Teach me how to braid, please.
February 5, 2012 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Please teach me how to braid my own hair. Yes, just a simple, three-strand braid.

I have looked at dozens of websites and YouTube channels, even bought a DVD, but I'm still failing in some really basic ways.

I completely understand the mechanics of the braid itself - i.e., what strands go where, but I cannot, for the life of me, understand the fingering, at least not in a reproducible way. I can braid someone else's hair just fine.

Instructional videos seem to skip over some really important things related to how the fingers shuffle between pieces without getting all tangled up. They're often way too fast for me to keep up, or the magic parts get obscured by hair or parts of the hands.

I get that there are different techniques, but in almost all of the more advanced videos there are clearly some really fast, really fool-proof hand techniques for simple braiding; techniques that don't involve strands hanging out alone at risk of being dropped or mixed up.

Of course, people posting these advanced videos never have one devoted to simple braiding.

Can you point me to some super-slow-motion videos of simple braiding, maybe with multi-colored strings instead of actual hair, but still using hands?

I've been at this for months, and I'm really starting to feel like an idiot.
posted by odinsdream to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (66 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just for clarification: is the problem that your hands are behind your head? Or are you trying to braid hair you can see in front of a mirror? Have you tried using two mirrors so you can see the back?
posted by pupstocks at 6:23 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can braid my hair and tried to write it out but damn. You're not an idiot, it's like trying to explain how to swim, or how to learn how to swim from reading a book.

Do you know anyone who can braid their own hair? Can you watch them?

Have you just practiced the physical movement a few times? I think that's what makes the difference.
posted by bunderful at 6:33 PM on February 5, 2012


close your eyes when you do it.
posted by elle.jeezy at 6:34 PM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't know if word can help, but this is what I do with my fingers.

Three strands of hair A B C

Hold strand A (one edge) in your left (or right, but for clarity, I'll name hands) fist. Hold strand C (other edge) with your right fist. Grab strand B (middle strand) with the middle finger of your left hand so that you have a fist holding C, with B under the middle finger, but over all the others.

You have AB | C

With the middle finger of your right hand, reach under strand B to grab strand A and pull it under B so you're now holding it B and C your right hand just like you were holding A and B in your left.

Release strand B with your left hand and smooth it out, then grab it again in your left fist.

You now have B | AC

Reach under A with the middle finger of your left hand to grab C. Release and smooth out A, then regrasp in the fist of your right hand.

Repeat until you run out of hair :)
posted by platypus of the universe at 6:37 PM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I second closing your eyes. The second piece of advice is just to keep trying it. Close your eyes and braid your friends' hair. Then do the same with yours. Do it in front of a mirror, watching tv, and when it's not a critical look you're trying to achieve.

I seriously can't imagine even beginning to write down the specifics...
posted by Kronur at 6:38 PM on February 5, 2012


Since you can braid someone else's hair, try dividing your hair in two and branding each piece. I think that's a little easier than one braid, since you can swing in around your shoulder and your hands aren't behind your head.

Also: practice on your friends a lot. The better you are at braiding their hair, the easier it will be to braid your own.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:41 PM on February 5, 2012


How long is your hair? I find it really easy to pull my hair all to one side and braid it that way. Do NOT use a mirror. You will only get more confused with the fingers.

So: take all of your hair (if it's long enough) to the left side of your head. Brush it, and split it into three pieces. Hold the far left piece between your thumb and forefinger. The far right piece should be between the thumb and forefinger of your right hand. The middle section should be between your right middle finger and forefinger. If you are left handed, it might be easier to start with the middle section in your left hand. I'll assume you're a righty.

When you are ready to start, twist your right hand around (in front of the hair, thumb nail should be facing outward in the same direction that your face does), and grab the piece of hair from between your right forefinger and thumb with your left middle finger. Now you should have two sections in your left hand: the same outside piece between your thumb and forefinger, and a NEW piece between your forefinger and middle fingers. You should have one piece in your right hand. Now, turn your left hand (again, hand should be turned so that your thumb is facing the same direction your face does) and grab the top piece from your left hand with you right middle finger.

Repeat this until you have nearly reached the bottom of your hair. Tie with a ponytail.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:43 PM on February 5, 2012


Stop watching other people do it and work on your muscle memory. That's how I got good with french braiding. Practice.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:48 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stop watching other people do it and work on your muscle memory. That's how I got good with french braiding. Practice.

Yeah, this. When I wanted to learn to do a fishtail braid (which people much better about explaining btw), I eventually I had to stop watching and looking in the mirror and just practice practice practice.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:51 PM on February 5, 2012


Thank you all for the advice so far! My hair is a fair bit past my shoulders.

While I really do appreciate everyone's comments, please understand that things like "close your eyes" and "work on muscle memory" are skipping way, way ahead from where I am. I want to make this super clear because it's really where all the frustration behind this question comes from. I cannot understand getting from one stage of the braid to the next without either picking up a piece of hair I didn't mean to, or dropping hair I didn't mean to drop. Really, really basic stuff here.
posted by odinsdream at 6:57 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a fumbly dork who couldn't really braid her hair for a long time. You'll probably get better advice, but my number 1 advice: practice a lot while your hair is wet. The dampness will keep the strands together, which makes it easier to hold when you're trying to figure out what the hell to do with the sections your trying to plait together.
posted by vivid postcard at 7:01 PM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


You have to work with the gaps between your fingers. Always consider your hands as dealing with the outer two strands. As you're twisting the outer strand over or under, you pass the middle strand to a gap between your fingers instead of the one between thumb and forefinger. Readjust into a pinch as you work the other side. You're basically passing the middle strand back and forth.

