Trying to look as fierce as my hair.

I’m really good at getting my picture taken.

I’ve been wearing my hair in its natural state for a while. I had dreadlocks for nine years, and have been wearing an afro since I cut them off six years ago. Having a natural hairstyle wasn’t a big decision for me—I was just sick of the chemicals and the fuss that came with straighteners and perms, and thought it was weird that I hadn’t seen my hair in its regular state since I was a little kid. I love my hair as it is, but when I want to mix it up or have a fun protective style (any style that lets me leave my hair alone for a few days without styling it) in the winter, I go right to yarn braids.

Yarn braids are exactly what they say they are—braids, made out of yarn. My hair is super thick, and I can usually leave these braids in for a week or two before they start to get itchy and I need to take them out. The goal here is to have a low-key style that requires little maintenance. You can wash these yarn braids along with the hair they’re attached to if you use a natural, low-suds shampoo like Terressentials, but I usually just wear them for a week, take them out, give my hair a good wash, and then braid them in again.

A few caveats:

1. This tutorial assumes you know how to do a basic braid. If you don’t, here‘s a tutorial.

2. Unlike most hair tutorials, this one actually works BETTER if you have short hair! The longer your hair is now, the longer you’re going to spend braiding it, so keep that in mind.

3. I’ll be honest—I have no idea if this will work on non-textured hair. You can try it, but it may not last as long or give you the same results.

OK, let’s do this!

What you’ll need:


  • Acrylic yarn. This is very important—do NOT use any other type of yarn, or your hair will knot and look a total mess. Acrylic yarn ONLY! I used Red Heart, but any brand will work as long as it is 100% acrylic. Most people use yarn that matches their hair color, but I always opt for purples, blues, greens, pinks, and reds.
  • Scissors.
  • A few hours of your time. Netflix is your friend.
  • Optional: A lighter. This is a finishing technique to make the ends of your braids look neater, but if you’re gonna try this, please be (a) CAREFUL and (B) SUPERVISED by a parent or another responsible person. Safety first, and since this involves holding an open flame next to your head, so SAFETY ALL THE TIME. Plus, your supervisor can double as an assistant, which will make this a lot easier.

Reporter’s note: I still bite my nails like crazy, so I’ve done my best to shield you from them in these photos.

Step One: Preparation.
Wash your hair like you’ve never washed before. Really scrub your scalp. If your hair can stand it, skip the conditioner, which has a tendency to leave buildup and give you flakes. (If you have to, you can apply a little pure shea butter or coconut oil on your ends as you braid.)

1Six Strands

Step Two: Measure your yarn.
Hold the loose end of a strand of yarn up to your head with one hand, and then grab the yard where you want your braids to stop with your other hand. Add an extra half-inch or so, because you will need it to knot the end. Now loop the yarn around four fingers three times, leaving you with a big loop with six strands next to each other.

2 Cut Ends

Step Three: Cut the yarn.
If you stretch out this loop, one pole will have three loops, the other two loops and two ends. Cut the loops at the pole with two loops.

3 section hair

Step Four: Part your hair.
To make your braids uniform, grab a section of hair that’s about the width of three strands of yarn. This does not have to be perfect.

4 Looped Edge

Step Five: Start your braid.
Slide your sectioned-off hair through the looped ends of the yarn. Keep three strands of yarn in each hand. Give the yarn ONE twist so that it doesn’t slide around as you are braiding. Braids are done in three parts: Your hair is one section, between two clusters of yarn (each cluster having three strands—lotta math in this one).

6 running out 1

6 running out 2

Step Six: Oops, you’re running out of hair!
When you start to run out of your own hair, take one strand from each yarn cluster and add it to your hair. You should now have two strands of yarn in each bunch.

Step Seven: Keep braiding, girl, keep braiding.
Work on your braid until you reach the desired length. You can check your length by holding the braid down to see where it stops.

7 knot

Step Eight: Knot your ends.
Finish off the braid by making a slipknot at the end. Pull two of your yarn sections together (four strands total) and use the other section to make the knot. Loop the yarn around the end of the braid once, and pull the strands through the center of the loop you just made. Pull TIGHT. Cut the remaining yarn close to the knot.

If you’d like to, you could end it here. Hooray! Your hair looks dope, congratulations. If you want to make your ends look more finished, there’s one more thing you can do: singe the ends of your braid with a li’l tiny bit of fire.

8 burn baby burn

Optional finish: Burn the ends.
Hold your braid close to the end where you knotted it. Using a lighter, QUICKLY run the flame under your knot in one-second increments. Since your yarn is acrylic, the end of your braid will burn like plastic. This is really useful if you want to keep them in for a long time, because you don’t have to worry about your braids unraveling if your knot is not very tight. Again, and I cannot stress this enough—you HAVE to do this step with some kind of supervision, or skip it entirely. Even if you know you’re going to be careful, acrylic burns up FAST, and you don’t want to risk starting an accidental fire without someone at the ready with a fire extinguisher.

You do NOT want the yarn to light on fire; you just want to give it a little sizzle so the ends are sealed. You shouldn’t do this for more than three seconds at most. Once the end is sealed and has cooled for a few seconds, you can rub it between your fingers to give it a more polished look.

9 Done

When you’re ready to take them out, just cut the yarn close to the bottom knot (be careful not to cut your actual hair) and unravel like a regular ol’ braid.

That’s it! Congratulations—you look tremendous. ♦