Abstract Yarn-scale modelling of textile preforms relies on the realistic reconstruction of internal geometry. The paper presents a model of fabric compaction, which shows that fine features of dense woven preforms, conventionally neglected in consolidation analysis, have a significant impact on thickness and consequently on fibre volume fraction and yarn crimp inside the composite. The model relies on single yarn compaction test and geometrical characteristics of preform in compacted and original configurations. The model is validated against compaction experiments on dense sheared single ply and nested carbon twill 2/2 fabrics. This exercise aims at decreasing or eliminating phenomenological parameters being introduced when calibrating geometrically and physically complex numerical models at the yarn scale.