Does this make sense? It's awfully hard to explain in writing, but I really don't feel like watching videos will help either.

You do need to work on muscle memory by braiding non-hair items more.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:02 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


One thing you might try (especially on wet hair, as suggested above) is to only ever worry about the left and right strands - always drop the middle. Start out passing right over middle, which then puts right in the middle, so you drop it and pick up the new right. Then pass left over middle, which you then drop and pick up the new left. As you get used to thinking about it this way, you'll end up not dropping the middle entirely, but your brain will allow your fingers to recognize this pattern. Again, only worry about the left and right strands, picking up the "new" left and right each time.
posted by judith at 7:05 PM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I learned all sorts of braiding techniques from the Klutz book about braids. It explains how to hold your hands and where your fingers go very well. I recommend it wholeheartedly. It even showed me how to French braid my hair without finger cramps.
posted by jeather at 7:07 PM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think girls learn this growing up by doing it over and over until they pick up the finger configuration that works best for them. It's not like little girls all watch instructional videos. Practice a lot on friends and practice on yourself on the hair at the side of your head. It's probably a little more difficult to try to start off by braiding your hair at the back of your head but I think I probably learned the "muscle memory" by braiding the hair at the side of my head over and over. Even if you just do little clumps. Also, sounds dumb, but I practiced a LOT of my braiding when I was growing up on Barbies and other dolls with long hair, so that may be something that you can use to practice over and over. I remember braiding anything I could when I was growing up - doll hair, horse manes, strings...whatever had at least three strands. It's really just repetition until your hands "memorize" the movements.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:14 PM on February 5, 2012


Are you trying to do a french braid (top photo here)? Or just pull hair into a ponytail-type thing and braid the ponytail (sort of like this photo, with or without the top elastic)?
posted by AlisonM at 7:21 PM on February 5, 2012


I just checked, and I don't ever hold the middle strand while braiding my hair. As soon as a strand becomes the middle, I drop it.

JUST PRACTICE. I learned to braid my hair in my teens, and I learned by just doing it again and again until the braids weren't bad anymore. Start out with pigtail braids, so you can see what you're doing but your hands still get the practice. Since you can already braid someone else's hair, this should not be beyond you.

If you are trying to do a French braid, the same applies. You just have to keep doing it until it turns out OK. I think just fumbling through it is the best way to learn this stuff.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:25 PM on February 5, 2012


Are you trying to do a french braid...

No. Just a plain, simple, three-strand braid.

JUST PRACTICE. I learned to braid my hair in my teens, and I learned by just doing it again and again until the braids weren't bad anymore. Start out with pigtail braids, so you can see what you're doing but your hands still get the practice. Since you can already braid someone else's hair, this should not be beyond you.

I don't know how much clearer I can be: I'm not just making bad-looking braids. I cannot manage even the simplest of movements to achieve a single PIECE OF a braid.
posted by odinsdream at 7:43 PM on February 5, 2012


Okay here is your hand: thumb, SPACE A, index finger, SPACE B, middle finger, SPACE C, ring finger, SPACE D pinky. Think in terms of the spaces.

Start out with the hair on the left side of your head in your left hand.
Split it into 3. One part in Right C, one in Right B, one in Right A.
Take Right 3, put it in Left 2.
Take Right 2, put it in Left 1.
Put Right 1 in Left 3.

Now take Left 2, put in Right 1.
Move Left 3 to Right 2.
Move Left 1 to Right 3.

That's one braided segment. Keep repeating until braid is the length you want it to be.

This way, no space is ever responsible for more than one part of hair. Hopefully the notation isn't too confusing - I sat and braided my hair and typed this out for you.
posted by estlin at 7:54 PM on February 5, 2012


ack, sorry, thumb, SPACE 1, index, SPACE 2, middle, SPACE 3, ring, space 4 (which you don't need!), and pinky. I knew I wouldn't be able to post that without screwing it up.
posted by estlin at 8:00 PM on February 5, 2012


Ok, so you can braid, though, right? You're able to braid your friends' hair, correct? Get three pieces of yarn/string/whatever and knot them together at the top. Braid it as if it were your friend's hair. watch what your fingers are doing. How do you hold the strands? If you've got one strand per hand, what are you doing with the extra one? Keep braiding and unbraiding your practice string until it's something you can do without even looking at what you're doing. Translating this to your own hair is a little trickier because when it's your hair you're braiding, it's all backwards from your practice string. Hopefully because you practiced, some muscle memory will kick in and you'll be able to braid your own hair.
Eventually.
I spent most of my pre & early teen years at slumber parties and I still couldn't braid my own hair until I was well into my 20's.
posted by dogmom at 8:00 PM on February 5, 2012


The first first time anyone explained it to me they put it like this: you have three pieces of hair, you just need to put one side piece (either left or right, doesn't matter) over the middle piece, alternating sides.

