To those with baby dreads who are feeling frustrated with their progress - hang in there! Your hair looks much better than you probably think it does, and in a while you will look back at how they were and smile. Looking at these photos has made me realize even the 'awkward' stages had their own charm.
My observations on dreads, in the form of a list (disclaimer, this applies only to my own experience, as ever ymmv).
I didn't section carefully when I started my dreads, and because of this I have all kinds of odd sizes. My thinnest dread is about the same thickness as my ring finger and my thickest one about the size of my thumb and forefinger held together. Some dreads have congoed and eaten each other, some of the blame for this can go to lazy maintenance but I think much of this was due to the dreads sectioning themselves the way they wanted to grow. I have 28 roots and 34 tips.
Also, what you may have heard about rectangular shaped sections making flat dreads is true. I like my flat dreads, but if you don't want them, then avoid long, rectangular sections.
- Starting dreads, backcombing, loops etc.
I started mine with the most half-assed backcombing job imaginable. It was embarassingly bad, mostly unravelled, and I ended up with mad loops, and a ridiculous amount of shrinkage. If you do not want this to happen then backcomb really, really well. You will lose a lot more length initially but you will likely have them shrink less. Also, if you want to flatten your loops out then PALMROLL. The parts of my hair that have grown out as dreads are nowhere near as loopy and crazy as the initially backcombed parts.
- Maintenance, palmrolling, crochet, loose hairs etc.
I have always been very lazy with this. I'd get a yarn needle or crochet hook out with the best of intentions, then after five minutes would decide I was bored and stop. The last time I ever bothered to sew in all my loose hair was in November 2009. My dreads did look good after, really neat and tidy. Was it worth all the effort in my opinion? No.
I've done no maintenance at all apart from occasionally ripping apart the roots since then. My dreads don't look any worse for it. I think if you're into having a really tidy, neat appearance for your hair then by all means, maintain, but bear in mind you've got to keep doing it regularly. Loose hair goes through cycles. Sometimes you'll have loads of it, but if you leave it alone, eventually it'll get eaten by your dreads or knot up on it's own, then for a while you'll feel tidier, then suddenly it'll be back. It really does not get any worse after a while.
Palmrolling could have forced some of my flat dreads into a more rounded shape and also squashed down a lot of my bigger loops and kinks. However, I didn't ever bother with it, and the shape of my dreads reflects that.
Separating the roots by ripping your dreads apart after you wash them is something you have to do if you don't want them to grow together into a big mass. I got lazy and have the congos to show for it. If you find your dreads are growing apart at the root then doing a bit of root rubbing will help them to stick together. Don't go mad with it though, occasionally doing it will make a difference without damaging your hair. Sometimes your roots will feel quite tight, sometimes they'll feel quite loose. They go through phases just like the loose hairs.
- Washing and colouring.
When I started my dreads I used to wash with Dr Bronners. I am sure my dreads were held together by the residue this created. I hate it and will never understand why it is so popular. I switched to Lush shampoo bars and like them a lot more, they last longer, don't leave crap in your hair and save on packaging. Would recommend either 'new', 'squeaky green' or 'soak and float' for dreads as they don't have anything conditioning added to them and they are made with essential oils whch can help maintain a healthy scalp. I usually wash once a week, never more often. The longest I've gone without washing is 3 weeks which felt kind of minging and I was really happy to clean them after that.
Bleaching - if you bleach areas that have previously been bleached you risk your hair feeling like nasty doll hair and/or breaking off. Be careful. I know this from personal experience and luckily it was only bits of my tips I lost.
Henna - I used to be against using Lush henna on dreads as I had issues with the cocoa butter building up in my hair. Switched to powder henna (I'd recommend this to anyone who wants red hair, there's loads of useful stuff in the memories on this topic) and liked it a whole lot more, but have recently revised my opinion on the Lush stuff. I think it's ok to use on dreads, especially if your dreads tend to feel dry and scratchy, but ONLY if a week or so after you do it, you're willing to do a deep clean to get the residue out. Also do not mash Lush henna into the middles of your dreads, just coat the outsides, m'kay?
At first mine just shrank and got shorter. Then they stayed the same length for what felt like ages due to shrinking at the same rate as they grew. Then once the shrinking was done they grew again.
My dreads seem to grow 5.5" a year, from my calculations. That is a similar speed to how my brushable hair grew. It is likely that my brushable hair used to break more from wear and tear than my dreads do. This means that even though the hair in my dreads is matted up and therefore likely to appear to grow slowly, the growth rate seems unchanged.
Regarding diet, I'm vegan and take no supplements related specifically to hair, just a general multivitamin. I can't comment on hair-specific supplements, never tried them.
- Extensions and haircuts etc.
I would advise against extending dreads that feel soft. If they're quite hard and well knotted then they'll be able to support the extensions better. I extended mine at the 6 month mark with bits of my boyfriend's old set he cut off. The reason was to allow me to tie them up again after they shrank to chin length. They weren't really long extensions, most were around 12cm long. Also, when I cut my dreadhawk I extended the shorter dreads with the ones I'd cut. I kept them for about 18 months, then decided one day that I wanted all my dreads to be my own hair again so I chopped them off. They had served their purpose. I have had no weak spots or damage from the extensions, and still have all those dreads in a bag at home. They may not be on my head any more but I don't want to throw them away.
