Kinds of Folds
Lately I've been doing studies of drapery and clothing for practice, having not done very many in years past. Although sketching draperies can be quick and simple, actual finished drawings require more time and considerably more intense concentration. Part of the issue with draperies and clothes is the seemingly overwhelming intricacy. In classical sculpture, particularly, draperies can be quite daunting.
|daVinci, "Study of drapery"|
There are seven structural folds: pipe, diaper, spiral, zigzag, half-lock, drop, and inert. Each has different, recognizable characteristics. I've listed these in increasing level of complexity--that is, pipe folds and diaper folds are fairly simple, while drop and inert folds are more complicated and may even include examples of the more simple types within their overall makeup. Others describe folds differently, citing tension versus slackness, twisting forms, and so on, but I prefer this system because it's immediately useful in drawing clothing.
I did the sketch copies that accompany the text by copying various online reference images using graphite on an approximately 5x8 sketchpad.
These are, unsurprisingly, shaped like pipes or long cylinders. They typically drop straight down from a support, owing to gravity. A common kind of pipe fold is seen in window drapes bunched along a curtain rod, or (as at left) hanging from a single support. The folds are rounded or cylindrical in each case. This sort of drapery is seen quite commonly in realistic art.
These folds occur when a cloth is suspended at two points. Sometimes the two are at the same level, but more commonly one point is higher than another. These are often present in classical sculpture. In my childhood, before everyone owned an indoor dryer, clothes drying on a backyard line often took this shape. Notice the diaper folds in the daVinci study, above.
Cloth may bunch or twist on a cylindrical support (an arm, say). These are quite common in sleeves and other tubular clothing. You might see spiral folds in a woman's skirt, or a man's bib overalls when the figure is stretching.
This kind of fold occurs when material buckles in alternating opposite directions. An excellent example is the knees of trousers--jeans are especially prone to this, both in the back and front. Note the folds in this drawing of jeans. When I look at reference materials about this kind of folding, it seems that there's some disagreement about their structure. Some sources say these folds also interlock, which sounds more like the half-lock folds, shown below, than zigzagging..
When material bunches at a turning point of the cloth or drapery, a half-lock fold or a series of half-locks are commonly present. These folds often have a deep, pocket-like recess at their center. Most often these are seen in clothing at elbows and knees, as sketched at left.
These folds are found when clothing or drapes fall downward from a support--a chair back and seat for example--sometimes even changing directions. The resulting folding of cloth is more complicated than the others above, sometimes incorporating half-locks as well as pipe folds, as in the line sketch, left.
Fabric forms this sort of folds when it's collapsed into a mass on a surface, like a discarded bath towel for example. Inert folds lack an innate structure and each instance will be different from the next. Inert folds often incorporate several types of simpler folding. This type of folds are common in classical sculpture and painting. I did this drawing using a dish cloth tossed onto the studio floor.
After spending considerable time reviewing the subject I'm confident that the structure and kinds of draping seen in clothing will not only be easier to recognize and reproduce when using live models but also that it's possible to use the same principles to invent figurative drawings when necessary. I'd recommend a period of this kind of review to anyone who wants to improve their skills. It has definitely been useful for me.