Alternative dreadlocks methods and techniques
So you’re here to learn how to make dreadlocks! I was really stoked about getting dreads when I started my journey it's exciting to step away from the norm and learn about something most people wouldn't even consider. Dreads can be a real turning point in your life. They gave me a ton of confidence and for the first time I really felt like myself. I hope your dreads bring you as much pleasure as mine have brought me. Just in case you are brand new to the dread scene and want to give you some bearings and make sure you’re aware of all the dreading options. This will assure that you get the dreads you’re really after.
Opinions vary quite a bit about what “ideal” dreads look like.
This is what my dreads look like.
Now, on the subject of how goofy I look...everyone pretty much agrees.
For me my dreads are ideal. Others though may not like how uniform they are or they may prefer much thicker dreads. Often there are quite a few factors to consider when making a choice about your dreads. For example I like the way thick dreads look - but I don’t like the extra time that thick dreads take to dry. This is why research is important.
There are other factors that you should be aware of that influence peoples dreading decisions. Spiritual, or non-tangible factors. For example there are those that believe that the less influence you have over the dreading process, the better the dreads are. Some people will tell you that they don't think dreads are "real" if you help them form. You can make a religion out of your hair if you want. There is no way to measure the impact of spiritual factors like these. It’s a purely personal consideration.
Other people, myself included, find dreadlocks to be spiritual in a completely different way. I see them as a work of art. I compare my dreads to a wearable bonsai tree. I find maintaining and improving them to be relaxing and meditative. I don’t need them to be perfect but I like knowing that I’m in control of how they look and I take satisfaction in making them look how I want.
Still others see dreads as purely hair. To them there is no significance beyond the reaction they see on other peoples faces.
Are any of these philosophies wrong? That depends. Do they allow the individual to achieve their desired goal? If so they are probably good for those that subscribe to them. It is natural to feel that the beliefs you connect with are more right than the others but a wise person can step back and see the big picture. Only you know what’s important to you, what your values are - you dread philosophy should be a tool to help you achieve those values. Some people will try to force their beliefs on you and tell you that they way they believe is somehow more right. Be confident in your dread philosophy and don’t be afraid to tell pushy dreadlocks fundamentalists that you are able to think for yourself. Ultimately you need to know your moral code of dreadlocks. It's the standard by which you make decisions about your dreads.
Ultimately my goal is to make sure you are aware of the choices and options that exist so that you can get the dreads you want. This site offers a lot of advice, tips and methods for starting and maintaining dreads. Most people will find everything here “compatible” with the type of dreadlocks they want to grow, but others, who have differing dreadlocks philosophies may need to pick and choose which types of maintenance they want to do. For example, palm rolling regularly in the early stages of locking will cause the dreads to lock rounder and with fewer loops and zig-zags. If you’re after dreads with a less uniform appearance you should be sure not to palm roll your dreads too smooth.
Each of the dreadlocking products that we offer is also optional, although they do all have a purpose. If they’re used in the recommended way they will each offer a benefit or make some aspect of the dreading process easier, but none of them are absolutely necessary to the dreading process. It’s possible to follow the instructions on this site and leave out different products. Of course the results will very because the products really are effective but the benefits that the products provide are not essential to growing dreads. A good example would be those loops and zig-zags we mentioned. The Palm rolling will have much less influence on the lumps, loops and zig-zags if there is no Dread Wax in the dreads. Leaving out the wax is ok but, besides taking longer, there is a good chance your dreads will lock with more irregularities. As I said before though, this isn’t always bad, it’s just different. Depending on your perspective loops, bumps and zig-zags might be the desired result.
