather, polyester, corduroy, and denim have sharp triangular folds. These fabrics don't flow easily and hold their shape, resulting in distinctive folds. If the stiff fabric is thicker, tension areas are not as present and folds are sharper. Unlike a flowy thin scarf, stiff fabrics behave more like a sheet of paper.

🤔 Fun fact: Buttons on men's clothing are on the right side while buttons for women's clothing are on the left side.

Thin Fabrics Have All 3 Types of Folds

Drawing of a thin long sleeve shirt next to a close up photo of flowy blue fabric

Fabrics like thin cotton, silk, chiffon, cashmere, and lace have both thin, loose triangles AND loops. These thin fabrics flow, move, and bend easily like water, so all three types of folds — bunching, gathering, and tension — are very present.

Quick Tips On Drawing Realistic Clothing Folds

Clothing Folds Should NOT Be Parallel

Comparison drawings of parallel folds vs non-parallel clothing folds at the elbow
It looks very unnatural when the folds align.

Tight Clothing Has Fewer Folds

Spiderman costume, drawings of tight shirt compared to hoodie and suit
The tighter the clothing, the fewer gathering areas there will be overall.

External Factors Affect Clothing

Drawing of a waitress wearing a flowy dress and rollerblades
If there’s wind, flowy clothing like skirts and dresses should be moving.

Stock photo of a wet shirt
Wet fabric has a lot of tension areas because the fabric gets pulled down by the weight of the water and sticks to the body.

Art examples of sitting and leaning creating folds in clothing
Sitting or leaning on objects creates unique folds in clothing.

Learning how to draw clothing is not easy, but understanding the 3 types of folds, fabric textures, and external factors is the first step. With practice and observation, you’ll be able to capture more complicated clothing pieces and dynamic fabric movements. So find some nice reference images, grab your art supplies, and get ready to draw those clothing folds!

If you found this tutorial helpful, share it with a fellow artist and subscribe to our email list for art freebies, news, and exclusive savings. Keep on practicing and check out our virtual classes below to learn more 👇

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