Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lopsided Dreads (Backcombing's Infinite Possibilities)

As I mentioned in my dread-forming overview post, I sectioned my hair before the backcombing party in an effort to increase the uniformity of my dread distribution - randomly sized and shaped dreads, mostly larger (1-2 inches across), with a few smaller ones thrown in for variety and adorableness - but there were still three people who helped me dread my hair (mega thanks to all three of those people: Jim, Cara, and Rena!). That's four people total (including myself) who helped section, backcomb, and twist and rip my hair. If two people braid someone's hair, their braids will look different, right (one looser than another, etc)? If two people put pony tails in, their pony tails will look different, even if slightly. Well, it stands to reason, that if four people put dreads in, there will be some variation. And there was! Right after we finished putting all of my dreads in, I went to bed, but the next day, when I woke up and took the, "yay, my dreads are born!" pictures, it was obvious that one side of my head looked completely different from the other!

 The dreads on my right side were very distinct and appeared to stick straight out from my head. They give the appearance of being so thick and tight that they stick straight out. Appearances are deceiving though; upon touch, a lot of these dreads felt very loose (this may have something to do with the comb that was used - more on combs further on in this post!), and in truth, many of them are not sticking straight out, but rather looping towards the back of my head a bit (in this picture, you can see them leaning up and to the left). This may have been caused by the fact that as they were backcombed, they were twisted counter-clockwise.

The left side (my left) looked markedly different than the right. In fact, these dreads hardly looked like dreads at all! From appearances (at least, without looking closely), one would think that the hair on this side is free-floating and loose. Oddly enough, the dreads on this side are full of tiny, tight little knots. They also lay flatter and more naturally than the dreads on the other side of my head do; for the most part, they tend to lay downwards, rather than twisting up and to the left, like the ones on the other side.

Three different people helped make the dreads on this side of my head! So how did they all come out so consistently (and different from the other side)?

Part of it may be coincidence: most of the dreads on this side seemed to be twisted clockwise as they were dreaded, rather than counterclockwise. This may not be significant, but as I was researching dreads, I did stumble upon the rather random fact that your hair (apparently - I can't vouch for the source) naturally tends to flow in a clockwise direction over a counterclockwise direction. So, for example, more cow licks move in a clockwise direction than in a counterclockwise direction. So maybe this came into play here, in that the dreads twisted in a clockwise direction lay more naturally on my head, while the counterclockwise-twisted dreads stick up and about at odd angles and loop over themselves. This is just an idea; honestly, I have no idea how or why, but for whatever reason, the clockwise twisted ones lay flatter than the counterclockwise twisted ones, though this may be completely coincidental.

What isn't coincidental is the comb that was used to form these dreads. Almost all of the dreads on the left side of my head (my left) were formed using a thick, plastic brush with three rows of prongs. I have no idea where this comb came from (it belonged to my late husband, long before I met him), which is unfortunate because it was awesome at making dreads!  If you are thinking about backcombing your dreads, and you happen to have or find a comb like this somewhere, I'd recommend using it! I used it when I backcombed my very first baby dread, and it worked great. It formed a nice, tight dread that has survived over a week of being treated almost exactly like my normal hair (since the rest of my hair wasn't dreaded until a week after I made the first one); that means it survived even getting wet! Also, each one of the three people who helped me backcomb my hair declared that it was the best of the combs that I had available for backcombing. Backcombing seemed to go more quickly when they were using the yellow comb than when they used the other combs, and if the end result is any indication, the yellow comb may have also made tighter dreads!

These are the other combs we used. The plastic comb on the left was only used for about half a dread before the prongs began to bend. We had to run out and buy another comb! Since we couldn't find another awesome one like my yellow one above, we settled for a metal comb with one row of prongs (yes, it's a flea comb for pets - I'd heard plenty of sites recommend flea combs for doing dreads). It worked way better than the plastic comb (hey, metal won't break, right?), but seeing as the right side of my head turned out so much looser than the left side of my head, I'm thinking that it didn't work as well as my uber-cool, yellow 3-rowed plastic comb. Also, metal is a little bit more slippery than plastic is, so every now and then, it'd slip out of the dread and come sailing towards my head. I'm glad it didn't puncture my scalp. 