So.....hold three pieces of hair. Put the left piece over the middle (the left side is now the new middle piece). Now put the right piece over the middle piece - the right piece now becomes the new middle piece. Repeat.

As you're going, you have to rearrange your fingers to hold the three pieces of hair in a way that is comfortable to you. Good luck.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:05 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok, this is going to be difficult to describe, but when I braid my own hair, my hands are positioned completely differently to when I braid someone elses. Because I'm reaching over my head, my wrists (and elbows) are higher than my hands, instead of being lower when I'm braiding someone elses hair.

To practice this, I would get three ribbons, and holding my elbows and wrists above my hands, practise braiding them in front of myself. Then I would tie the ribbons somewhere behind my head and practise. Then I would try my own hair.

Also, two mirrors so you can see what you're doing behind your head.

I braid from one hand to the other: pick up the middle strand from below between thumb and index, closest strand between index and middle and then the furthest between middle and ring. Then drop the new middle strand and pick it up from below between the thumb and index of the first hand.
posted by kjs4 at 8:07 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Carrying it a bit further.....to do a french braid, you do the same thing but you pick up a piece of outside hair (i.e. hair outside of the three pieces you're holding) and add it to your right or left piece every time you move that piece over the middle piece.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:09 PM on February 5, 2012


The second half of this video is very detailed and slows down the tricky bits. There's also written instructions.
posted by kjs4 at 8:12 PM on February 5, 2012


Ignore my written instructions, as they aren't quite right.
posted by kjs4 at 8:14 PM on February 5, 2012


hold one segment of hair (A) behind your head with your left hand, one with your right (C), and the middle segment (B) hangs down below. I make a ring with my thumb and middle finger, with the hair going through the ring.

-With your left hand (still holding on to the clump A), reach over middle segment B and hook onto clump C with your pointer finger. I grab it just above where my right hand is already holding it. Your left hand is now holding both clump A with the thumb, and clump C with the pointer finger.
-Release clump C from your right hand.
-Right hand scoops clump B up and brings it over to the right side from underneath the other segments.
-Left hand releases clump C from the pointer finger, and lets it fall into the middle.

-With your right hand (still holding onto clump B), reach over middle segment C and hook onto clump A with your right pointer finger, just above where your left hand is holding on. Now your right hand is holding both clump B with the thumb and clump A with the pointer finger
-Release clump A from your left hand, and grab middle clump C from below and bring it over to the left
-Right hand releases clump A from pointer finger and lets it fall to the middle.

(and repeat)
posted by twoporedomain at 8:18 PM on February 5, 2012


Okay, here is how my finger configuration works when I braid my hair. I am doing this on the left side of my head.

Three pieces of hair, I hold the right piece and the left piece in the crook between my thumb and first (index) finger (of right and left hands, respectively). Middle piece hangs there.

Reach over (with either hand, I will use the right) and grab the middle piece between my index finger and middle finger and pull it back over the right piece I am already holding with that same hand. Turn the wrist a bit (to make your palm face outward) so that the piece that used to be on the side is now in the middle but DON'T LET GO OF THE PIECES.

Now, with the left hand, reach over with your middle finger and hook the NEW middle piece and pull it back over the piece your left hand is holding. Again, turn the palm so it is facing out. Your right hand can let go of that piece as your left hand takes it. Your left hand now holds two pieces.

When your right hand has let go of that piece, move the one strand your right hand is holding into the crook of your thumb and index finger. Reach over with the middle finger of your right hand to grab the new middle piece in your left hand, which will be the one that is resting in the crook of your thumb and index finger.

Keep repeating that. Use your middle finger to take the strand that is resting in the crook between the thumb and index finger on each turn. As soon as you have one strand in a hand, move that strand to the crook and then use the middle finger from that same hand to steal a strand back from the crook of the other hand.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:29 PM on February 5, 2012


Can you explain why you can braid someone else's hair but not your own? If it's because you can't see what you're doing, is your hair long enough to bring around over your shoulder and do it while looking in a mirror? If it's too short for that, what about a smaller chunk from the front while looking in a mirror?
posted by moxiedoll at 8:33 PM on February 5, 2012


I completely understand the mechanics of the braid itself - i.e., what strands go where, but I cannot, for the life of me, understand the fingering, at least not in a reproducible way. I can braid someone else's hair just fine.

Don't beanplate the fingering. Here's my suggestion: get three strands of rope or strips of rag (old shirt, sheet, towel, whatever) and fasten them all together at one end (an overhand knot will work) so you have something to practice with. First, braid the practice strands as you already know how to do. You probably do this with your thumbs on top. Then, with the practice strands still in front you of, turn your hands so the thumbs are on the bottom, as they would be naturally reaching behind your head. Learn to braid the practice strands with your hands turned this way. This technique should transfer to braiding your own hair.
posted by exogenous at 8:38 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know if my description is going to be any more helpful than everybody else's, but here goes.

Look: braiding. It involves three strands. You have two hands, so that gives you two options for holding the strands: hold in left hand, or hold in right hand. You also have a third option, which is to hold the strand in neither hand, but let it drop down limp.

