Types of Folds

An Illustrated Tutorial from "Drawing People: How to Portray the Clothed Figure"

by Barbara Bradley

Breaking down the types of folds into categories may seem removed from the purpose of drawing folds on people. But to be in control of the folds you draw, you have to know the characteristics of each type so you can recognize and use them to your advantage, blending them into a harmonious whole.

Use a Sharp, Soft Medium - I recommend a soft stick medium, such as X-soft compressed charcoal or a pastel stick in a dark brown color. Conte Bistre is a good choice. To sharpen it, make a long point on your medium with a craft knife, then smooth its sides on a sand pad so you have the choice of making a line using the tip of the medium or apply tone using the side.
Hold Your Medium Overhand - Let this be an order! Hold your medium overhand so you can apply strokes in any direction. With your palm upward, place the drawing medium perpendicular, not parallel, to the line of your fingers. As you draw, make sure it continues to lie across your fingers. If your medium is parallel to your fingers, it will get "stuck" and you won't be able to stroke in as many directions or change from line to tone.


In their most regular pattern, pipe folds resemble a series of organ pipes, thus their name. Their shapes may be semi-cylindrical or semi-conical. You see them everywhere from clothing to drapery. There are two varieties of pipe folds: relaxed and stretched.

Relaxed Pipe Folds - You see this type of pipe fold when fabric falls freely from a condensed area. Arrange a short end of a rectangle of cloth into pleats, grasping it at the top and letting the remaining fabric fall. These pipe folds, semi-cylindrical in shape and consistent in size, are the type you see in formal window draperies [above left]. To study irregular pipe folds [above right], gather the material toward the top before letting the rest of the material fall. These pipe folds are semi-conical in shape and vary more in size. Fabric gathered in waistbands shows this kind of fold.
Stretched Pipe Folds - Fold a square of cloth into a triangle. Gather it near the upper corners and pull. This creates the cordlike pipe folds that appear in stretched fabric. You can also see these folds in rectangular fabric that has been gathered and pulled. However diagonal fabric stretches more.

Zigzag refers to the pattern of alternating folds that occurs on the inside of the bend of a tubular piece of fabric when the fabric buckles. To see zigzag folds, put on a jacket, put you hand in the pocket to bend your arm a bit and look in a mirror. When the tubular piece of cloth that makes up your sleeve bends, the stretching side of the cloth along the back of your arm becomes taut while the excess fabric on the inside buckles.

What Makes a Zigzag Fold?
Zigzag folds alternate directions. The nature of fabric affects the folds, the stiffer the fabric, the more angular the folds.
Planes of ZigZag Folds
Notice the horizontal diamond shapes. The top and bottom of each diamond fold toward each other to form two triangular planes meeting in the middle. Because the planes face different directions, each receives light differently.
Memory Zigzag Folds
This woman's knees are locked, not bent, but the cloth of her jeans has been bent so often that the folds have left an imprint. Study people waiting in line or standing on public transit. At the back of the knees of well-worn pants, you often see such zigzag folds caused by frequent compressions from bending the knees.


Spiral folds result when tubular pieces of cloth condense around tubular forms, such as a sleeve around an arm. Different gestures cause different directions of spiral folds, and variables like the amount and character of the fabric affect the number of folds that form. The more fabric condensed into one area, the more folds appear. The softer the fabric, the more typically rounded are the spirals.

Spirals Form Around Cylinders
Cloth wrapped around curtain rods exhibits spiral folds. Notice the pipe folds that fall from the rod. Elastic in clothing, such as waistbands, creates similar but small spiral folds.

Condensed Fabric - Push the sleeve of a sweatshirt or soft sweater up your arm, condensing the fabric. Most of these folds actually form only partial spirals that don't go all the way around the form.
Direction Relates to Tension - The direction of spiral folds relates to the gesture of the underlying form. The tension between the armpit and elbow causes folds that travel diagonally between the two.
Create These Effects Yourself - You can make spiral folds by inserting a cardboard cylinder into a longer piece of fabric, with the edges stapled together to form a cylinder. Soft cotton (drawing 1) makes typically rounded spiral folds. If you twist the fabric as you condense it (drawing 2), the folds spiral diagonally.


Half-lock folds occur when tubular pieces of cloth abruptly change direction. When a part of the figure abruptly changes direction, look for corresponding parts of the clothing that change direction. Then look for half-lock folds in these areas. Take advantage of half-lock folds to emphasize strong changes of direction.

