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.
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
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
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
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?
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!
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
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
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
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
Tight Clothing Has Fewer Folds
External Factors Affect 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!
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