If you are having a lot of trouble with braiding your own hair, I think the easiest way to get started might be to correlate left hand / right hand / no hand with the three strands of the braid. This will result in a looser and messier braid at first, but you may need to get this down pat before you hold more than one strand per hand.

So reach behind your head and divide your hair into three strands. Bring the left strand in front of your left shoulder, the right strand in front of your right shoulder, and let the middle strand fall straight down your back.

Now grasp the left strand in your left hand and the right strand in your right hand.

Now grasp the left strand between your left forefinger and middle finger. Swing it behind your back without losing your grip. Still holding the left strand between forefinger and middle finger, use your thumb to rake the middle strand to the left, under the left strand and over your left shoulder. Now drop the original left strand that you've been holding between the fingers of your left hand; let it fall limp down your back. Use your left hand now to scrape up and grasp the former middle strand. The original middle strand has become the left strand and the original left strand has become the middle strand.

Now grasp the right strand between your right forefinger and middle finger. Swing it behind your back without losing your grip. Still holding the right strand between forefinger and middle finger, use your thumb to rake the middle strand to the right, under the right strand and over your right shoulder. Now drop the original right strand that you've been holding between the fingers of your right hand; let it fall limp down your back. Use your right hand now to scrape up and grasp the former middle strand. Former middle strand (originally the left strand) has become the right strand and the original right strand has become the middle strand.

Repeat this pattern from left to right as you build the braid. Basically: grasp on the left, move it over to the middle, drop it while picking up the former middle strand. Grasp on the right, move it over to the middle, drop it while picking up the former middle strand. Grasp on the left, move it over to the middle, drop it while picking up the former middle strand. Grasp on the right, move it over to the middle, drop it while picking up the former middle strand.

The tricky part is keeping the strands separate as you manipulate them. I recommend gripping the "working" strands between your first two fingers while using your thumb to move the adjacent strand out of the way.
posted by Orinda at 8:50 PM on February 5, 2012


I think I braid my hair behind my head the same way triggerfinger does to the side. This is going to sound insane but I'll try anyway:

I start by getting my hair into three parts - I grab the hunk on my right (A) in a loop made by touching my right index and middle fingertips to my right thumbtip, I grab the hunk on the left (B) the same way with my left, and I leave the middle bit hanging.

To get a grip on the middle hunk (C) and start braiding, I pinch the right hair hunk A with my right ring and little finger, shove the left hunk B into the vacated right fingers, and then use my left index and thumb to smooth down and grab the middle piece C. That sets me up to start the braid. I use my left middle finger to grab A and cross it over B (which is now hanging in the middle) and then I use my right middle finger to grab C and cross it over A. And then I just keep doing that, alternating the rightmost and leftmost strands.

The more I think about it the more likely it is I'm braiding upside down? I mean, relative to braiding someone else's hair? It's not the same motion as braiding in front of me. But I think the finished product comes out the same.
posted by gingerest at 9:00 PM on February 5, 2012


I really think you need tutoring from an actual person. I can't imagine written descriptions doing this justice.
posted by amtho at 9:07 PM on February 5, 2012


Practice with rope. Clothesline is dirt cheap and probably the right thickness. Take a video of yourself and play it back in slow motion to see where you're going astray.
posted by desjardins at 9:08 PM on February 5, 2012


Assuming you're going for a single braid in the back, after your hair is well brushed, grab one chunk of hair in each hand. Leave the middle chunk hanging loose. Just use your thumbs to separate the chunks. While you're learning, the three chunks may not be the same size and your braid may go wonky, but with practice, you'll get the hang of getting three pretty equal parts.

Before you start to braid, practice a few times passing the two outer chunks back and forth between your hands. Hold one piece between each first finger and thumb, and transfer one chunk to the other hand - between whichever other fingers feel comfortable. Ignore the middle piece - just leave it hanging in between. Keep doing this over and over again until you get the hang of holding two separate chunks in one hand without getting tangled or dropping strands and passing one chunk at a time to the other hand. I hold my hair differently at different times and it really doesn't matter - whatever works for your hands.

Once you figure out the best way for you to hold two chunks separately in one hand, all you do is add a second piece to one hand, scoop up the middle piece with the other hand, and let go of the second piece you just added. Then repeat, adding the second piece to the other hand. You may have to use whatever finger is free to push the loose middle piece down out of the way.

Left hand holds piece A, Piece B hangs free in the middle, and right hand holds piece C

Add piece C to left hand. Pick up piece B in right hand, drop piece C to the middle.

Now, left hand holds piece A, piece C hangs free, and right hand holds piece B

Add piece A to right hand. Pick up piece C with left hand. Drop piece B to middle.

Repeat.
posted by Dojie at 9:10 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The description I just posted, where you let the non-working strand of hair fall without gripping it, only works if your hair is fairly long. It also, as I mentioned, results in a very loose braid. What I actually (used to) do—and would happily demonstrate in a video if I still had long enough hair—is grasp all three strands at once.

