Though I don’t make dreadlock wigs anymore, I have six years of experience making human-sized synthetic dreads and three years making them for BJDs, as well as seven years of practice making wigs for dolls. I certainly don’t know everything but what I do know I’ll share with you!
Dreadlocks are one of the most requested thing for me to make, but making an entire wig-making video would be complicated for two reasons; One, it would be incredibly repetitive and Two, once the dreads are finished all you do is sew them in to a wig cap – not the most exciting thing to watch. So I thought instead of making a video I’d just write down some important tips for making these wigs and hopefully answer some questions you may have about the process.
First off, safety concerns. I know it’s annoying to be preachy about this stuff, but still, be aware that you are working with heat and plastic. Even though we aren’t melting the plastic into goop it still isn’t a wonderful thing to breath in. Proper ventilation is important, and consider utilizing a face or breathing mask (especially if you have respiratory problems). You also need to remember that you are working with high temperatures. Burns, from the tool itself or from the steam produced, can and probably will happen if you aren’t careful. Always be aware of how you are handling heated tools and consider wearing heat-resistant gloves. Because of my years of experience (and because doll sized dreadlocks are so small and seal very quickly with little steam) I did not wear protective gloves in my video. However, if you are new to the process, gloves can be extremely helpful. A really cool wig is made a lot less cool if you’ve burned your hands up or made yourself sick in the process.
Alright, now that’s over, here’s the fun stuff:
-COMBS. For those of you that have worked mostly with faux fur or natural fibers, know that synthetic fibers like Kanekalon will fight you. They aren’t that fluffy stuff that breaks just by looking at it, they will tear apart a cheap plastic comb after about 30 or so dreadlocks. That’s not even half the amount you need for an SD sized wig. Consider purchasing a higher-end comb if you want to make a habit of making dreadlocks. I use a comb that is designed for teasing, which helps speed up the process a lot. That being said I used cheap plastic combs (at some beauty stores you can get a bag of 15 or 20 for like 3 bucks) for years and they work perfectly well until they lose too many teeth.
-SYNTHETIC FIBER. There are actually a lot of different synthetic fibers out there. My favorite is Kanekalon, it backcombs and seals well, but most ‘braiding hair’ will be suitable for dreadlocks. Hair that is designed to be smooth and thin, like most weaving hair, will not be suitable. Those fibers are made to lay straight and flat or hold a particular style, so you’ll have a hard time getting them to cooperate. Some braiding hair that has a shiny appearance is also not as easy to work with. In fact, a good rule of thumb is that the shinier the hair appears the more difficult it is to seal. It makes sense too – have you ever seen shiny dreadlocks?
-BACKCOMBING. Backcombing doll dreads shouldn’t be too much of a strain, but I may be saying that because of my experience making human-sized dreadlocks. You do have to make a lot of them though, so remember to pace yourself. If you make 100 dreads in one day your hands are going to be very cramped the next. Also consider backcombing and sealing on different days (or after longs breaks). As for how to backcomb – well – I can’t really tell you! It’s something you just figure out as you go along. Get used to feeling the dreadlock as you pull it down, feeling for bumps and knots. Try to keep your dreadlock even as possible and test it before you seal. Know that there is a range of backcombing that will make an ideal dreadlock; backcomb too little and the dread will be loose, backcomb too much and you’ll have trouble twisting and sealing it. Eventually you’ll be able to tell if a dread is ready to seal just by running your hands over it, but it takes a little time.
-SEALING. After considering safety precautions, you can get to sealing. Sealing is actually super fun because you get to see the wig start to come together, and once you lift your towel or rag you get to see that rat’s nest you just made transform into a beautiful uniform dreadlock! But sealing is also super annoying and frustrating after about ten dreads. It’s repetitive and hot and if you’ve just spent hours backcombing a bunch of dreads, the last thing you want to do is continue sitting in the exact same position and seal a bunch of dreads. Taking breaks is important to stop yourself from feeling frustrated beyond belief, getting cramps in your hands from working or in your legs from sitting too long, and making stupid mistakes or burning yourself because of it. Like I said before, try not to do everything in one day, especially not in one sitting. Timing yourself if a good idea – I used to do so by watching movies. I knew once two or three movies had played it was time for a long break. As for how to seal properly – in doll sized dreads it’s simple. You want the dreadlock to be sturdy, but you don’t want to see any melted plastic. It shouldn’t be able to twist anymore and should feel fairly firm while still remaining flexible. A good test is to hold the dread up by its base. If it stands straight up, you’ve got a good seal. If it flops over near the middle, you’ve got more to do. You shouldn’t have too much issue getting a decent seal because these are so small. It takes just a few seconds (any more and you may start to burn or melt the plastic) to get them right where you want them. Extra tip: If you find you are constantly having to go back and re-seal, make sure you are sealing in small enough sections. Only twist a little bit of the dread at a time to make sure you’ve got it as tight as it will go, seal, and then move on down the dreadlock.