That said, most of the techniques taught on this site can be performed without the recommended products but they may be more difficult or seem less effective when you do them. You may even try them and decide they’re not worth doing. Clockwise rubbing, for example, is very tough to do effectively unless the products are used to create the right environment. You might find yourself rubbing and rubbing with no knots forming. Many have given up on clockwise rubbing for this very reason while many more, have prepared the hair with a residue free Dread Soap and some Locking Accelerator to find that clockwise rubbing is amazingly effective. If your having trouble with any of the techniques , try the product recommendations, you’ll save a lot of time and get way better results! Since there has been so much misinformation about Dread Wax (ie It can't be removed, it prevents dreading etc), and so many accusations about how companies "brainwash" people into believing that they must use it, I've written an article with some helpful information on how to start your dreads without using wax. It can be found on the Starting Dreadlocks without Dread Wax page.
Different Strokes for Dreaded Folks
Throughout this site I focus on a variety of techniques but there is very little duplication of of techniques for doing the same thing. For example I know that some people use the Twist n’ Rip method to get their locks started - it is a valid option. There are some reasons I feel backcombing is superior, for example I find it much faster and I like that the dreads can be removed without cutting or shaving much easier when they are backcombed, so I don’t have a lot of info on Twist n’ Rip. This also simplifies answering questions because I know what techniques were used and I don’t have to ask them 20 questions before I can answer theirs. =]
My main focus with the dreadlocks info on this site is on reliable results in the least amount of time. I also want to give people the option of control. What I mean by that is, not every one wants clean looking roots, for example. Some like loose hair between the dreads or more straight hair at the scalp where the new growth is. These are preferences like anything else. I have the techniques and tools here to take care of that hair if you want to, but you don’t have to. You decide your own level of involvement. That’s why I call it the option of control.
Some people think that everyone wants smooth, perfectly groomed dreads, or that using a particular product once or twice will make your dreads smooth and perfect. It’s not true. Preferences vary a lot, and while tools and products give you a lot of control, you always have the option of making the dreads just like you want, whether that's smooth and perfect or more random and with more character.
The idea of what constitutes “ideal dreadlocks” varies as much as the reasons dreadlocks are worn and are as diverse as the people that wear them, but a great many of the DreadHead’s that have started their dreads using this page and these method often have a few things in common....
They don't mind putting in effort at the beginning of the process to reduce maturity time and increase control over how their dreads look. They see dreads as an art form where they are the artist and they like the idea of having some control to shape the dreads to their liking. They like some character in their dreads but want to have the option of smoothing out dreads and they want to be able to control the size and shape of their dreads. They generally like rounded tips and very little loose hair at the roots and on the body of the dreadlocks. They use techniques and tools to help the dreads form and to control the process as they see fit. Instead of chemical processes they use only natural products and methods but their main focus is on how the dreads turn out, not on the process itself. They recognize a need for their dreads to fit into their lifestyle. Being able to make their dreads look presentable quickly is essential for them being accepted by their school, job or family.
For many years, Knotty Sloan and I (yea, there’s just two of us but we almost look like a legit company don’t we? lol), have focused entirely on these Dread Heads. Since these were the folks actively seeking information and products to better their dreadlocks this made good sense. What didn't make good sense was to ignore those that were looking for other things in their dreadlocks experience. Those that wanted to make dreads with less intervention, with other methods or without wax. The scale of involvement and the rest of the info below is for those that have checked out our site but don’t feel it’s methods fit their dreadlocking needs.
The Scale of Involvement
That's an odd name for a dreadlocking method. Well, it's more of a concept than a method but it's pretty important and in a way it sets the stage for the other methods below.
First a quick recap. The best methods and techniques I know of for making dreads that I think of as “ideal”, are taught throughout the rest of the site. With that said, it stands to reason that if I post different methods here they won’t be the best for making dreads I consider ideal .... Why do that? Well, I used to think that way too, and for a long time I ignored these other methods. I’m including them now for those that don’t share my idea of what “ideal” dreads look like.