All I have to say on the topic of cutting your own hair is if using clippers either go really, really slowly or have someone do it for you ;)
If you read all of that you deserve a prize of some kind...
On to the pictures. Behind a cut, there's nearly 50 pictures. Slow connections beware. You were warned!
March 2008 - Day one!
Behold my incompetent backcombing. These were NOWHERE NEAR tight enough!
May 2008 - 2 months
This is an awful photo but it's possible to see they are beginning to loop.
June 2008 - 3 months
I am convinced they were mostly stuck together with Dr Bronners residue at this point. Look at how lank my fringe is for evidence.
July 2008 - 4 months
After Glastonbury. They'd got really filthy so I had to do a real thorough cleaning, which made them unravel quite a lot. At least they felt clean though. I switched to shampoo bars at this point.
August 2008 - 5 months
Ridiculous looping! This was definitely the awkward stage, they were really messy and bumpy, but also were really beginning to lock up and harden. I think this looks great now, but at the time I wore a lot of hats.
September 2008 - 6 months
In an effort to look more tidy, I rounded the tips, it definitely made me look more presentable, but they were now too short to tie up easily.
So, a few weeks later I extended them. To do this I had to unpick all the rounded tips, which was one hell of a job and took ages. I was much happier with them once the extensions were attached, it meant ponytails were an option again
October 2008 - 7 months
Updo! The extensions made this possible.
December 2008 - 9 months
You can see from this picture that they have definitely got a lot fatter. Mmm, progress :)
Loops everywhere, appears to be no growth, I really liked them at this stage, I felt like I actually had dreads rather than just very messy hair.
January 2009 - 10 months
Cut a dreadhawk. This was mostly a practical decision, I have a LOT of hair and as my dreads had thickened up my head felt really hot, like I had a wool hat on all the time. Also, the arms of my glasses kept getting stuck in the roots of the dreads near my ears. I've kept the dreadhawk ever since, I do really like it although I'm sometimes lazy with shaving the sides.
February 2009 - 11 months
Range of colours caused by bleach and henna. Still very little growth.
March 2009 - 12 months
I quite liked that coloured string at the time... Eventually it had to go, as it took ages to dry and I was scared of mildew. Was good while it lasted.
April 2009 - 13 months
Discovered that I could tie them around my face like a beard. This made me way too happy.
May 2009 - 14 months
This is the point where I noticed they had mostly stopped shrinking and actually began to grow.
Here is a shot of just how flat a lot of my dreads are, also some of the more spectacular looping.
Fresh henna, more bleach. Repeated bleaching is bad, I paid for this by losing some tips, months later.
June 2009 - 15 months
They look quite nice here. It was meant to be a picture of the fresh scarification on my arm but my hair sneaked in.
July 2009 - 16 months
August 2009 - 17 months
This is an unusual photo of me - I am smiling. Also check out that garlic!
I liked how they looked here.
September 2009 - 18 months
I liked them at this point. I didn't feel any of the frustration about what they looked like any more, was just happy watching them develop and grow.
October 2009 - 19 months
Loose hair frizz-halo visible. I no longer have that bead, my hair swung into a bike rack and it smashed. I was sad.
A shot from the back to illustrate growth.
November 2009 - 20 months
Diguised as a jellyfish.
My hair post-maintenance. This is the last time I ever sewed in all my loose hair. I liked the look but not the effort.
December 2009 - 21 months
Cut a chelsea fringe.
January 2010 - 22 months
Still with the fringe, also a hat I knit. I started to grow out the fringe about a month after this, trimming it was too much upkeep for me, and I didn't like how it required extra washing.
February 2010 - 23 months
This is how massive my bun had gotten. Had some bleach induced breakage by this point and started cutting off my extensions.
March 2010 - 24 months
All extensions cut off, this is the real length of my dreads. Tips combed out a tiny bit to create a soft end. From here on in they grew like weeds!
May 2010 - 26 months
On the roof of the crappiest flat I ever lived in, wearing handknit socks and sweater.
June 2010 - 27 months
It looks like with time some of the loops have been absorbed a bit by the dreads and are less obvious. It just took patience but - to anyone feeling frustrated - it will most likely happen to you too!
July 2010 - 28 months
Tried out having them in 2 buns for a change.
August 2010 - 29 months
Yeah, they're definitely longer.
September 2010 - 30 months
The bun is almost back at the same volume it was before I cut off the extensions. Crikey.
October 2010 - 31 months
You can totally see what I mean about the initially backcombed part being much loopier and more textured than the part that grew out as dreads.
In comparison to the rest of me. I swear I have too much hair for my size (5'3" and 98lb)
November 2010 - 32 months
Particularly successful henna job. If you want the recipe that I got this result from, it's in the memories under 'henna'.
December 2010 - 33 months
Length shot again, the longest ones are now on my trouser waistband.
January 2011 - 34 months
No-band updo! Instructions are in the memories.
February 2011 - 35 months
Soon I will be able to do this with my arm stretched out all the way! Soon!
March 2011 - 36 months
Happy 3 years to my dreads :D
Here is an out-of-focus photo which shows the current length best out of all the ones I took. Photography = not my strong point.
And here's one that cuts off the top of my head but shows texture and colour much better.
I am so happy to be a part of g_u_d_u, it actually feels like a proper community - interesting, supportive, like family. I plan to be here a lot longer yet, it's been a great 3 years and I look forward to many more. You guys are the best!