So sorry, Lj people. I promised this tutorial forever ago . . .
I like dreads. I like the look of ‘em and I like to play with ‘em, but I’m not all about the feel or workability of synth hair, I hate falls that look like a ball of yarn, and I'm not all about potential itchiness/cost/wet sheep smell of wool. So I hunted about, cobbled some ideas together from various sources online, screwed up about a billion times, and ended up with a different method. Without further ado, here’s how to make single-ended soft fake dreadlocks out of acrylic yarn.
You will need:
A ball or two of Lion brand Homespun acrylic yarn (Can be found at Wal-mart, most craft stores, and at various places online.)
A bottle of plain white craft/school glue (Did you know Target brand craft glue is half the price of Elmer’s?)
Assorted large-holed beads & other decorations—coins, dangles, bells, so forth
Scissors (preferably skinny little ones)
A seam ripper (better than scissors but not absolutely necessary)
A single ball of Homespun makes a decent fall. If you’re going to be making a longer fall (consistently longer than 24”) then you’re probably going to want to buy two. If you want a longer fall, buy two balls at once to be sure you get colors that match well. There’s a lot of variety within Homespun. It sucks to run out of a color, go back for more, and bring your purchase home to find your red-toned fall might end up with greenish or grayish streaks.
Some of the info here is common sense. The more dreads you make, the more full your fall will look and the better its overall appearance will be—but also, the more it’ll weigh. Forty mid-sized dreads will make a skinny fall. Fifty is better; between fifty and sixty seems best. I haven’t tried more—mostly because there's only so much yarn I can deal with at one time before I start to go a little batty.
The best method I’ve found here is to hold onto the end of the yarn, measure how long you want the dread to be by the length of your arm, loop the end point around your finger, and make a few loops between your hands. Three loops makes for a decent thickness, but feel free to keep going—just know that a few extra won’t show very dramatic difference. A triple-looped dread ends up about the thickness of my pinky, while an eight-looped dread was a bit thinner than my thumb—which afterwards seemed like a waste of yarn.
Finish your loops on the same hand that has the end bit of yarn. Be sure to leave a few inches of extra yarn on that final string (we’ll need it later), then cut the loops at the bottom open.
Now take your longer string and pull it out. Make a loop at about the midpoint of your yarn and run the longer string through it. Even your ends out as much as possible—but don’t get too worried over it, it doesn’t have to be perfectly even—and tie the longer string around the group. Then take either end of the longer string (which should both be longer than the rest of the yarn) and start tying a string of single macramé knots around the yarn.
Pics help. Otherwise my descriptions turn into “You put the thing with the thing and then do some stuff.”
It’s possible to put these knots over top of each other. Keep them side by side instead. Continue this until you have about the length of the attachment loop you want. Repeat on the other side until you have a loop of the approximate right size. I like ones I can fit a finger through, just in case I get adventurous one day and try an actual installation. Remember: if you make the loops too small, you might not be able to string the dreads properly.
Take your two longer strings (which probably aren’t longer than anything anymore) and tie the dread off. The right string goes over. The left string goes under. Each string gets pulled through the loop made by the other. Thus:
Repeat that to make a square knot. Ta-da! You’re almost there.
Okay. Now take a closer look at your yarn. You see that little bracer string wrapped around it? This is what keeps it looking like yarn—but if we wanted the yarn to look like yarn, we wouldn’t be starting this adventure! You need to get rid of it. A pair of scissors will work for this, but a seam ripper works best. Hook ‘em under the string near the top loop & pull.
Repeat until you’ve got all the strings out. Then cut them. If your yarn’s tangled here, untangle it—but carefully! If you pull too hard it’ll come apart, since everything holding the strands solid is gone. Now it’s just a big mass of floof with direction. Don’t let that direction be into the trash can!
You have options from here. Option 1 is the fastest but least sturdy—gently pull the yarn straight, then twist it until you have one long smooth cable. This makes dreads with spirally color patterns that are visible from close up.