Wrap Folds Around Outside Edges - Two half-lock folds appear at the bend of the inner arm in this drawing. Sometimes you'll see multiple half-lock folds, and somtimes you'll see a smaller half-lock inside a larger one. To make half-lock folds or any other fold look natural, pay attention to the way it wraps around the forms underneath. When drawing a fold as it wraps around a form, remember to continue the wraparound to the outer edge.

Half-Lock Folds From the Side - Half-lock folds are most obvious from the side. You can easily see them on sharply bent legs, arms and torsos.

Half-Lock Folds From the Front
The bulges of half-lock folds are visible
on the sides of knees and elbows from a
front view.


Diaper folds form when fabric sags between two points of support. Folds form in directions that radiate from each point and meet between them. The low point of the sag where each fold meets the other may curve or bend sharply. The degree of the bend or curve depends on the amount of slack and the character of the fabric. The crisper a fabric is, the more angular is the break.

Classical, Byzantine and early medieval artists used diaper folds beautifully. Look for them particularly in clocks, necklines and the slack areas between the knees of Madonas, saints, angels and royalty.

Sagging Fabric
Hold a piece of fabric by the upper corners and allow the cloth to sag in the middle. When you hold your hands level, the dip will be centered between them.

Indicating Planes - Each fold has an upper and l0wer plane with a rounded transition between them. Also note that the more cloth that is gathered at the supporting point, the greater the number of folds that appear. Placing the Dip - When one point of support is higher than the othr, the dip sits off-center, closer to the lower support.
On the Bias - Diaper folds on a diagonal bias fall easily and are especially graceful. To observe diaper folds on the bias, fold your cloth into a triangle before making them. On a Grecian Neckline - Diaper folds fall from this Grecian neckline, a style that has been used for thousands of years and still is seen today.


The characteristic common to all drop folds is that fabric falls freely from a point or area of support. One simple fold or a complex unit of folds can fall from an area of support. Manipulating masses of drop folds gives you so many opportunities to bring life and vitality to your drawings and enhance their designs that I think of a drop fold as a gift to an artist.

Simple Drop Folds Are Conical - These simple drop folds that fall from a push pin are conical. You can bring out this conical quality by showing partial ellipses at the bottom edges of the folds.

Drop Folds Fall From the Knee - You can almost always see a drop fold falling from the knee of a bent leg. Half-lock folds at the sides accompany the drop fold.

Masses of Fabric Provide Several Useful Types of Folds - The hanging mass falling free from the sash around the waist of this figure contains several types of folds, but each of them contributes to the single dropping arrangement. Such free parts of clothing are wonderful to use. You can let them fly out to emphasize or create action in your characters. You can use them to indicate wind and atmosphere. And you can use them as design elements in your drawing.


Inert folds are sometimes called "dead folds," but they can add so much beauty to a drawing that "inactive" is a more appropriate term. As with drop folds, a mass of inert folds may contain several other types of folds, but the entire mass itself is considered inert.

Though the mass of folds is inert, you can suggest any movement just finished. In your drawings, you can arrange extra fabric of long garments into inert folds to suggest any action a character has just taken or the direction from which a figure has come.

Folds Within an Inert Mass Can Change - Drop some cloth on the floor, rumpling it first to make sure it shows some folds. Then pick it up and drop it again. The folds within the mass change each time, but the mass itself remains inert, not indicating any movement.

Inert Masses of Folds Reflect the Surface Beneath - I gathered this fabric at one end before draping it over two steps. The inert mass reflects the pipe folds that fell before I set the cloth down and the multiple surfaces over which the cloth lies. If I picked up the cloth and set it down again, the folds would lie differently, but the collection of folds would indicate the same form of stairs beneath.

Click on image to enlarge..........

Try to create and observe these folds yourself. You can arrange some with a piece of cloth. Others you can best observe by looking at your own clothing in a mirror. Look for patterns between similar gestures. Also observe that the same types of folds look different on different fabrics.

Look for Several Types of Folds
Five of the seven fold types--pipe, half-lock, diaper, drop and inert--appear in the abundant cloth of this Roman's toga. The more fabric there is, the more types of folds you'll see.

TYPES OF FOLDS - An Illustrated Tutorial from "Drawing People: How to Portray the Clothed Figure"
by Barbara Bradley

1927-2008 - Recognized as one of the best and most inspiring teachers of drawing in the country. She was an award winning illustrator, instructor, and painter. She was also the Director of the School of Illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco for twenty-five years.

She was one of a handful of successful women in a male-dominated profession, although she didn't consider herself a pioneer; she merely did what she loved to do.

See the full listing for Bradley's book, Drawing People:
How to Portray the Clothed Figure,
at Amazon

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