Since not everyone agrees what constitutes “ideal dreadlocks”, some of these methods may be better suited to creating dreadlocks that someone else views as “ideal”. For example: I like the look of dreads that go right to the scalp. I don’t like to see straight hair at the top of my dreadlocks. Obviously our hair will always grow out straight but the quicker it knots and locks the less straight hair we’ll have at the roots of our dreadlocks. I recommend on this site that people use Clockwise Rubbing to help their new growth knot and lock near the scalp. Now not everyone is going for this same look. If we do everything except clockwise rubbing our dreads will start locking just fine. If we have a highly textured hair type our new growth my even lock up close to the scalp without a problem, but if we have very straight, very coarse hair, we'll likely find our new growth will eventually be inches long before it locks on it’s own. Those that don’t mind having more straight hair, or find it attractive, can simply not use the Clockwise Rubbing technique.
Since any technique that is explained on this site can be left out we find that we can make thousands of combinations by doing some and not doing others. This leads us to a model that I'm going to call the Scale of Involvement... On one side of the scale you do everything this site recommends. Your results are guaranteed and you know what your end result is going to be - and if you have any problems I will know exactly how to help you out. Imagine a volume slider, there’s a high side of a triangle and then it tapers down to a thin point. Following all the recommendations is like full volume. It represents your full involvement in the dreadlocking process. On the opposite end of the scale it goes all the way down to nothing... This end represents no involvement at all - total neglect of your hair.
There are different names for "not doing anything" when it comes to dreadlocks - Many call this the "neglect method" but some call it the “patience” method and some people call it the natural method. I have a real specific reason for using the term neglect....
I don't call it the "natural" method because natural has another specific meaning. Natural has to do with the use of a chemical process to achieve dreading. All dreads achieved without chemical perming are natural. Our method for example is completely natural because no chemicals are used. The dreading environment is created with natural products and the hair locks by a fully natural, non-chemical process.
I don't call it the patience method because all natural dreading methods require some amount of patience. To have any real meaning to a term like the “patience method” you would have to have varying degrees, ie: The Lots of patience method, The small amount of patience method etc. Sometimes the patience method refers to doing some things but not everything. We'll go over the varying degrees of involvement in just a minute. The word "Neglect" defines the low end of the scale perfectly. It means you do nothing at all. The next question is always: "Not even wash?" - and the answer is - In some cases no. (although almost everyone does wash - even if they let it go for months in between). So, because some people never wash we reserve the farthest end of the scale for them. (This works out well because it puts the greatest distance between them and me -and until they start washing that's just the way I want it.). =] Ok, I probably shouldn’t joke about this stuff because it will bite me in the ass later...let it be known that I respect everyone’s right to dread as they want. When it comes to hygiene though we need to keep ourselves clean. Fortunately though, all joking aside, 99.9% of people that go with the neglect method do wash...and the rest of you...well, I’m going to pick on you just like your family and friends do, and that’s all there is to it. =]
We also know the following about the far ends of the scale:
- Total involvement makes dreads happen quite fast- the more you do, the faster they can happen. Total neglect can take years - and even then you're likely to have some hair that will never find it's way into a dread.
- Total involvement gives you the control to make perfectly neat - groomed looking dreads - or a wild mess - it’s really your call. Total neglect gives you no control what so ever. You cross your fingers and take what you get.
- Total involvement is healthy and guaranteed. Total neglect is guaranteed to be exactly what happens to your hair if you do nothing but wash it - please wash it. =]
So one end of the scale is "all out, full involvement" and the other is "zero involvement". Now comes the point of all this. At first look, it might seem like there are a hundred and fifteen different ways to make dreads. There are not. There are only a few. It looks like there are more because you can combine certain techniques and leave others out to create limitless combinations. But when this is done a new method is not created, it’s just a spot somewhere on this scale. The more that’s left out, the closer to total neglect, the more that’s kept, the closer to total involvement.
So just to clarify, I'm not suggesting that there are only two ways dread! - I'm not suggesting that if you don't do everything recommended on this site you’re doing something wrong. What I am saying, is that you have total freedom to do whatever you want and depending on your choices you'll end up somewhere on this scale from full involvement to no involvement.
