Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Knotty Truth: A White Girl's Dreadlock Journey

*********The reader must keep in mind that I am a female Caucasian with thick mostly-straight (little bit of wave) brown hair.*****

The Dread Dream
I wanted dreadlocks for a long time.  In college, I couldn't get them because it was considered an "extreme hairstyle" which was prohibited by my school's dress and grooming standards.  Which was fine, that's what I agreed to, so I was okay waiting.  After I graduated, my desire for long, luscious, beautiful hair on my wedding day superseded my desire for the amazing dreads of my dreams.  Problem was, I was very very single, with no indications that my wedding day was anywhere on the horizon.  Inner conflict ensued for quite some time.  So, I let it grow, and loved it most of the time...

But, God is a God of miracles and I got the man and wedding of my dreams.  And my hair was PERFECT on my wedding day!!  Faith and diligence rewarded!

I add this pic of me and my dear mother because we have exactly the same hair.

The time soon came to fulfill another dream--my dreadlock dream!  So on June 6, 2011, I invited my friend Brittney over to help me start the process.

Aches and Mistakes
Okay, I did something stupid, feel free to laugh, because it was silly.  I couldn't have known it would waste hours and cause much pain, but, to keep myself humble I will admit to this foolishness and show you the documented proof.  But first, an explanation...I have done this to my hair before--you separate your hair into sections, twist it until it wads itself up to your scalp, tie a rubber band around it, sleep on it (very painful) and when you undo it, you have an afro.  If your hair is short, it works really well.  I thought that this strategy would make my hair easier to dread---it would be kinky and curly and would knot better.  This was a mistake.  First--my hair the night before the foolishness started.

It stretched to about an inch above my belt.

Twisted insanity.
Its pretty huge.

Hello Cowardly Lion.  It was nearly impossible to get through.
It was ridiculous to undo, really painful, and impossible to manage when it was undone.  After trying to undo it for 2 hours, Brittney and I decided to start over.  So I showered, washed my hair straight (NO CONDITIONER!!), blow dried it, and started from the beginning.

The Road to Success
Brittney sectioned my hair in one inch, brick-layout sections.  This took about 2 hours.  Then she started at the bottom dreading the sections.  That day, she was at my house doing my hair for over 8 hours.  We finished about 6 dreads.

Bless Brittney for her patience--I am certainly grateful for her help!  It took me about 2 months to finish dreading my sections on my own after that.  I worked on it a lot those first weeks; it took at least 1-1.5 hours to dread ONE section of my hair when I first started.  So I spent 1-3 hours on my hair every day, dreading and tightening.  Luckily, my life wasn't particularly busy during that time.  I wore a lot of scarves, do-rags, etc.  So basically, half of my head (the bottom half) was dreaded and the top was in braids.  It didn't look bad, especially because I covered the top of my head most of the time, so it just looked dreaded.  Here are some pics from that time:
You can see the hair that is wrapped in the bun is braided, not dreaded.
Same thing here, a few weeks later.
Braids and Dreads.

This was the end of July; dreads about 6 weeks old. I only had about 6-8 braids left.

I finished dreading the braided sections some time in August.  I wanted to be diligent at taking pictures of the process, but at the same time I didn't want to show off the nappiness.  There were days when it looked pretty crappy.

If we liken dreading my hair to a journey driving across the US, then maintaining the dreads is like the long, flat stretch from Nashville to Denver.  The scenery is all the same, it takes forever, but you have to do it to get where you're going.

In mid-August, I started the first full round of TIGHTENING.  So, this is how it goes: You dread the hair--it takes forever and is a bit painful.  Then you have to wash your hair. I wash my hair once a week.  With undreaded hair, that's definitely not enough, with dreads it seems like too much.  I hate to use this word, but I really dread washing my dreads.  At first, they unraveled like crazy--by which I mean they came loose and tons of loose hair formed at the scalp and along the body of the dread.  When they are new, they are weak and fragile; the knots slip and come apart and they get really frayed-looking.  This is why you have to tighten, or your dreads will look AWFUL.  And people will judge you and call you a "dirty hippie" behind your back. There are worse things to be called, but still.

The Crochet Hook Method
There is debate in the dreadlocked community about the method by which you form/maintain your dreads.  I used "backcombing" and a crochet hook.  Some people use the "natural" or "organic" method; which means they don't touch their hair at all and eventually it forms dreads.  This takes a LONG time--watch youtube videos on dreads, and you'll see what I'm talking about.  I watched just about every video on youtube on the subject of dreads before I started, and I definitely think the backcombing/crochet hook method is the best.

Reason #1 that the crochet hook method is the best way to go: It accelerates the dreading/locking process better than any other strategy.  Your dreads will be tighter (more mature) if you use a crochet hook than any other means I've seen.  Do it.  You won't regret it.

Here is an example of a loose dread:
And here is the same dread after about 20-30 min of tightening with the crochet hook:
In the fragile beginning weeks/months, you will get a lot of loose hair.  This leads to a phenomenon I refer to as "Nesting".  This is when loose hair from one dread or section will migrate into and become part of another neighboring dread.  Some people don't mind this.  I hate it.  In the beginning, if I neglected to check on the back of my head for too long, I would find that some dreads where getting real cozy with each other and trying to join into one.  Not having it.  My loving husband has spent many minutes "de-nesting" my dreads--pulling loose hair out of neighboring dreads and isolating each section so it is free from the grasping hands of the other sections.  I have 2 sets of dreads that I didn't catch in time, and they were impossible to separate once I found them.