-THE TOWEL/CLOTH/RAG. A rag made from some natural material is a good choice. This is the material coming in direct contact with your flatiron, so it needs to be something that can stand up to the heat without burning or falling apart (so never use paper towels, tissues, etc). Before you start sealing your dreads, make sure to test that the rag you’ve chosen will hold up to the heat by getting it damp and clamping it in your flatiron for a few seconds. Once you’ve got a good rag it should last you a long time, so this isn’t a supply you need to keep replenishing.
-WIG CAPS AND SEWING. This is something important to note; dreadlock wigs are heavy. In my experience, you really need a wigcap that’s going to handle that weight well. I chose to buy wig caps pre-made online – a lot of stores sell them. This way I knew that I wasn’t putting all that weight on something like an old nylon stocking or something clumsily sewn. Of course if you know how to make a really sturdy wigcap than go for it! Note that these dreadlocks are designed to be sewn into a wigcap, not to be glued in. So whatever wigcap you make, you’ll more than likely be sewing. When it comes time to put the entire wig together, you’ll have to consider how you want to sew them in. Because dreadlocks allow some scalp to be visible on a human and this is something we avoid in the BJD world, it can be difficult to decide how to sew your locks. Some people like to sew the dreads in the wigcap and then actually sew the dreadlocks in place so they don’t move – this way the dreads can lay naturally without risk of any wigcap being exposed. I prefer to leave some wig cap exposed but not sew my dreads in place so I can style them. If you use this method, however, you’ll have to constantly be aware of how you are styling the wig to ensure you aren’t leaving some areas visible. As a small side note since we were talking about weight; yes! These wigs are heavy. This means they are likely to slip around a doll’s head. Tacky or velco may end up being good friends of yours if you want to do a lot of photoshoots with dreadlock wigs. This also means it isn’t a good idea to sew so many dreads on a wigcap that no part of the cap is left open. Not only will the wig appear much too full, but it will be heavy and difficult to style.
-NUMBER OF DREADLOCKS. So only ever having owned SD sized dolls (heads vary in size from 7-8 to 9-10) that’s really all I can speak to! Maybe you’ll be able to get some estimates from these numbers for smaller dolls. Keep in mind that the amount of dreads you’ll need will vary from head to head, as well as the style of dreads you make and the method of construction you use. The ‘sewn in place’ method usually takes about 20-30 less dreadlocks than the fully style-able method. I’ve used anywhere from 70-120 dreadlocks per wig, 70 for flatter laying dreads or thicker dreads and 120 for thinner or fuller wigs. 85-90 is a good estimate for your average (fuller) wig.
-DREADING A PRE-MADE WIG. Not all pre-made wigs are suitable for dreading. Some will be too ‘slippery’ to make reliable dreads, some will be too short. When you do find a suitable wig you want to dread, here are some things to keep in mind; - If you want a ‘full’ look (no spaces of wigcap or tangled hair visible) you’ll need to find more hair of that same color to create a ‘natural dreadlock’ appearance. - Pay attention to how you are spacing the dreads and how much hair you use per dread. This will be obvious once you are finished dreading the wig. - Remember that short fibers are more difficult to dread, so wigs with bangs might not be the best option (unless you plan to leave the front of the hair alone) - Though there is significantly less fiber loss in using synthetic versus natural fiber, you will still have some. Keep this in mind if you have a thin wig. - Watch out for the wigcap – if you get it caught in your comb you may damage the wig.
-NATURAL FIBER. I personally don’t like using natural fiber to create dreadlocks. It is more difficult to control the shape and size of the dreadlock and the fiber loss is incredible. The best way I can think to make a natural fiber dreadlock wig would be to utilize felting – though this process would be risky in my view: after spending so much money on the fiber and to over-felt your dreadlocks would be heartbreaking. The backcombing method could produce less formed, wilder looking dreadlocks, and you could in theory use hot/boiling water to help ‘seal’ them. However, even if you accomplished a good looking wig with natural fibers, the upkeep of that wig would also be enormous compared to a synthetic dreadlock wig which only needs resealing once every six or so years (depending on your usage). This is why I stick to synthetic fiber for dreadlock wigs – though obviously you don’t have to follow my example! I think there is a lot of merit to natural fiber and a dreadlock wig made from wool or alpaca would probably be gorgeous – and also weirdly lush?
That’s all the info I have for now! I’ll come back and add more as I remember things or as people ask more questions. Remember, craft at your own risk. Thanks for reading and I hope this helps! :D