I really hope that what I've written here doesn't come off preachy in any way. I'm nothing if not passionate about this subject because I love dreadlocks. My most earnest desire is that the info on this site will help you make the perfect dreads for you!
Back to our scale of involvement. At this point I'm aware of people that: don't do anything, people that only wash and separate, people that do almost everything but backcomb, people that only backcomb and wash, people that don't palm roll or clockwise rub or wax, people that don't use rubber bands, people that try to substitute other things for wax but follow many of the other techniques and a few dozen others.. I'm not going to address every position on the scale. There is no need to and it would be impossible anyway since it's theoretically infinite.
On this site I've provided all the information to make dreads at the "total involvement" level. On this page we’ll also take a look at some other levels of involvement and a few alternate techniques. You are free to choose and combination that feels right to you but I have no way of guessing your results. I've spent just about every day since 1999 learning about how hair dreads with total involvement in different hair types and textures and I still don’t have everything figured out, although I get closer all the time! =]
The important thing to realize is that just because something works in one persons hair texture, with one persons lifestyle and activity, it doesn't necessarily work for everyone. It's taken a long time to build a system that dreads all hair types. Hair texture, hair density, hair diameter, oiliness and even sleeping habits effect how your dreads will form. If you find something that works great for your dreads that’s awesome, even if it doesn’t work for everyone that’s ok.
Now that you have a good model for understanding the varying degrees of "dreadlocking involvement" you can better decide what level of involvement seems right for you. Most people I talk to have a good idea of how they’d like their dreads to look and they would rather work on them a little more in the first month or so and start enjoying the dreads they want sooner, rather than later. If that’s you I know you’ll find the rest of this site to be exactly what you’re looking for. On the other hand if you’d rather experiment and see how your dreads turn out with minimal interaction or if you feel that a religious code dictates the interaction that you are allowed have with your dreads then these variations might be the ticket.
Alternate Techniques for Starting Dreadlocks
Maybe I’m just naive but in my mind all techniques for starting dreadlocks have pretty much the same goal in mind. You want the hair that you dreaded to look as much as possible like the hair looks when it grows out and dreads on it’s own. If not, you’ll have a “line” where the dread changes over from the hair you dreaded to the area where new growth dreaded.
The methods that succeed on this front are backcombing, twist n’ rip (usually), sweater/wool rubbing, and neglect. The methods that fail are braiding and interlocking. We’ll talk about why those two fall short before we look at the others.
When dreads are started by braiding the hair and then letting it get ratty and frizzy until some of it dreads, the braids always remain visible to some extent and you can see a distinct difference between the parts of the dreads that were formed in the new growth and the parts dreads that had been braids.
Interlocked dreads must be continuously interlocked to maintain the same look. Interlocking doesn’t actually allow the hair to dread, so if you stop interlocking and let the hair dread it will look very different. You can do what you like but I don’t personally care for the way interlocking looks unless it’s done with very tiny dreads.
Since interlocking and braiding both drop the ball on this basic need we’ll move right along to the other methods.
Neglect usually does a pretty good job of keeping the dread looking the same between areas that were pre-grown before dreading and areas that grew after the dreads were started. I can’t say it does a perfect job because neglect is anything but predictable. Large areas could grow together and need to be ripped apart. This would leave them looking quite different than the hair that grows out and dreads as it grows. Since large loops and zig-zags are sometimes a result of hair dreading with neglect and since the new growth rarely forms loops and zig-zags it’s likely that this will create a noticeable difference. Fortunately these cases are rarely a problem for those that are starting with neglect - in fact many of them see anything that’s not uniform as a bonus of “character”.
So how do you start dreads with the neglect method?
Step 1 - Stop combing your hair.
Step 2 - Wait.