Option 2 is a little slower: Take a brush and very, very carefully fluff the yarn until the strings start to blend together. (If you brush the yarn too hard you’ll rip the dread to bits.) Then roll the fluffed yarn between your hands until it’s less floofy and more dread-like. This makes dreads that have more of a matted appearance from close up. For all intents & purposes, though, they'll look the same.
“So what’s the difference?” you say. "Besides the perpetually-changing yarn colors, of course."
The difference is in how well they last. The boiling process (see below) isn’t hot enough to melt acrylic, but it is enough to make it shrink around itself. If the yarn is still essentially in separate strings, it’ll condense to those separate strings—and is much more likely to split to those separate strings with enough abuse. If it’s a big matted mess, it’s that much more likely to remain a big matted mess. And seriously: for all the time you’re gonna put into making these, you’ll want ones that’ll last.
From there, no matter your method, twist the dread into a tight cable, then wrap around your fingers a few times and tuck the end in to keep it out of trouble while you make the rest.
Now repeat that about forty, fifty, or sixty times.
Okay, so maybe thirty. Twist braids are a nice variation (and are best for stringing smaller-holed beads & anything involving jump rings), so don’t forget to do about twenty of those. And even if you don’t want to make them, make at least one twisted/braided/otherwise solid string to hang the rest of the dreads on. Or use a shoelace—whatever makes you happiest! Just remember that a shoelace doesn’t blend as well as a twist braid made from the same material. I’ve also heard good things about some kind of elastic lace, but I have yet to find it.
Hey, I said this takes a while! We're talkin' hours.
Twist braids are easy. Split your yarn into two equal sections. Twist each section clockwise. Now twist the two sections around each other counter-clockwise. A little bit at a time makes for the neatest, most even twists. You don’t have to worry about taking out the bracer string here, too—if you twist everything tightly enough, the material will cover them up for you.
I like two colors because I like adding some contrasts. This is also a good point to throw in some glittery yarn, or any of those other neat spazzy varieties. Just remember: if it doesn’t work, you can always unwind it and cut the offending strands out!
When you get to the ends of these, pick out a longer remaining string and finish the twists off with a wraparound tie like you used to make the top loops. I usually do two in a row and then sometimes tie the string back to another of the remainders with a square knot. If you tie it tightly, it’ll be pretty inconspicuous.
You know how belly dancers tend to be like magpies and collect shiny things? This is where that habit comes in handy. Just remember that there’s a method to things. Metal, shell, and bone beads & decorations can go on dreads before boiling, but if at all possible you should try to get them around the entire dread. (Only a few strands per bead frequently leads to the dread splitting around the bead, unless you finagle in some macramé knots to keep it all close.) Wire-wrapping the dreads is a workable option as well.
I would recommend keeping your glass beads aside until afterwards, as they can crack during the sealing process. It’s that or dunk them into the boiling water gradually and carefully, and hope they don’t have any air bubbles. I’ve had higher-end glass beads do well; I’ve had lower-end glass beads blow up.
Twist braids are a slightly different story. The beads can go on wherever with those—the tightness of the wrap will hold them in place. I’ve found that these are also the best for attachments involving jump rings or larger danglies. Thus:
Like I said above: water’s boiling point isn’t enough to completely melt acrylic, but it’s enough to make weird dreaddy things out of your big pile of floof. Get a decent-sized pot, fill it with water, and bring it to a roiling boil—as high as you can get it. I’d also recommend you put a towel down on the floor (my methods are never low-mess) and have something handy to hang the dreads over as you finish them, like the handle for your oven, the edge of a cardboard box, or a shower bar.