Even from the front and at a distance, the difference between the dreads created using the yellow comb (the dreads in the right of this picture) and the dreads created using the flea comb.

What you can't tell just by looking are the details that I listed up above: that the fuzzier dreads (the right side of this picture - my left) are actually the tighter ones and that they lay downward rather than up and to the left.

I didn't really dig this lopsided look, but no worries, it didn't last long!
The difference between the two sides of my head was pretty bad the first day, but hope was not lost! I took a shower right after taking those "just dreaded" pics, which helped to calm some of the dreads that were sticking straight up, and Jim helped me by re-backcombing a lot of the ones on the right (my right - onlooker's left) which were really loose. He used the yellow comb, of course, so they turned out nice and tight! Now, my head is looking a lot less lopsided. There's still a little more work to do on my right side, but the awkward dreads are fewer and not as obvious as they were before: my hair is looking much more uniform now! Also, I combed out one of my really big dreads and made two little twist and rip dreads, which added a little spunk (you can see one of them resting on the top of my head, on the left side of this pic). Much better, don't ya think? I definitely think so!      <3 ~~~LUVZ!!~~~ <3

Monday, February 21, 2011

My First Dread Questions (From a Curious Bystander)

Dreads' first outing (this happened before I split my skinny, rectangle dread into two pieces and added some twist and rip flavor to my bowl of backcombed happiness). Not exactly public, but the day after my dreads were put in, I went with my fiance to his mother's boyfriend's house for dinner. Before I put my dreads in, I figured they would make me a walking target for dread-related questions, and that was okay with me; I came prepared to answer questions!

My mother-in-law to be has yet to make any comment at all on my hair. Based on my fiance's warnings before I put my dreads in, I'm guessing it's due to shock, but I can't read minds, so I can't say with any certainty. She did tell me that she liked my shirt, though!

Her boyfriend, however, was not so shy, and I was grateful. I'd rather have people ask questions than wonder in silence. He was bewildered by the fact that my dreads were just "there." He is a professor, and he said that when he's seen students with dreads, they were braided. The fact that my hair appeared to be magically holding itself together in clumps had him stumped; didn't I have to braid my hair to get dreads? What had I done? When I told him that each section was backcombed, he asked, "So, will it fall out in the shower then? Do you have to re-do your hair every time you shower?" So I told him that it probably would fall out if I washed my hair right away, but I was planning on using a shower cap for the first couple weeks, until the knots got tight enough, and then I'd be able to wash my dreads as often as I wished without them falling out. To that he commented, "Dreads get pretty matted, don't they? You can't just brush them out. You'll have to shave them off, right?" Then I told him that although I had originally thought that was the case (and it was one of the reasons I hesitated to dread my hair for a while!), with patience, one could undo their dreads without shaving them off.

Some pretty good first questions, I think! Answering them was really fun, but I've always loved sharing my knowledge - however important or petty it might be.

When he said that he thought dreads had to be braided, I wondered to myself whether or not he had the twist and rip method of forming dreads in mind. The next day, I split one of my larger dreads in two and made two new dreads using the twist and rip method, and after seeing them, I'm pretty sure that's exactly what he was thinking. The twist and rip dreads look very much like little braids (see my previous post for a picture). Having a couple of them in my hair adds some character.

Meanwhile, the rest of hair, backcombed as it is, appears to just be hanging out in clumps, almost as if by its own free will - like an uber-duber, crazy-bad case of stringy, clumpy bedhead! And I love it! Can't wait to see how my hair looks as they mature. A little more presentable, I imagine; frizz be tamed!

Head full of Dreads! (My Dread-Forming: An Overview)

They're in! Thanks to my dearest fiance, Jim; my amazing sister, Cara; and my awesome friend, Rena, my hair is now knotted into 42 dreads! 40 of them were formed using the backcombing method, and 2 of them were formed using the twist and rip method.