Continue repeating step 2 until you achieve the desired results - or get tired of waiting. That’s all there is to starting dreadlocks with neglect but there are some commonly accepted ways to maintain them. They are all optional but some are highly recommended. I’ll put them in order of importance:
Wash them - twice a week is healthy. Some people wash them less because they tend to fall apart a lot when they are washed. Using a dread soap that is completely residue free will help by increasing the friction between the hair strands which will help knots form faster. Some people that choose neglect do so because they are unable or unwilling to purchase dread products of any type. Instead of washing the hair they rinse it with a mixture of Baking Soda and water and then follow it up by rinsing them with a Apple Cider Vinegar and water rinse. Alternatively some people just use plain water. While these mixtures and plain water both have the advantage of being very inexpensive, neither do as good of a job of removing scalp oil from the hair as a good soap does, so knots tend to form slower.
Moisturize them - Since hair in dreadlocks doesn’t shed away and get replaced it may stay around for decades! Hair on the surface tends to always be on the surface, getting exposed to UV and mechanical damage day after day. While hair can be pretty durable when it’s properly moisturized it doesn’t take long for breakage to occur after it dries out. By getting in the habit of using a moisturizer regularly you can avoid dryness and breakage and keep your dreads strong and healthy. A small amount of Lock Down can be used after they are washed, while the dreads are still locking. After they have locked you can start using Dread Butta a few times a month. It infuses dry, hungry dreads with nutrients and long lasting moisture so they can handle daily stresses and remain strong year after year. You’ll find the effects to be far longer lasting than aloe.
Separate them - As knots begin to form they will usually do so in large groups. If these groups are allowed to lock they will dry very slowly and have a tendency to get dread rot. Most people will rip large mats apart into smaller dreadlocks. Ripping is not very accurate but you tend to loose less hair ripping then if you cut the mats apart with scissors. Some people try to play with the hair as the knots are forming - they will twirl or twist the hair together that they would like to become a dread. Neglect purists frown on such interaction but it can be done and works better in highly textured hair (as does neglect in general).
Other maintenance - Of course, depending on your reasons for choosing neglect, you may have a bunch of other maintenance options available to you. If I ever chose to start dreads with neglect I would certainly use Locking Accelerator to help knots form faster. I’d also palm roll the groups of hair that I wished to dread together with a bit of Lock Peppa. Once dreads started to take shape I’d used the Loose Hair Tool to pull in stray hair and tidy them up....of course any of these techniques, as effective as they may be, would be down right blasphemous to the neglect fundamentalist. I don’t draw many boundaries for my dreads. In the end only you can decide what techniques are permissible for your dreads (or how late they are allowed to stay up at night). =]
Twist n’ Rip, if it’s done consistently through the dread, will leave you with good knots that will lock more or less predictably and should look very close to the new growth as it dreads. If it’s done correctly it creates very tight knots that are unlikely to slip apart and all of the maintenance that applies to backcombed dreads can be applied to dreads started with Twist n’ Rip.
- It takes quite a bit longer than backcombing if you take your time and get the knots tight.
- It’s MUCH harder to remove dreads started with Twist n’ Rip if you should happen to change your mind. Backcombed dreads can be combed out with Dread Zasta but dreadlocks started with Twist n’ Rip will probably need to be cut out.
To start a dread with twist and rip you take the section of hair that you’d like to dread and you split it in two parts. You pull these two parts away from each other this will create some tension at the roots. Next, put the two parts back together, give them a twist and divide the section again, be sure to mix it up a bit so that it does not divide in the same place. When you pull the divided pieces apart again and again you will eventually form some knots right at the scalp. This will need to be done about 50 times or so before you’ll have a decent amount of visible progress. Eventually knots will form and you’ll get something that looks like a fuzzy dread. When you reach the tip you are done.
Dreads started with Twist n’ Rip can be maintained in the same way backcombed dreads are maintained. Obviously the more assistance you give them, the faster they will mature. If you apply wax to help them lock faster be sure to keep an eye on their progress and remove the wax as they reach the desired tightness. In experiments I’ve done I’ve found that Twist n’ Rip makes wax more difficult to remove than backcombing, so take care to do hot rinses as recommended if you combine wax with twist n’ rip.