You have at least five grips per hand (thumb-forefinger, forefinger-middle, middle-ring, ring-pinkie, and anyfinger-palm). That's ten different grips, which is more than enough for handling three strands. Rather than focus on the exact mechanics of the "fingering," and how to grip which strand, you might catch on easier by focusing on the objective, which is always to cross the outside strand over the middle strand. So:

1. Hold two strands in one hand and one strand in the other hand.

2. Stop and think about the two-strand hand. Which is the "outside" strand?

3. Twist the two-strand hand however you need to in order to pass the "outside" strand over the other strand.

4. Twist the one-strand hand however you need to in order to receive the passing-over strand into an empty grip.

5. STOP. Pause. Rest.

6. OPTIONAL: if you wish, you can let go of the strand now in the one-strand hand. Then pick it up again with a more comfortable grip.

7. You are now at step #1 again.

8. Return to step #2. Then go to step 3, step 4, etc.

Go slowly and give yourself lots of time to think about which is the outside strand and how to pass it over. Rest between each pass-over, letting the one-strand hand let go and flop down so the blood flows back into it.
posted by Orinda at 9:13 PM on February 5, 2012


I think you have a couple of problems that are most likely combining to make things difficult. You need to work on them one by one.

1. One is the fingerwork. The positions for your hands behind your head are totally different from the positions when you braid someone else's hair.

2. Another problem is that hair has lots of strands, and as soon as you can't see it, it's really hard not to get them tangled, or to pick up bits of hair you don't want to.

3. Mirrors might also be causing problems with perspective or depth perception, exacerbating everything.

You can work on 1 without 2 and 3 causing problems by, as someone else suggested, tying three pieces of yarn or rope or ribbon to something above your head, standing in front of it, and reaching behind to experiment. Try to visualise what is going on while you braid. You know what SHOULD be happening in a braid, since you can do other people's hair. It might be easier if you can use three pieces of ribbon/yarn with different textures so you can keep track of them. Then you can think of it, for example, as just weaving the thick one in and out of the others.

You can work on 2 without 1 and 3 getting in the way by practicing braiding friends' hair or dolls' hair with your eyes shut. This will let you get better at not picking up the wrong bits of hair, without the funny hand position complicating it.

And as for 3, try not to use mirrors. I swear they just make things harder!
posted by lollusc at 9:16 PM on February 5, 2012


I can braid someone else's hair just fine

Can you? Get someone to film your hands while you're braiding someone else's hair and then watch the video a trazillionteen times in slow motion.

I'm the opposite. I find it much much harder to braid someone else's hair but I can braid my own with ease. Want to come over? You can braid my hair and then I'll.....um. Nevermind.
posted by iconomy at 9:18 PM on February 5, 2012


Oh, and problems caused by picking up too much or too little hair compound as the braid gets longer. So maybe make it a goal at first to just be able to do the first couple of crosses of a braid. Then tie it off and look at it in the mirror to see if it's okay. Don't try to braid your whole hair all the way down to start off with. Or tie it into a ponytail, pull the hairband out until it is half way down the length of hair, and just try to braid the second half of the ponytail.

Also, one more complicating factor is that when you get half way through a long braid, you probably need to change hand position because you get to the point where your hands would be way behind your shoulders and down your back if you don't pull the hair round to the front. That change of position is really hard. Don't try and master it until you are comfortable with braiding the first bit of your hair, and braiding the end of a loose ponytail as I described above.
posted by lollusc at 9:20 PM on February 5, 2012


Maybe this will sound dumb, but you could try practicing making a braid with thin rope/thick ribbon that is actually attached to your head. So, for example, tie the three strands or rope to a headband and let them fall down the back of your hair. Reach back and just practice the motions of making the braid with the ribbon/rope/whatever- no hair yet! After you master that, try grabbing hair along with the rope to provide to stability to what you're working with. Part of the problem I have and the reason I rarely braid my hair is that my hair is so thick and cut in layers- it seems impossibly slippery. And it feels awkward to hold my arms up that way which makes me less patient!
posted by Mouse Army at 9:21 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The trick is that you hold the two outer sections between your middle and ring fingers (sandwiched between the knuckles) and then pick up the middle strand with the tips of your middle and pointer fingers. So each time you pick up the middle strand between the pointer and middle, then you swing the one... crap. It's seriously impossible to explain.

If you haven't figured it out by morning, I'll make a video of it for you when the light in here is better.
posted by looli at 9:46 PM on February 5, 2012


Jesus, pointer/index finger and THUMB. Braiding without opposable digits would clearly be impossible.
posted by looli at 9:53 PM on February 5, 2012


OK, I just tried to make you a video (despite having barely-brushing-the-shoulder hair at the moment) and it didn't come out well, mainly because I spent at least two thirds of the time passing strands of hair from hand to hand and getting a comfortable grip without actually BRAIDING.

This makes me think that maybe what you need to do is to start out NOT BRAIDING, just practicing handling your hair behind your head and keeping two or three strands separate while passing them from hand to hand.

Reach behind your head and divide your hair into two strands. Can you pass the strands back and forth from hand to hand so that sometimes you hold them in separate hands, sometimes you hold them in the same hand, and sometimes you hold one while letting the other drop? Can you do this hand-to-hand stuff without mixing up the strands? Practice this until you feel comfortable with it.

