Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Did You Just Flip Me Off?!

Chances are, if you don't live in a cave, you know that New Years is the time to be making resolutions. This month, health clubs and gyms all over the world are the busiest they will be all year, only to have new membership drop off in two months when people realize that working out is hard. And it's not fun. And it totally sucks! In all the excitement of starting over, I'd like to ask a teensy favour of you. While you're making a list of Stuff to Quit in 2011, do me a solid and stop flipping your dreads!

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, flipping dreads at the root is sometimes called interlocking, latch-hooking, or crocheting. It's essentially the practice of threading a
dreadlock through itself, sometimes using a large gauge hook, sometimes using no tools at all. It's a method that's often used to start dreads, and as long as it's done properly (flipped loosely, all holes woven closed) it's totally viable and with palmrolling will yield nice results - but that's not what I'm talking about here. What I'm talking about is using flipping as a stand-alone maintenance method.

When folks hear about this technique (usually on the web), it sounds too good to be true - because in 99% of cases it is. It certainly does tidy up the look at the scalp, but it's ultimately short-lived. If you're looking for more textured, almost geometric dreads from repeated flipping, this is fine - but you will not wind up with felted, cylindrical dreads. There are really three main problems I have with flipping, or interlocking dreadlocks, and here's a little show and tell:

I can immediately spot a flipped dread. In some cases, it's flat and feels thin in spots. In the worst cases it's bunched up and twisted, most of the time from doing it until there was no more slack at all. Yes, the loose hair is now tidied away, but those coils you see in the picture are not going to just dread themselves magically; they'll stay tightly twisted. They become rock hard and have no give whatsoever, meaning there's no friction with neighboring hair, meaning no knots. No knots = no dreads. If you were ever to decide to have me help you out with maintenance, my hands are somewhat tied. Those coils can develop into lumps so hard, I can't get my hook through. (Almost every time my crochet hook has gone through my thumb it's been in the process of repairing flipped dreads. That's a wicked bummer, lemme tell you.) I've never had to turn someone away for a Repair, but I've definitely been frustrated by not being able to do more.

Another major cause of concern is what happens between those tight coils of hair. When you flip a dread through itself, you are left with a hole. Even if you keep flipping until you can't see the hole, it's still there - and you still have a weak spot in your lock. If you are getting salon maintenance and they flip your dreads, be sure they are following up by weaving the hole closed behind them! There's nothing wrong with this technique done properly, but done poorly it will lead to breakage. We already know that those tightly twisted sections won't dread, so we also know that the gap you've created will not magically fill in. If one of those coiled sections breaks, you run the risk of losing your lock.

Here's a picture that shows the last of my big problems with interlocking, or flipping - the wrong hair going through the wrong section. It happens all the time, especially in the back. When you get even a little bit of hair from an neighboring section flipped through, you've got a problem. While those coils themselves won't start felting, the hair growing out at the scalp of the joined section will. In the pic above, you can see the mat that's started to form under two dreads accidentally flipped into each other. Sometimes, if the flip has only been done once, I can undo it - but most times, I will need to cut into the locks. Without shop work, you'll probably just need to be ok with having one really big dread where you used to have two.

Bottom line, you need to be careful, and you need to do your homework. Like I said earlier, this can work for some people if done properly and followed up with frequent palmolling. Unfortunately, this technique gets presented in the same way as a crash diet, or a get-rich-quick scheme - and when's the last time one of those worked for you?

So enough with the doom and gloom, already! What's the alternative?
Luckily, the alternative to maintaining your dreads at home is way easier than root flipping. It doesn't yield such immediate results, but it does work - and it keeps your locks strong and healthy. I highly recommend adding this to your maintenance routine after you've washed and damp palmrolled (with Tightening Gel, if you want to speed up the process.)

Start out by isolating the dread you want to work on. As time goes on you won't have to use clips, but it really helps in the first few months when you've got loose hair everywhere. Trust me on this! Once you've identified your section's boundaries, grab the loose hair and the dreadlock. (If you have long loose hairs, it's a good idea to backcomb it before you move on to the next step.)

I admit, it's tough to describe what's going on in these pics (I promise I'll get video dialed soon!) Once you've got a good grip on the loose hairs and the dread they belong in, start rubbing it into your scalp. Some advice says to rub in a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion, but that's kinda bunk - rub it every which direction! Go crazy! (Try not to hurt yourself, keeners.) Remember, what we're trying to create here is knots. When you've got a good knot starting to form at your root, go ahead and give your dread a good palmroll to the tip. I like adding a very small bit of wax at this point to keep it looking groomed, but that's up to you. The best thing you can do for your dreadlocks is palmroll! palmroll! PALMROLL! If you want a little help, call me at Knotty Boy anytime. I'll get you sorted ;)

Again: this isn't an overnight solution, but I do think it's a better long-term one. There is a lot of info out there and I'm just giving you the best advice I can based on years of creating and maintaining dreadlocks, pro-styles. Day in, day out - dreadlocks is what I do. If you have any questions, feel free to leave it in the comments!


  1. Thank you for the tips!

    My dreads are a few months old and some of them have developed loops in the middle. I thought maybe after palm rolling, palm rolling, palm rolling they would get into the mix, so to speak. They have not.

    I was reading about crocheting the loops. Is it advisable to pull the dread through its own loop? If not what do you recommend?

  2. That's awesome, thank you. I had stumbled across the flipping technique and was so happy to have found something to counter the problems I had last time. Thank you for enlightening me!

  3. I'm guessing this admonition is for those with naturally straight hair? I have threaded my dreads almost from the beginning (chemically started) and have not experienced any of the problems mentioned here. Then again my hair is of the naturally curly sort, afro-curly that is. I thread and palm roll as the condition calls for and I think my dreads look just fine. Best of luck to those to which this article refers! Happy New Year! ~KnottyA

  4. @ Anonymous 4:20: Indeed, afro-textured hair is usually ok with flipping as a maintenance technique, as long as it's done softly and thoroughly palmrolled; though I have seen cases where weak spots have occurred in this hair type as well. If there are tight coils of hair not able to move, you have the potential for breakage. It's definitely more of concern felting-wise for straighter or finer hair. Folks starting out with that hair type have more work to do, and that's just the way it is. Unfortunately, just getting that loose hair hidden won't do the job. I'm sure your dreads are beautiful, and I'm glad you like them! Everyone's dreads are different, and if you love them then they're GREAT!

    @Anonymous 12:30: Have you been palmrolling your dreads when they're damp? That's the BEST time to get them into shape. Try using a little Tightening Gel if you have access, it really helps things knit together. "Crocheting" can mean different things. Some people use that term for flipping, as it can use a large hook. I myself use a crochet hook to create dreads, but a much smaller one. They may be advising you to try that - a tiny little hook can pull hairs from the loop back into the body of the dread. *This is not a substitute for palmrolling!* It's just another weapon in your arsenal. I don't recommend flipping your dread through it's own loop, for all the reasons I mentioned in the post. Try these tips first and see what happens, ok? Lemme know how it goes ;)