Some claim that Twist n' Rip is safer for the hair than backcombing. They say that since backcombing is similar to teasing, and since prolonged teasing led to damage that backcombing leads to damage. The distinction they fail to make is that backcombing generally happens one time and one time only. Teasing (with hair products and heat) was a daily occurrence. The damage it caused occurred over time and had far more to do with the heat and the products than with the teasing motion. The same individuals claim that backcombing "rips hair from the scalp". I suppose it would if you pulled with all your might....but in that case twist n' rip would too. Done properly neither technique should pull on the scalp hard and there should be no pulling at all except when the dread is just getting started. After the dread begins to form you can (and should) keep slack in the dread while you work so that the scalp isn't tugged on.
Sweater/Wool Rubbing goes by a few names but the idea is the same. Wool or type of special sweater really isn’t needed although it does help knots form a touch faster. All you’re really doing is rubbing the hair around in circles so that it forms knots. It’s very much like clockwise rubbing your whole head at once. As you’d imagine all the hair wants to form in several large mats and eventually after much rubbing it probably will (especially if you’ve prepped it by washing it in residue free Dread Soap and spraying it down with Locking Accelerator - let it dry before you rub). After the mats form you’ll probably want to rip them into smaller dread-size mats.
This method is every bit as painful and slow going as you’d expect and the results are unpredictable to say the least. You could think of it as a way to “speed up” neglect. That’s probably how it got started. Someone got tired of waiting and figured they’d help the process along. To that end it’s pretty successful. If you’d like to see what would happen after months of neglect you can get a pretty close approximation by rubbing a beanie, a sweater, or your hand around and around in circles on your head. Please don’t tell anyone that I told you to do this. It will form knots - and those knots can often be ripped into dread-size shapes.
After you have them separated or ripped to size you can begin maintaining them at any level of involvement you like. The same considerations and options that I mentioned in regards to neglect dreads apply here - the only difference is that the knots will be much further along when you get started.
The following are techniques that are sometimes used on dreadlocks but because there are other techniques I prefer that accomplish the same thing, or because they have some drawbacks I don’t include them with the rest of the site.
We already mentioned using interlocking way of starting dreadlocks. Some people also use this technique for tightening dreads. Years ago it was called “crocheting” which is really confusing now since crocheting is another technique used on dreadlocks. The reason you don’t want to use interlocking to tighten your dreads is that it leaves wraps of hair that look different than dreaded hair each time you do it. In addition to a noticeable difference in texture you’ll also find that the dreads bend easier in areas that have been interlocked. Instead of a smooth, arcing bend that you would usually see if a dread was sitting on your shoulder it will bend sharply in the interlocked area and look very odd.
It’s done by some because they either do know or don’t care about the long term consequences. They are focused on the fact that after interlocking the “slack” in the un-dreaded hair is taken up and this makes it feel tighter. Clockwise rubbing is the preferred method of creating knots in straight hair (at the roots or in the center of a dread). Clockwise rubbing will create knots that will tighten and look identical to the rest of the dread.
Some people burn the loose hair off of the surface of their dreads. I do not recommend this. It smells, it’s potentially dangerous, and it doesn’t offer any benefit over simply trimming the hair. It should also be noted that trimming the hair from the surface before the dreads have fully matured can cause pretty severe damage to the dreads so it should probably be avoided entirely. If you’d like to eliminate some of the hair on the surface of the dread I would pull longer ones in with a Loose Hair Tool and palm roll the dreads to help smaller hairs find their way in.
Tamming is wearing a tam over your dreads to help them mature and help loose hair on the surface knot up. There’s nothing wrong with tamming dreads unless it’s done with wet dreads. Dreadlocks should always be allowed to dry fully before putting them in a tam. The tam should be tight enough that it pushes the dreads together a bit. A way oversized tam won’t offer as much help but it doesn’t need to be tight - just tight enough to lightly push the dreads together. If you wear a tam often you’ll probably find you need to wash your dreads more frequently.