Then reach behind your head and divide your hair into three strands. Practice passing one strand at a time from hand to hand without trying to make a braid. Can you figure out what you need to do with your fingers in order to keep the strands from getting mixed up? Can you figure out techniques for keeping the strands separate from each other while passing them from side to side? Can you figure out how to "merge" hair from a thicker strand into a thinner strand in order to get the sizes even without dropping all three strands and starting over? Practice this until you feel comfortable with it.

THEN move on to manipulating the strands into a braid.
posted by Orinda at 9:58 PM on February 5, 2012


I helped my daughter learn to braid her own hair by brushing it smoothly back, dividing it into three equal sections, and then wrapping a hair fastener (aka a covered rubber band) around the base of each section low at the base of the neck. That way, you have three low ponytails to work with, and each section stays securely put together while you braid.

Then she just practiced and practiced until she got the muscle sense of flipping the strands around to make a braid. At first, we snipped out the cheap bands after securing the end of the braid, but eventually she got confident enough with the fingering to do it without the bands. Thank Maude one of her school friends taught her how to french braid!

Sorry I can't figure out how to describe the flipping about bits, but I hoped the ponytailing might help a little. Good luck!
posted by aisle9nine at 11:06 PM on February 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Do you have a haircut that's just a bit too short, so strands fall out before you can really get going on a braid? (This could be true even if your hair is below chin length.) If so, try using just a small patch in the front middle of your head. A smaller braid will mean the strands are less likely to fall out of the braid. A smaller braid (using less hair) is much easier to control with your fingers too.

Do you have hair that's too thick to all fit into one braid? (if so, try using a very small section for practice)
Too slippery to be contained? (try getting it wet or a bit greasy/sticky with product)

Do you have a hard time holding your arms up in the right position to get your hands to the back of your head? (I know someone who's perfectly fit, but his shoulders don't have a full range of motion so it's hard for him to braid his hair because he can't reach it very well.) The mechanics of reaching behind your head and doing complex motor tasks there are nontrivial.


Which step is giving you trouble?:
1. Gather all the hair into a single batch and smooth it out.
2. Separate the hair into 3 sections.
3. Re-shuffle the hair as needed to make the 3 sections roughly even sizes.
3. Hold the 3 sections separately in your fingers. (two in one hand, one in the other: AB/C)
4. Make the first move of the braid, transferring the first two sections. (Going from AB/C to AC/B)
5. Make the second move of the braid, transferring the second two sections (Going from AC/B to CA/B)
6. later in the process, where?


Not sure if this is one you've looked at: Here's a braid tutorial showing a braid on a very small section of hair. It's reasonably easy to see what her fingers are doing in this one because the braid is so skinny. Skip ahead to about 1:30.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:13 PM on February 5, 2012


get a friend who can braid to stand behind you and guide your hands and fingers through the correct motions.
posted by daisystomper at 12:51 AM on February 6, 2012


Okay, I'll try...

left hand = L
right hand = R
1,2,3, = thumb, index, middle

Divide hair into three strands.
Hold one strand in right fist, one strand in left fist, middle strand hanging loose.
Hold fists close to head with pinkies closest to scalp and thumbs farthest away, fingers wrapped over the strands, knuckles pointing up.
Splay fingers open and up, keeping strands held between L1,2 and R1,2. Stay close to head at first.
Then,
1) Cross R1,2 over top of loose middle (M) and grasp between L2,3.
2) R hand is now free, use it to grab M in your fist from underneath. This becomes the new R1,2.
3) Drop L2,3 to M position.
4) Cross L1,2 over top of M and grasp between R2,3.
5) L hand is now free, use it to grab M with your fist from underneath. This becomes the new L1,2.
6) Drop R2,3 to M position.

Repeat 1 through 6 while moving hands down your back as length of braid dictates. If your hair is long enough, you may be able to pull it over your shoulder and finish it up front-ways.

Voila! Braid! Yes? (if not, tell me where you're tripping up and I'll try to explain in more detail)

As others have said, don't look in the mirror, it will only mess you up. Go by feel and rhythm.
posted by lunaazul at 1:27 AM on February 6, 2012


This is all too complicated. I would get a clipboard. Take three pieces of fat cord, knot one end of each, and clip to the board. Make a braid, watching your own hands. Close your eyes, and make the braid again. Repeat.

Now make a ponytail on your own head. (A pony will be easier to braid.) Split the pony in three. Close your eyes. Invert your hands, and do what you did on the board.

Braiding your own hair is braiding someone else's with your hands upside down.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:56 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


All right, I'll try my hand at this. Here's how I do it:

- Divide your hair into three pieces. Hold one piece in your left hand, and two in your right. In your right hand, hold the far right piece next to your palm, like you would if you were making a fist, and use your first one or two fingers to hold the middle piece. In your left hand, hold the one piece fist-style, like the far right piece in your right hand.
- Using the first one or two fingers (and thumb if needed) of left hand, grab the far right piece from the fist part of your right hand, and bring it over so it's now the middle piece. Hold it in those first two fingers. Keep the left piece in your first. Don't drop any hair.
- Now you have the mirror image of what you had before: two pieces of hair in your left hand and one in your right.
- Do the same motion with the right hand: grab the far left piece of hair out of your left fist, cross it over, and hold on to it with the first few fingers of your right hand.
- Repeat these motions, alternating sides. Grab, cross, grab, cross.

