Q: “How did you do that?”
A Pt. 1: For me, this answer begins with who. I didn’t do it alone. I had a lot of help from a few good friends.
Chad — dreadlock king. He and I met through mutual friends in Milwaukee. He is one of those really rare, rad guys who just makes you smile. He’s kind and compassionate, a creative genius, and carries his own unique style including bare-feet. At the time that I asked him for dreadlock advice, he had 9-year old dreads of his own. I would call him the director of it all.
Jonathan — my husband. Always there to be supportive. Always there to be a helping hand. He was encouraging of my desire to get dreadlocks from day one. He listened to me talk about the research I found, and helped me in my contemplation of if, and how, to actually do them. When it came to starting them, he was eager to learn from Chad so that he could help the process go along. He also served some wonderful food and snacks during our dreadlock-making breaks.
Beky — a dear friend. She is one of those friends who is just there. There when you’re doing well and there when you’re doing poor. When I told her about my dreadlock journey, she was full of curiosity and questions. Mainly, she wanted to be there for me. So she came in between work and meetings to help with the starting process, gave me a back massage, served food, and took photos for my time-lapse video.
A Pt. 2: There are many different techniques for starting dreadlocks, including (but not limited to) natural, rip-and-pull, and backward combing. I decided to do the latter because I wanted them to be started quickly, rather than wait years for them to form naturally. I also liked this method versus the rip-and-pull because it seemed to be nicer on the hair, while also providing the option of combing them out one day (as opposed to having to cut/shave my head). So, how does one do the backward combing technique? It’s kind of like they did teasing in the 80’s. You take a comb (ideally with small teeth) and comb upward, toward your scalp. You do this over and over and over and over, while turning the section of hair so the knots are evenly balanced. An hour or so later, you get your first dreadlock.
Q: “How do you… wait, but you don’t…er, wash it…. Do you?”
A: I always get a kick out of this question because it so illustrates the stereotype of dreadlocks being dirty. But, guess what? I wash my hair! It’s just not washed in the same fashion as I used to wash my “normal,” curly hair. If I didn’t wash my hair… you would know. The dreadlocks would not be well formed and they wouldn’t look very nice (though I realize some would say it doesn’t look nice regardless).
In the first month of having dreadlocks, I was told to not wash for a good month. I lasted about 3 weeks (my scalp itched to the point of it being painful)! In retrospect, it would have been good to have weaned off of the washing experience. As it was, I washed my hair 2-3 times per week all the way up to the day we started my locks, so naturally, my scalp was in for an uncomfortable shock when I stopped cold-turkey. The reason you want to avoid washing in the initial weeks is to give time for the knots to get knottier (basically). The knots are so new and fresh, that water only makes them fall out, and then you’d have to spend extra time putting them back together.
As time went on, I started washing my head once a week, and then every 2-3 weeks, with a non-residue, natural soap bar. I also tried baking soda and apple cider vinegar for a while (a wonderfully natural and healthy remedy! Highly recommend it for all hair types!). Now I’m back to the soap bar; I use Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint. I wouldn’t mind washing my head more often, but it is just so much work. It takes a lot of time and energy because I can’t just throw sudsy soap on it and scrub my scalp as I desire. Instead, I apply the non-residue cleanser in stages, little by little so I can focus on each dreadlock. I sometimes wear goggles to prevent the peppermint oil from getting in my eyes. Once applied, I let the cleanser sit on my scalp for a few minutes so it can work its magic. Rinsing takes a long time, as (again) I focus on each segment at a time. After my shower, I try to palm-roll the dreadlocks. This is the best time to do it, as the damp hair is most pliable. I also do my clockwise rolling at this time, a technique that keeps the hair closest to the scalp knotted. It feels amazing. The rolling takes me all day because my arms get really tired, weak, and tingly (thanks to Lyme Disease). And, finally, drying is a whole day’s process. I try not to go to bed with damp hair, so sometimes this means I have to blow dry it before going to bed.
Q: “How long will you keep them?”
A: At first, I would answer this by saying, “I’m not sure, probably at least a couple of years.” Well, if a couple is two, I’ve already gone past that. Honestly, now I can’t imagine cutting them off. I’m sure I will one day, but I have no foresight of when. I am finally at a place where they’re easier to work with as they are 1) longer and 2) less stiff. (This is because dreadlocks “mature” over time; the longer you have them, the more knotted up the hair becomes. Also my hair was growing upward for the first two years as the maturing occurred.) It’s refreshing to know I’ve made it through the most intense months, in terms of maintenance and commitment.
Q: “Don’t you have to shave it off eventually?”
A: No! There are some methods of creating dreadlocks that would require this, but my chosen method (backcombing) does not. And if you don’t believe me, looking at any current picture of me is proof. After 26 months of dreadlocks, I cut off the front 5 and combed them out to create bangs. It was not at all as difficult as I thought it would be! On another note, I’m not convinced I wouldn’t mind shaving my head once.
- Q: “Does it itch? Don’t you miss running your hands through your hair? Isn’t it heavy?”
A: I group all these questions together because they all generally relate to negative side effects of wearing dreadlocks. The answer is yes, yes and yes. My scalp gets itchy, I sometimes miss running my hands through my hair and it can be heavy at times. But none of these things are deal-breakers for me. In other words, I’m not planning on cutting them off because they itchy. And the truth is, there are bothersome things about having my normal hair too. My head would itch on sweaty summer days, I spent a lot of time combing out tangles, and it was hard to put up in comfortable ways too. The grass is not always greener on the other side and to me it’s just another hair style.