I chose the backcombing method over the twist and rip method for the majority of my dreads because I had heard that the backcombing method works better for thicker dreads, and after looking at many different heads of dreads on the web, I felt positive that the look I was hoping for would best be achieved with thicker dreads: those formed from a section of hair about an inch or more across. In addition, I was hoping that dreads would add a sense of volume to my hair, and although I was never able to find a photo comparison between dreads using the twist and rip method and those formed by backcombing, I heard a few times that backcombed dreads had more volume. With all of this information, I decided that backcombing was the best way for me to form the dreads that I wanted.

So why the two twist and rips? Mostly just curiosity: I want to know if there's a difference between the two start-styles. Which dreads more quickly? How different do they look when first made? Once matured? How long does it take them to mature, and is the time-to-mature very different between the two styles? The opportunity to make them came after the dread party. When I was going through my hair and picking out the dreads that were loose, I discovered a section of hair that was very long and rectangular. I'd heard that dreads coming from square, round, or triangle sections of hair are more likely to grow out round (rather than some strange, flat or otherwise awkward shape), so I decided to comb out the skinny, rectangle dread and replace it with two smaller, but more square dreads. Since those two dread were very small (maybe half an inch by three quarters of an inch or so) compared to my other dreads, and I had heard that twist and rip was great for smaller dreads, about that size, I seized the opportunity to experiment. The two twist and rips look like little braids floating amidst my fuzzy, backcombed dreads. They're cute and fun.

Before we began backcombing, I sectioned my hair: using tiny elastics, I made pigtails all over my head where I wanted my dreads to be later (I forgot to take a picture, but it looked pretty hilarious). I chose to section it beforehand, rather than having my friends just grab and section as those chose so that one side of my head wouldn't end up with thicker dreads than the other. So basically, I chose to section my hair beforehand to increase uniformity. I wanted uniformity between the two sides of my head, but not from dread to dread. We sectioned my hair so that it would have a mix of dread-sizes, mostly larger, but with a few smaller ones thrown in.

Also, I sectioned my hair beforehand because I had a specific pattern in mind for my dreads: brick. That means that we first sectioned the bottom inch or so of my hair, then when we formed the sections for the next inch or so above that, we formed the dreads between two of the dreads below (rather than directly over one of them), hiding the parts between the dreads so there wouldn't be a clean part all the way up the side of my head. Despite what sounds like a rigorously uniform sectioning of my hair, my dreads are actually all different sizes, and my sections are all different shapes (though we tried to make them mostly square, round, or triangle, as much as possible). Although the randomness did happen naturally (and I think would be very hard to prevent - I can't imagine how much work it would take to get all of one's dreads the same size and in nice, even rows!), it was what I was hoping for, so I am glad that everything worked out so well.

I only used one elastic in my hair. A day after we backcombed my dreads, some of them were pretty loose, and the middle one, in the back of my head, by my neck had pretty much completely fallen out. I believe this happened for two reasons: the hair on my neck is the shortest of my hair, only 3-4 inches long, and this particular dread is a relatively small dread compared to my others (the section is at most an inch or so across), and backcombing works best with thick sections. Anyway, because even doing the backcombing over again completely, the poor dread seemed ready to fall out, I put an elastic at the bottom of it. It's the only dread I have any kind of elastic or rubber band around, and it's only at the bottom.

I've read that thicker backcombed dreads knot up faster than thinner backcombed dreads, so I'm hoping that my dreads will set "quickly" (maybe 2-4 months instead of 4-6 before they stop looking like a really bad version of bedhead and start resembling mature dreads). Time will tell!

The coolest part about all of this is that I have the exact dreads I was picturing! How did that happen? I did a little research, but there wasn't an exact guidebook for the dreads that I wanted (I found a lot of sites that said, stop brushing your hair and they'll form naturally, and others that said, "make 1/2-1 inch sections and use wax"), so for the most part, I was winging it, with the sectioning, the choice on how to form the dreads, everything. I'm SO excited that they not only turned out, they're awesome! When creating my dreads, I was aiming for fun and funky, big and bold, yet random - and somehow they turned out even better than I imagined! I wasn't really sure what to expect, or if it'd work for me, and sure, right now they're more frizz than dreads, but it's a beautiful, frizzy beginning. I see the future in those tangles, and it's even more exciting than I'd hoped!

Extra kudos and thanks to Rena, who helped section my hair and backcombed half of my head all by herself!

