5 Types of folds and how to draw them

By Nicole Tinkham
5 Types of folds and how to draw them

If you’ve been putting off drawing folds in clothing, you’re not alone. In fact, we’ve been putting off writing this blog about drawing folds! They just seem so complicated, right? There are so many types, shapes, sizes, details, and shadows. We understand how overwhelming it can be. This is why we’re taking fabric folds one step at a time. First up: understanding the different types of folds. We’ll go over pipe folds, zigzag folds, spiral folds, diaper folds, and drop folds. Then it’s time to get practicing! Deep breaths, you can do this. At the end of this blog you’ll find some helpful techniques so you can start playing. Ready to begin? Here are 5 types of folds and how to draw them.


Pipe folds

What are they?

Pipe folds are long folds that somewhat resemble organ pipes. You’ll normally see this type of fold on dresses and curtains. They form when one area of the fabric is gathered together and (typically) the rest hangs loose.


Relaxed fold: This variation is when the fabric hangs freely. As mentioned above, a pipe form is created when fabric is gathered at one end. This is the loose version of the pipe fold.

Stretched pipe fold: This type of fold is quite the opposite of the relaxed fold. A stretched pipe fold is exactly how it sounds, when each end of the fabric is pulled away from each other. This produces tight folds in the fabric.

Zigzag folds

What are they?

Zigzag folds are often found in shirt sleeves on heavier clothing and pants where the fabric buckles. The folds alternate directions (inward on itself and outward) and can be more angular depending on how stiff the fabric is.


The memory zigzag fold: In addition to the ordinary zigzag fold, you may notice an imprint similar to the fold that occurs in jeans behind the knee. When the fabric has been bent often, the folds remain. These zigzag folds could look different than those found on shirt sleeves but are the same type of fold.

Spiral folds

What are they?

Spiral folds are found in tubular cloth wrapped around a cylinder object (think arm in a sleeve). You may be wondering how these differ from the zig zag fold. The answer is simple: It’s all in how the fabric lays. Softer fabric tends to produce spiral folds and the folds will be rounded, not as angular as zigzag folds.


Condensed folds: This means the folds are scrunched together. Think about what your sleeve does when you roll it up.

Loose folds: These are directly opposite of condensed folds. These are looser and can be formed more diagonally (as shown in the image above).

Diaper folds

What are they?

Diaper folds occur when fabric hangs between two points. There is typically a bend or curve where the fabric sags which is determined by how much slack is between the two pinned points. To see how this type of fold looks, take a large piece of fabric and hold it up so that there’s excess fabric in the center.


Soft fabric: Each fold can look drastically different depending on the type of fabric it is. If you’re working with soft fabric, you’ll have soft curved folds.

Stiff: Stiff or crisp fabric will leave you with angular bends in the folds.

Drop folds

What are they?

Drop folds are simple. They fall freely from one point (see image above).


From a push pin: When fabric is just hanging from a push pin or one point, you can show partial ellipses at the bottom of the fabric.

Fall from the knee: Drop folds can also be found in pants while sitting down. The fabric that hangs down from the knee is considered a drop fold.

How to make your folds look realistic

Look at folds for what they are- excess fabric that lies on top of each other. What does this tell us? To create LAYERS as we draw. Hint: Use a light colored fabric to start. This will make the folds and shadows easier to spot.

Start with the outline of the fabric and be sure to include overlapping lines. When doing so, note which folds are more prominent than others. As far as supplies go, we recommend using charcoal (both vine and compressed) and a kneaded eraser.

Once you have shadows filled in with charcoal, you can actually use your kneaded eraser to blend, smudge, and erase where needed. You can control how light or dark a shadow is by how hard you press with your eraser. The harder you press the more pigment the eraser will pick up and the lighter your shadow will be.

To get those really dark shadows and refined edges, use your compressed charcoal. Don’t go overboard here though! A little bit goes a long way.

We feel like a broken record here but these two things are super important no matter what art project you’re working on. First of all, focus on how the object actually looks. Draw what you see! And be sure to practice DAILY! You will never get better if you don’t work on in consistently. Put your fear aside and just get started.

Is there a certain area in your artwork that you need a little help with? Let us know in the comments and it could be featured in a future blog!

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