Style

DIY Yarn Braids

Low-maintenance, high impact.

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:

yarn

  • 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. ♦

25 Comments

  • maxrey September 5th, 2013 7:20 PM

    SO COOL!

  • Ting September 5th, 2013 7:21 PM

    THIS LOOKS AMAZING! I love the ombré effect with the different shades of purple. And hair tutorials for short-haired people are DA BOMB!

  • Ozma September 5th, 2013 7:33 PM

    Oh my god! This is so eff-ing fantastic!

  • Dane September 5th, 2013 8:56 PM

    This is awesome! I have a growing-out mohawk and I miss having long hair SO MUCH. I’m just going to make a million teeny braids and have a center part :)

  • rainingmay September 5th, 2013 9:14 PM

    SO AWESOME OH MY GOD

  • speakthroughvision September 5th, 2013 10:25 PM

    OMG i have really long hair (mid back) so this would take me foreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever but it looks so cool Ill have to at least try it in the winter :D bookmarking this one!

  • MR September 5th, 2013 10:30 PM

    What a great idea!!

  • Tyknos93 September 5th, 2013 11:21 PM

    Danielle, what the heck have you been in my computer history!? lol
    I have been OBSESSIVELY looking up braid tutorials for the fall and winter months. I can’t keep my hands out of my head and I think either havana twists or yarn braids will look funky and keep my hair from being a complete mess once it gets colder…
    http://blazoningpens.blogspot.com/

  • natandrea September 6th, 2013 12:56 AM

    it’s great that the yarn is slightly stiff and can hold some shape. you could do this with greens and be a fabulous Medusa for halloween! <3

  • FlaG September 6th, 2013 7:21 AM

    A.K.A. Yarn falls! They are rather popular in the cybergoth subculture if I’m not wrong. I’ve always envied them, they look really cool.

    • Danielle September 6th, 2013 11:30 AM

      These are similar, but not the same as yarn falls; I think yarn falls are pre-braided and then pinned into your hair, right?

      • FlaG September 6th, 2013 12:16 PM

        Oh really? I never really looked into how yarn falls are made, so you are probably right! Still, brilliant tutorial :)

  • Princess Mononoke September 6th, 2013 3:53 PM

    Wow, you look totally badass!

  • die_mad September 6th, 2013 4:58 PM

    Yet another example of me wishing my hair was textured… That is the coolest thing I HAVE EVER SEEN IM SO JEALOUS

  • Imogen_Miss_Tutu September 6th, 2013 6:55 PM

    OMG! This is awesome! I always wanted to do this!

    Thanks rookie, I love you! <3

  • N.Arie September 6th, 2013 9:50 PM

    Cool Braids! Thanks for the Tutorial, Danielle.

    xoox

  • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake September 7th, 2013 12:38 AM

    I love the picture so much.
    I haven’t even read the article, but I had to comment. Rookie staffers take the best selfies on the internet.

  • cornly_ September 7th, 2013 6:54 AM

    THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST THINGS EVER IN ROOKIE

  • the televisual artist September 7th, 2013 11:02 AM

    How did you braid the back of your hair? Did you need help from someone? I’m worried that the back of my hair won’t come out like the front…

    • Danielle September 7th, 2013 1:35 PM

      Hi!
      I did my whole head by myself, but I’ve been braiding my own hair since I was 7; I’m not sure if I can explain how to do it (it just means holding your arms up a lot), but if you don’t think you can do the back on your own definitely call in the friend cavalry to help. :)

  • wpaigej September 8th, 2013 10:42 AM

    Ahh yes! I needed another protective style tutorial for college! Thanks, Danielle.

    I’m also loving today’s bg picture.

  • AthenaP92 September 8th, 2013 10:51 PM

    Terrifying coincidence: Not only do I own the lovely blue button down shirt you are wearing, I AM WEARING IT RIGHT FUCKING NOW.
    Marvelous tutorial. I’m definitely going to have to try this one! :)

  • arulpragasams September 28th, 2013 12:46 AM

    Hi!

    I’m trying to do this style as we speak and don’t understand what you mean by “giv[ing] the yarn one twist so it doesn’t slide around.” How exactly do we do that? Do we twist it normally or do we loop the yarn around?

  • mscocotootsiepop December 16th, 2013 4:34 AM

    Thank u. This will be next style.