Extra kudos and thanks to Cara, who backcombed between contractions (I'm not kidding! They were intense, but they ended up being false alarms - my nephew is still hangin' out in his mama). She's a tough cookie!

Extra kudos and thanks to Jim, who in addition to helping backcomb on Friday, also did most of the sectioning beforehand and helped me on Saturday and Sunday by re-backcombing the ones that were loose!! He also did one of the rip and twist dreads (I did the other).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Family Reaction

When considering dreads, considering the reactions of others - specifically whether or not you are willing/prepared to handle them - is important. Any place I came across that showed how to make dreads seemed to bring this up. I wasn't really worried. Answering strangers' questions about how often (or if) I wash my hair, no problem! Explaining how I made my dreads sounded fun.

One site even suggested that because of how common negative reactions to dreadlocks are, I should tell my family before dreading my hair, so they would be prepared. That idea hadn't even occurred to me! It's my hair, my hairstyle. I wouldn't tell my family before I dyed my hair red or cut it short, would I? No, so why would I bother to tell them before I dread it? But then I decided that maybe it was good advice. Not because I -needed- to, but because telling my family would help them feel like more a part of my life.

I was not prepared for my family's reaction. I was so excited about dreading my hair, that I guess it didn't even occur to me that my family might not share that excitement. And boy, did they NOT share that excitement! With my entire family gathered for Christmas in February (we couldn't get together in December), I announced to my mother, father, sisters and brothers-in-law, and their responses were overwhelming: "why would you want to stop washing and brushing your hair for years?" "your hair's not long enough. Doesn't your hair have to be long enough for you to wipe your armpits with it? I thought that was part of the gig;" "they're so ugly." There were more responses, but those are the ones that stuck the most painfully. From strangers, sure. From family? I don't want to have to deal with that every time I see them with dreads in my hair.

Hopefully, in time, I'll at least be able to explain that it's clean, and maybe some of the jibes will stop. Bombarded with all of those negative reactions at once, I didn't get a chance to really explain that they weren't true. In time, I guess. I hope. Strangers are one thing. Family is another. But as much as it hurt, it doesn't change my mind. Sure, I wish they had been more supportive, but for the most part, they didn't really ask questions (or at least, they didn't give me a chance to answer any of the ones they asked - meaning they didn't really want answers!). I take that to mean that they don't really care. Translation: I'm free to do as I choose. Sure, I'll get ragged on, but frankly, certain members of my family like to tease so much that they'll always find something to poke me with - might as well be my hair.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Baby Dread's First Bath

Washed my hair! I just hopped out of the shower and took the picture, so my hair is still wet. Baby Dread survived, but is a little worse for the wear: the floofy part near the bottom got floofier! While washing, I protected the dread by bundling it up and covering it with a hair clip so that when I worked the shampoo into the rest of my hair, I wouldn't also accidentally work the knots out of my dread. Of course, it still got wet. The roots, where the knots are tightest, are the wettest, but they also survived the best. Meanwhile, the looser knots at the bottom (it was a lot harder to do the backcombing at the bottom) came a little unraveled. So I guess this supports the whole "don't wash your dreads for two weeks" advice, seeing as just getting my dread wet made it looser!

Baby Dread!

I made my first dread! Last night. I couldn't wait to see what the process was like, so I made my first one. Backcombed it and played with the crochet needle a little; that might take some figuring out. It was really fun!

Since my hair wasn't squeaky clean when I made the dread, I thought about just combing it out and re-doing it, but I think I'll leave it in and compare how well it locks up with how well the ones I make right after using clarifying shampoo lock up. The recommendation is to have super duper clean hair while making dreads (except those first couple weeks when the moisture and motion might undo them) because clean hair knots up more quickly, while oils and grease de-tangles.

On that note, the reason my hair was greasy when I made the dread (and in the pic) is that since you can't wash your dreads for the first couple weeks (or the knots tend to just fall apart), it's a good idea to try to get your scalp used to it a little bit before you dread by phasing out washing. People who go from washing every day to suddenly not washing (for those first few weeks), complain about itchiness. I don't think I'll have too much trouble (I think washing every day is bad for your scalp, so I don't do that), but I figured I'd let my hair go an extra day or so just in case.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's natural!!