So! All those little balls you made? You’ve got options for them. If you twisted & wrapped ‘em tight, you could theoretically toss them directly into the boiling water and let ‘em sit for a bit, then fish them out with a strainer and let them cool down in a colander. This will make curly dreads with slightly messy ends. The downsides here are the messy ends, the fact that you can’t control how tight the wrap stays, and how it’s a gigantic pain to unravel a contracted, steaming knot of boiled yarn before it cools down—and not fun at all once it’s cold and fully contracted. Then sometimes the bundles refuse to come unraveled. If that’s the case, you can put them back in the boiling water so the fibers soften back up, then pick at them quickly before they cool and contract very much again.
The results, in close-up:
Remember that this method will lead to your dread being a lot shorter than you originally measured. Between the curling and the nature of the material, I’ve seen the shrinkage be from about five to about eight inches on what were originally approximately 30” dreads.
(Do we need a pic of balls of yarn in a pot of boiling water? I don’t think so. They’re awfully unexciting.)
The second option is to untuck the one end, straighten the (still-twisted) dread out, and dunk it (carefully) in the boiling water. For the looped ends, it’s easiest to stick a chopstick or utensil handle through to be sure it doesn’t contract too much. For the other end . . . well, get a grip on it as close to the end as possible without losing any of the twist. Hold it in the boiling water for a few seconds; then take it out, hold it over your towel, and pull it taut. Water will go everywhere, but that’s okay—you really wanted to clean your kitchen floor anyway.
PS: Don't scald yourself. Steam is really hot. If you've got something that'll grab the dread's end so you can avoid putting your fingers by the boiling water, use it. I'm okay—the government built me to be heat-resistant.
To seal the ends properly, hold the already-boiled part of the dread close to that end and swirl the entire thing into the water. The swirly motion keeps the end mostly together—if you just dunk it straight in and let it sit it’ll separate into its separate threads and be a really messy end.
This method will make straight dreads with relatively clean ends. The downside here is that it takes a while to do dreads one by one, the ends untwist a little and take some extra attention, and it’s easier to scald yourself.
The results, in close-up:
Don’t forget the twist braids! If you don’t boil them as well, they won’t match the rest of the dreads—plus they’ll look more like yarn than they would otherwise. Also remember to pull them taut when you’re done, to avoid shrinkage.
But wait! There’s one more step. Take the white glue and pour some into a bowl with warm water at about a half-and-half ratio. You’ll want to mix it around until it has the general look and handfeel of . . . well . . .
Glue and water, of course. The hell were you thinking?
Anyway! Your next move is to work this into your still-wet dreads. Acrylic dreads without glue seem to split and get fuzzy more easily than ones with, so I always make a point of adding it. But watch how much glue you use, too--we’re trying to avoid having crunchy hard dreads that feel like your hair was soaked in . . . well . . .
Yeah. So don’t completely soak them down in the glue—the dreads will come out really stiff. That’s no fun—we want ‘em to be soft and movable and not knock out your neighbor if you spin! Unless you really wanna knock out your neighbor—in that case, add a ton of big glass beads to the ends and go nuts!
A friend has used glitter craft glue with interesting results. Sadly, I have no pictures of this.
If you let your dreads dry out before doing the glue step, remember to add more water to the glue mix. Always remember that you can add more glue later, and expect to use approximately a third of a bottle per arm-length fall.
Once your glue bottle is about half empty, you can just fill it the rest of the way with water, shake it around to mix, and spray the dreads with that instead of using a bowl of glue-water. It doesn't seem as intensive & exact as the hands-on approach, but is less dribble-on-the-floor omg-my-hands-feel-disgusting messy.
But isn’t there another/better/safer/easier way to seal these things? Probably, but I don’t know it yet. I tried with a hair straightener and only succeeded in drying the dread faster. I tried with a lighter and only succeeded in making the dread ugly, with icky brown burnt/melted spots. I tried with that little as-seen-on-TV clothes steamer, to modest-at-best success. Do you have a better method? Let me know!
The “How do I attach these damned things?” post is here. The dread repair one will happen once I decide mine need worked on. As for now . . . Questions? Comments? Trepidations? If not, have fun!