If that doesn't gel (and it probably won't; written instructions for physical motions rarely do), I nth practicing braiding other people's hair with your thumbs facing down instead of up. The motions are the same.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:41 AM on February 6, 2012


If your hair is long enough, you can practice using a small strand of hair from the front.
posted by yarly at 5:55 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wrap an elastic (best of all: one of those hairbands with a heavy bead, so it's heavy) about halfway down each of the three separate pieces/skeins of your hair. This way you don't have to worry about the skeins falling apart if you let go of them. The heavy bead will hold the skein down if your hair isn't quite long enough to hang down on its own.

Then, with these three skeins are lying on your back in A B C position, pull A over your left shoulder, and C over your right. B gets to lie down the center of your back.

STEP ONE: Now, tell yourself: you've just got to lift A (draped over your left breast) back over your shoulder and OVER B. B goes UNDER A and over your left shoulder, to hang out atop your left breast for a while.

Do that.

Now reset your brain. What do you have? Three skeins of hair, one over your left shoulder, one down the center of your back, one over your right shoulder. We call them:

A B C

STEP TWO: Pull C over your right shoulder, and OVER B. B ducks under, jumps over your shoulder, gets to lie down atop your right breast.

Now reset your brain. What do you have? Three skeins of hair, one over your left shoulder, one down the center of your back, one over your right shoulder. We call them:

A B C.

Return to step one! Repeat steps one and two until your hair is completely braided.
posted by artemisia at 6:37 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can do this easily. No sweat. But man, learning this from reading? I don't think I could do this from any of these directions (not that they aren't fabulous; I'm sure they are. It just doesn't seem possible!).

Do you know anyone who can do this? At all? Why don't you ask them to demonstrate and then stop them every time they do something unclear? Like, "whoa stop what did you just do there?"
posted by AmandaA at 6:51 AM on February 6, 2012


I'm trying to picture the bits that would be easy about braiding someone else's hair and hard about braiding your own. And I do think that it's partly visual and partly mechanical. Here's a way that I think you could ease into doing your own hair.

Get a bit of rope, as people are saying. Tape it to a wall front of you. Braid it. Keep doing that (and every one of these other steps) until you feel really comfortable at it.
Then, braid it in front of you with your eyes closed.
Then, tape it higher, so that you're doing the same thing but with your arms in the air, while they're still facing in front of you.
Then, attach it to the top of a door and stand directly under it, so that your hands are directly over your head.
Then, take a step forward so that your hand are above and slightly behind your head.
Then, attach it to your head with a clip, so that your hands are arranged EXACTLY as they would be for braiding, but instead you're using nice friendly unslippery rope.

I think if you slowly change the orientation at which you do the braiding, and aren't dependent on looking at it, you'll do okay.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:18 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Counterintuitive: I learned to braid my own hair by starting with a french braid. It made the whole thing easier because you deal with less hair while its actually happening, I think.

I am not going to even begin to try to describe french braiding with words, though. But you might have some luck trying that if you know how, or if you can see a video maybe?
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:01 AM on February 6, 2012


I wonder if you could try aisle9nine's trick, but put the rubberbands near the bottom of each section of hair? Like braiding with training wheels? Once you get to the bottom, remove the 3 bands and secure the single braid with one of them.
posted by peep at 9:32 AM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Leave mirror, leave instructions, leave video. Close eyes and braid.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:55 AM on February 6, 2012


Ok, here's my attempt:

Chunk of hair "Left" in left fist. Chunk of hair "Middle" hanging down. Chunk of hair "Right" in right fist. Your pinkies should be against your head for fist orientation.

1. Point your index fingers out.

2. Wrap your right index finger around Left. Let go of Left with your left hand.

3. Grab Middle with your left hand and yank it to your left. This is the New Left.

4. Let go of the Old Left (that you were holding with your index finger). This is now New Middle.

(summary of 1-4: Left and Middle have changed places. Right has done nothing.)

5. Point your index fingers out.

6. Wrap your left index finger around Right. Let go of Right with your right hand.

7. Grab New Middle with your right hand and yank it to your right. This is the New Right.

8. Let go of Old Right (that you were holding with your index finger). This is New Middle.

(summary of 5-8: Right and Middle have changed places. Left has done nothing.)

Drop all the "New" and "Old" monikers and repeat 1-8.
posted by Lucinda at 10:07 AM on February 6, 2012


I don't know how much clearer I can be: I'm not just making bad-looking braids. I cannot manage even the simplest of movements to achieve a single PIECE OF a braid.

I don't braid my hair the same way as when I'm doing to someone else's hair how I grip their hair vs mine is completely different. I'm not sure this will help, because I think you'd be better off having someone watch your try to braid your hair and guide you when you go wrong, but this is how I do it;

Make a fist leaving your index finger free, leaving it free to say redrum or whatever, this is how I grab the strands of hair. You may need more than the index finger depending on how thick your hair is, but the idea is to turn each hand into two tools (gripper and hook) at once. My thumbs, btw, are pointing towards the ground.