So it turns out my dreadlock knowledge had a woefully gaping hole in it, and I couldn't have been happier to find out!!

As a kid, dreadlocks were explained to me as things that formed when people failed to wash and comb their hair. Essentially the easiest care plan in the world: simply leave it alone. Although I was also told that on hair like mine dreads would take several years to form this way, and when they did form, they'd likely clump together into one big dread and generally look ratty and nasty, rather than fun and funky. (While researching last night, I did find several personal success stories of those who'd formed dreads using the "neglect" method. They did not stop washing their hair; they only stopped combing it. Those who began the process with longer hair, seemed to get faster results, possibly even slimmer dreads, though I think the size of the dreads was really determined by how much work the individual put into tearing the mats apart as they formed, to make sure they didn't create one giant knot.)

When I began to research how to make dreads a few years ago, the resources I found all seemed to say that neglect was not the only way to form dreads (in fact, they agreed with my childhood source that neglect would create rather mangled looked dreads). These newer sources said that if I sectioned and backcombed and used rubber bands and wax, I would only have to wait three to four months for dreads instead of three to four years, and my dreads would look way cool and funky. As I said in my previous posts, my hippie heart wasn't excited about the idea of all the products and maintenance, but after much contemplation, I decided to go for them anyway.

Well, last night I realized that there's a middle ground!! How on earth I didn't realize this before surpasses me. I kinda feel silly that I really believed that if I didn't follow a super strict regiment with wax and tightening/accelerating gels and sprays, etc, that my hair would just fall out and possibly never dread or else dread into a horrible mat. I guess considering my limited exposure to others who have dreadlocks and what I was told as a child, I shouldn't fault myself too much, but regardless, the fact stands, I just realize last night that there's another way to get dreads!

I'm not sure why stories like these didn't come up when I searched a few years ago (the stories themselves were newer than a few years old), but last night I found videos of people who had dreaded their hair the "natural" (not the same as the "neglect") way. Basically, they did the same thing as was recommended on the product sites, but without the products. I found more than one person who documented the dreads through the first year, etc, of these natural dreads, and it didn't take years before they looked good. It didn't seem to take that much longer than the dreads on the product sites. I'm stoked!! I can get dreads without having to fuss with new stuff like wax and spray, etc. Yay!!!

There seems to be a big controversy in the dread world about whether or not wax should be used, so I feel the need to add that just because I don't want to use wax in my dreads (for right now - I won't swear off anything forever until I've tried it a couple times), doesn't mean that I believe the people selling wax are liars who are making things up. The truth is the dreads the people selling wax were rockin' definitely looked different from the dreads the people who'd backcombed and crocheted (no kidding, with a crochet needle - it was amazing - I'm so getting a crochet needle!) their hair were rockin'. And to be fair, the dreads that were formed using the neglect and natural methods did seem for the most part to be slowly progressing towards the look that the wax dreads had achieved so quickly. But the point is, the dreads looked different.

And I liked the look of the natural dreads better! Not only did the wax sound like it was a lot of work, but the dreads shown on the wax site looked ... too perfect. They were so uniform and round and thin that they looked just like someone's normal hair, only with fatter follicles. Perhaps if I'd always had crazy puffy hair that wouldn't stay down, I'd be totally diggin that look, but I've always had hair that has struggled for volume. I don't want dreads 'cause they'll keep my hair calm and more manageable. I want dreads 'cause they'll give me that crazy bedhead, ragamuffin, fun and funky, ends-every-which-way look that my straight, fine hair won't give me without gobs and gobs of products or over a week of no shampoo (when my hair is short enough). I don't really find either of those choices appealing as a regular styling option. Thus, dreads' appeal! And when I found the videos I found of girls who had dreaded their fine, straight hair naturally, I found videos of dreads that looked exactly the way I'd hoped mine would turn out!

So my dread journey is going to be a natural dread journey. Which makes my hippie heart very, very happy. In fact, I'm bursting with excitement. I can't wait to begin!! I'm so excited, I just want to start backcombing all of my hair right now - even if it takes me twelve hours by myself - I'm not sure I can wait til next week for my friends' help!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Big Day

Alright! I've set a date for the backcombing (assuming my sister doesn't go into labor before then, in which case the date might have to move a little ...): two Fridays from now, the 18th. My fiance, sister, and some friends are going to have a movie night and take turns backcombing. I have such wonderful people in my life!