Two dreads forming into one at the root.  I call these Thelma and Louise.
It took me about 3 weeks, working on my hair every day, to tighten all of my dreads.  When I tightened them, I pulled in all the loose hair and the dreads were pretty wirey--fairly stiff and pretty scratchy.  It has been a big adjustment getting used to sleeping on them.  My hair feels like a burlap sack against my face/skin when I sleep, so I usually just move it away from my skin.  After I formed them, and when I tighten them, my scalp gets pretty tender and is painful to sleep on, but that goes away after a day or two.  Here's what the back of my hair looked like before I tightened it the first time:

Here you can see the loose dreads in the middle, and on the right side are the dreads I had recently tightened.  BIG DIFFERENCE!
 Here are some pictures of my dreads at the end of August---3 months and 2 weeks old.

How To Video #1

How To Video #2


  1. This is so awesome!! And you started on my birthday! I remember when we pretended to dread your hair. We used gel and a flat iron. Fun but this looks amazing.

  2. You're hot with dreads. Totally hot. Love you!

  3. Fascinating! I had no idea what this process was like. This definitely takes commitment! This style suits you, though. It makes me laugh to think of myself with dreads — but, on you, they look great!

  4. Awesome! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey. They look really good! I have no doubt this helps connect your inner musician with the dread wearers of years gone by. Hope life is good Mel.

  5. I love that you made this post! I've actually tried this method before but it didn't work that well for me. How do you get them so perfect?!

  6. Well, congratulations on the fantastic dreads. This video could be named "Taming the Locks". You are my hero. They look great. I learn from your patience.

  7. I have to say, I don't think that many people can pull off dreads...but you do. It really looks good on you Mel!

  8. Love the videos. I am going to dread my hair, and found what you had to say very educational. Thank you! BTW...wanna do mine now? lol :P

  9. how do you get the ends to look so neat and polished? Your journey has gave me hope once more to try. I have attempted twice but without help and dealing with the in between time before they are all done, I lost hope and took them out. I want them bad and found your journey to be the go go I needed. No wax, no chemicals, thank goodness!

  10. This was very helpful!!! I've been looking for a salon to do mine, but after watching this... I think I'm going to do it myself. I would love to see more about maintenance and care. PS You music is really good too! Keep it up. :)

  11. I started to crochet hook my short hair back in late June 2013 and I was in a different state so I decided to mail back my hook while on the plane, it took awhile. In the meantime, a few small bottom dreads started to unravel all the way. Just recently I started to put in Kanekalon dread extensions I had made and it took me about a few hours in two days to put them in, only 16 in out of 40 something.. My thumb is surely paying for it but it is definitely worth the work. Since I turned the hook away from my thumb, it hasn't been to bad. Did you have the problem hooking yourself too?

  12. What kind of headwrap are you wearing in the pictures? I'm about to start dreading my hair and your videos seem to be the best. Thank you so much!

  13. beautiful dreads, and these are great posts. theyre very helpful to all of those in need and with questions concerning the process. good vibes, and happy dreading :)

  14. Thanks for all the detail. I was considering dreading my daughter's hair so it would be low maintenance, but this shows me we'd still have to put in some upkeep to make them look neat. Not sure she'd stand for crochet hooks anymore than a hairbrush. (sensory issues). But, might be doable when she's older, if she'd like this option. Thanks so much for sharing.

  15. Do you think you can henna your dreads? It is awesome for your hair, but I would be concerned about washing it out of the dreads...

    1. Hey Im not the blogger but I henna my dreads all the time, its easier to put on but you might have to used watered down conditioner to get the henna out. Have had my dreads 4yrs now been using henna all along :)

    2. Hey Im not the blogger but I henna my dreads all the time, its easier to put on but you might have to used watered down conditioner to get the henna out. Have had my dreads 4yrs now been using henna all along :)

  16. how much did your hair shorten after dreading it?

  17. A beautiful girl with beautiful hair, that destroyed both, you are no longer able to display your beauty and your hair looks like hell, i wonder how your husb and family truly feel, not the fake support that they are giving you.

    1. Woah , "ricky" thats mean . Even if thats how YOU feel . You obviously dont know her so if you dont have something nice to say dont say anything . We are entitled to our opinions and all but sometimes they are just mean . Not called for and unnecessary.

    2. She looks great. No idea what you're talking about Ricky.

  18. Wow, I stumbled upon this doing research on tightening dreads so i can help to maintain my bfs dreads. I am blown over by such a shallow statememt. Even if your asthetic doesnt include dreads, there is no reason to communcate those words to someone as beauty is hardly ruined by a choice of hair style. Beauty is diversity. Harsh words are not even needed in this case. Skim the current events and dive into a discussion that might be more inline with the negativity you appear to hold.
    I dont have dreads, i love the journey she has taken and her form of expression is beautiful. She is beautiful. Thats not polite support.

  19. Hello! I love your hair. Thanks for the hooking tip! I've tried it since I watched your vid and it's worked great.

  20. I appreciate you sharing your journey. So my take away is that it is a lot of work. Do you feel like it is worth it?