Grab the left strand in the left hand, right strand in the right hand making sure your index fingers are free to act as hooks. The middle strand doesn't get touched initially.

Pass the hair in your left hand over the back of your head and grab it with the index finger of your right hand. You should now have the right strand gripped by your right fist and the hair that is in your left hand held by the right index finger. Your can now let go of the hair held by your left hand.

Your left hand now grabs that middle strand that wasn't touched in the first step. With the left index finger, grab the hair being held by the fist of your right hand avoiding the hair held by your right index finger. You can now let go with your right hand.

Rinse and repeat shifting hands.

The trick is that the hair that's held by the middle/ring/pinkie fingers and palm is always being grabbed by the index finger of the opposing hand and the hair that is being held by the index finger will become the new middle strand when you form the next section of the plait. You don't have to worry about what's what just what section of hair to grab.

If I have time later today I'll make a video of me braiding my hair to explain.
posted by squeak at 10:17 AM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


squeak, it looks like you and I do it exactly the same way!
posted by Lucinda at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2012


odinsdream, if you can't even get started at all, I do wonder if the problem is something more basic like your hair is:
- too short
- too slippery
- too thick to fit into one braid easily
- too thin to handle well at the back of the head.
etc.

I would try making a very skinny braid using 3 sections each the width of a pencil, just from one little area, and see if you have better luck.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:27 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still not clear on what angle/portion of your hair you're working with. Are you trying to make a braid down your back in the same way a low ponytail would hang? Pigtails? A single braid made from a chunk of hair on the side or front?
posted by radioamy at 1:11 PM on February 6, 2012


Right, so for the first time ever I paid attention to how I braid my own hair. What it comes down to is that I always hold a strand of hair down with both my right and left hands - with the last three fingers of each hand.

1/ I pull my hair together at the nape of my neck.
2/ I try to pull about a third of the mass of hair away on the right hand side with my right index finger and thumb. Once it is sectioned off I just reach over with my other fingers and hold this section folded in between the palm of my hand and my middle finger to pinky.
3/ The hair still rests between thumb and index finger as well but as the others fingers are holding it down you can now still use the thumb and index finger to help split the rest of your hair.
4/ So still holding on to the first section on the right with your three last fingers on your right hand and having pulled the remaining hair apart with your left hand and the index finger and thumb or your right hand you now have three strands.
5/ Let go of the middle section. It can just rest on the back of your neck. Both the left and right sections also still rest between the left and right thumbs/index fingers but are not held by these.
6/ Pass your left hand, with its strand, over the top of the middle strand and grip them with my right thumb and index finger. The right strand is still securely tucked under my remaining right fingers. So even though you now hold two strands in your right hand you have three fingers between them, keeping them apart.
7/ With my now empty left hand I grip the middle strand of hair from under my right hand, that is the strand that was just resting on the back of my neck and I simply pull it to the left and tuck it in between the three last fingers of my left hand. So I am now holding a strand of hair in my left hand and two in my right, separated by the three fingers of my right hand.
8/ Now I have my left thumb and index finger free and I reach for the strand of hair tucked under my right last three fingers in my right hand and pull it out of my fingers, out of the back of my right hand and then over it and across the middle strand.
9/ Now you're holding two strands of hair in your left hand, again the three left most fingers are holding one and the index finger and thumb are holding the other. The strand in between your index finger and thumb is the one you have just pulled out and over your right hand.
10/ Now you can tuck the remaining strand in your right hand under your three right most fingers. Your index finger and thumb on your right hand are again free.
11/ Using the right index finger and thumb you can now again pull the strand tucked under your left last three fingers out from these fingers and pull them over the other strand. You're now again holding two strands of hair in your right hand, kept apart by the three fingers that keep one strand tucked into your hand whilst the other one rests between index finger and thumb.

You then just keep repeating the process using the free index finger and thumb to pull out the strand held by the three fingers on the other hand. You always pull the strands held by the three fingers out from the back of your hand, i.e. if you hold your hand out in front of you that would be the side of the pinky.

Repeat as long as your hair allows you to. Voila - braid.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:29 PM on February 6, 2012


I'm pretty sure when I learned to braid my own hair, it was by starting with a braid on either side of my face where I could see it in the mirror. Switching to the back was a function of muscle memory eventually. since you already know how to braid other peoples' hair, this is how I would start. You've got to get to the point where you can braid by feel, without letting go of any of the strands. Then practice on the back of your head.

squeak pretty much describes my method, though I never completely let go of anything, just transfer from hand to hand. I pull the sections very tight when I grasp them with the index finger during the change over.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:56 PM on February 6, 2012


Ta-fuckin'-da!

I kinda lost it at the ends there, but yay!
posted by odinsdream at 8:16 PM on February 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


That's great! So what was the key to your breakthrough?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:10 PM on February 6, 2012


I followed squeak and koahiatamadl's instructions and didn't use mirrors, as suggested earlier. I definitely appreciate everyone's advice above and will be going back through and trying the other techniques described and hopefully something will stick out as juuuust right.

Thanks everyone!
posted by odinsdream at 5:40 AM on February 7, 2012


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