That means I've got some decisions to make! What color rubber bands do I want to use: neutral to blend with my hair or colorful to be funky? Which products do I want to use: wax, tightening gel/spray, or just no-residue shampoo? Which brand of products do I want to support? There are two popular sites which I've looked at that have step by step instructions as well as starter kits, accessories, etc, and they both seem pretty awesome, charitable, and eco-friendly, so it'll be hard to choose which one to support! I'll have to read through their sites more carefully before making a decision. For me, it may come down to the ingredients. Are they all natural, organic, etc? I know that one of the brands is organic, but I'm not sure about the other yet. What size sections do I want to dread? What do I want to decorate my dreads with? Beads? Should I order them online or buy them at my local bead shop? Do I want to buy any tams or wraps? If so, should I buy them online and support the helpful dread sites or should I try to find cheaper substitutes elsewhere?

I've got research to do. I'm so excited!

Is it natural?

Some of the appeal of dreadlocks to me is the image of the easy-going, no fuss, no worries life. Wake up and go! Don't wanna wash your hair for four days? No worries, dreads don't show grease like fine, straight hair does! I can't speak for others' impressions of dreads, but I kinda associate them with a modern version of the "hippie" movement: let things be natural; don't fret about the small stuff or waste time with frivolous primping; learn to appreciate the world around us without feeling the need to change it; learn to appreciate our own bodies - our colors, our shapes, even our smells - in the same way.

Since I'm already a little bit hippie - I practically never wear makeup, I let my hair air dry and avoid products beyond basic shampoo and conditioner, I let my leg hair go natural most of the time, etc - I figured dreads would be a perfect fit for me.

Then I researched them. Fine hair like mine fights being dreaded, so for the first few months after the initial intensive knot-making, tons of extra precautions have to be taken to make sure all that work doesn't unravel: rubber bands, super-duper shampoo that will rid hair of any grease that might help loosen the knots, rolling the dreads every week (one site suggested every day), and some people use wax to keep the hair glued together until the knots set. Also, after washing dreads, you have to make sure they're completely dry (which I'm thinking means I'd have to use a blow dryer), so that they don't rot, and you have to get special shampoos that won't leave gross residue to guck up the dreads and make them disgusting. All the work involved is one of the reasons that I didn't dread my hair years ago.

I have to ask myself, do I really want to put so much effort into a hairstyle that gives the impression that I don't put any effort into it? I mean, a lot of people think that people with dreads don't even put forth the effort to wash them! Others seem to think that dreads happen because you haven't brushed your hair in a really long time. All the while, I'd actually be rolling my dreads as often as I could, spending an hour or so to make sure every single one isn't damp after I wash them, crocheting and looping and waxing them when the roots grow out un-knotted or strands come out, etc. Given how much of a lazy hippie I am, do I really wanna to put that much effort into -any- hairstyle?

The flip side? Dreads look super cool, they would add volume to my fine, straight hair, and in theory, after those first few intensive months, they'd become easy maintenance. Easier maintenance than my current routine? Probably not. Right now I don't have to blow dry my hair after I wash it, and I don't have to worry that as it grows out, the roots might not lock into my dreads. But as far as hairstyles that require maintenance go, the upkeep is relatively low, and after years of thinking how cool it'd be to have dreads, maybe I'm finally ready to put in some work to make that happen.

They might not be as much work as they sound. They might be so great that I won't mind the effort and I'll want to keep them forever and ever, til death do us part. Or they'll be even more work than I think, and they may for whatever reason look terrible on me, so I'll want them gone. Who knows?

Gotta have dreadlocks myself to find out!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Beginning: To Dread or Not To Dread

Since no one's hair dreads without direction, the first obstacle to any dread journey is the decision. For that reason, I'm starting my dread-journey blog before I even have dreadlocks, and my first few blogs will detail my considerations, fears, questions, excitement, anticipation, etc about the process of making and the experience of having dreads.