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Editor’s note: You’ve spent hours and hours learning how to draw faces and how to draw figures, but what happens when you’re ready to draw a portrait of a clothed person? Folded fabric happens, and that’s exactly what Lee Hammond addresses in this excerpt from Drawing Realistic Clothing and People. Bonus: order your copy and any other items on your wish list today because when you spend $35 at North Light Shop, you’ll save $10 with the code 10OFF30.
How to Draw Clothing and Fabric by Lee Hammond
Just like there are five elements to shading, there are five basic types of folds when drawing fabric. Within each of the five folds, the five elements of shading must be present to make them look realistic.
It’s important to know and understand each of the folds in order to draw believable fabric and clothing. Each of the folds has unique characteristics to it. This is a complicated subject, so don’t rush through it. Start with the surface contours of the fabric first, and how it forms to the body, before attempting to do the patterns and embellishments. Capture the basic shapes first, then add the details.
To create something that looks this layered and realistic, it takes practice and more practice. This scarf is a combination of these many alternative types of folds. Note the edges because of all the overlapping surfaces. The five elements of shading are what gives the fabric its realism. Each raised surface is like a project in itself, and must be studied carefully.
To show you the five different folds, I’ve taken a striped washcloth and molded it into different shapes. Each example represents one of the folds and what it looks like. I chose the striped fabric so you can see how the shape and form will alter the way a pattern on clothing is viewed.
Edges are the most important part of drawing clothing and fabric. Without creating appropriate edges, the realistic look will be lost. I placed a cast shadow behind this washcloth so the edges of reflected light would be more obvious.
Go back to the previous page with the illustration of the scarf and you will find both of these folds within it.
Look for the five elements of shading in all of these examples. It is the use of light and shadow that makes them look realistic.
How to Draw Clothing and Fabric: Learn How to Draw These 5 Folds
1. Column Fold
The most common type of fold is called a column fold, also known as a tubular fold. This is created when a piece of fabric is hanging from one point of suspension. The results are tube-like folds that are similar to a cone shape or a cylinder.
Note how each “tube” is created using the five elements of shading. You can see where the light is reflecting off of the raised areas. The shadow edge (or turning shadow) and the reflected light help make it look rounded.
- Drape Fold
The drape fold occurs when a piece of fabric is suspended by two points. The fabric hangs down in the middle, falling in on itself. Again, the five elements of shading are applied to each of the areas to depict the roundness and depth of the washcloth. Look at how the stripes go in and out of the fabric. This interruption of pattern adds to the look of realism.
- Interlocking Fold
Interlocking folds are similar to drape folds in the way the folds nestle inside one another, but in an interlocking fold, the fabric doesn’t hang as much. It’s less free-flowing and is held up by the shape of the body or parts of the clothing.
- Coil Fold
These folds also interlock, like the drape and interlocking fold, except they encompass the body like a tube. You will find this where fabric is wrapping around something cylindrical.
- Inert Fold
Inert folds are found when fabric is at rest. It is not hanging at all, for it is resting on a surface. In this position, it can take on many shapes and contours, so close observation is necessary. An inert fold can go from being very smooth and subtle, to highly creased and extremely complicated.
The Five Folds: How to Draw Clothing
This drawing shows what it looks like when all five of the folds collide into one situation. You can see how important each one is to the believability of this drawing.
Let’s identify where all five of the folds are. Each area of the outfit has different folds:
- The ruched fabric encompasses the woman’s body with coil or spiral folds.
- The skirt of the dress falls down into column or tubular folds.
- Her two arms are supporting the back of the jacket. This creates a drape fold. Most of this fold is behind her.
- The sleeve of the jacket that appears under the collar is creating interlocking folds.
- The area of the sleeve that is resting on her wrist is inert.