I just want a cool French Braid
February 6, 2017 11:32 PM   Subscribe

I cannot for the life of me, French braid my own hair. I was never taught. I swear I'm not 3 years old. Hope me?

During my rocky childhood many mother-daughter things were skipped. This included the French Braid. I don't know if I even ever had one as a kid. I can regular braid my hair, crochet, do friendship bracelets and knots, and probably French braid someone else's hair.

The thing is I have a short undercut pixie. Almost all the tutorials show really long hair. I want mine to look something like this. (My instagram is in my profile with my current hair.)

What are some good tutorials and tips that aren't just still frames or someone else doing the hair?

My arms tend to get tired, I don't know exactly how to split the hair as I go doing it myself, and that often leads to uneven lumps or a core of hair in the center that I don't know what to do with.

I swear I can adult. I know it will take practice and I've tried and failed. This was just never taught to me.
posted by Crystalinne to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
It's a little trickier with shorter hair, and you'll have to keep it tight and pulled pretty close to your scalp; there's a lot more room for error with longer hair. I learned how to braid hair from a now out-of-print Klutz book when I was about 10, as my mom was braid ill...fingerate? You can do this!

I suggest, in no particular order:

1) rigging some mirrors so you can see the back of your head if at all possible. My childhood bathroom had three mirrors as part of a medicine cabinet that unfolded juuuuust right. In one of my current bathrooms you could open the bathroom door at the right angle to hit the mirror over the sink.

2) practicing on someone else's hair if you can. It's not the same as doing your own, but it will get the right instincts in your hands and brain. I practiced on my sister's dolls, and my sister. This may be especially helpful for figuring out how to keep your hands close to the head and manage the tension of the hair.

3) practicing doing a regular braid in your own hair first with your hands over your head, keeping the hair tight and close to your head. A French braid is exactly the same as this, only you start with a smaller clump of hair and add a small bit of hair from a side before each twist.

4) while you are learning, try it wet, it may stay better if your hair is fine and slippery

5) while you are learning, try it with dirtier hair if your hair is fine and shiny

6) maybe try pigtails as you practice? Your hair looks pretty short; it may just be that you don't have enough for a beginner to learn with but it could help to try two braids to give you more leeway. My hair at its current length will only braid if I part it down the middle, pigtail it up and do one side at a time- it's not long enough for the sides to stay put in one big middle braid.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:07 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I too was never taught. I have literally started learning in the last month.

Just whilst you get used to doing it - try doing a dutch braid, where you pass the hair under rather than over. I was told this is easier to do on yourself and I have found that is the case. Then once you've gotten pretty good at that, try other kinds of braids.

You might struggle to get it just like the photo, just because it's very neat and I think you'd need to have a fair amount of experience to get it that perfect, I would imagine someone did that for her.

Also practicing on dirty (as mentioned above) will mean it wont be slippy which is especially important for short hair. I second trying two braids as well.
posted by TheGarden at 12:19 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm taught myself (because my mother can't even do a normal braid), and here are some hints:

Yes your arms get tired. It gets better with practice (because you'll get faster), so just keep trying it. I often braid my hair in weird ways on weekends, sometimes I end up with a variation that I'm willing to wear outside.

looking into a mirror confuses me, I do better mentally imagining it myself. I'm also better with a dutch braid instead of a french braid (so the braid lies on top of the added hair, instead of the hair being added into the top). Try if maybe that's easier for you, too.

to make it more regular, try parting the hair in the middle, and as you braid down, add from each side as you go down, add the hair at that height on the relevant side.

Alternatively, you can try adding hair only on one side, which will make it look a bit different, and may be a bit easier to coordinate first, as you only have to worry about adding the hair from right next to the twist, and not that you add about the same on either side.
posted by ari_ at 12:21 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I recently also decided to learn to French braid my hair. I practiced along with this video a few times in a row with very sloppy results. Then I practiced it at least once a day for like a month. Now I can do it neatly without looking in a mirror!
posted by moons in june at 1:05 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had an supportive upbringing and long hair my whole life. My mother could French braid my hair, but I never learned how to do it myself, even on another person's hair. I don't think you need to feel bad about not having this particular skill. You could get a crab claw clip for your hair. That way, you can stop and give your arms a break.
posted by soelo at 4:37 AM on February 7, 2017

Nice hairstyle! Now, for some tips ....

1) Wet hair stays in place better and is easier to work in sections. Also, try non-rinse conditioners.
2) Try lying on a bed with your head slightly off the edge. Your arms will not get as fatigued and it changes the way the hair settles once you stand up. Same thing with leaning down or to the side.
3) I'm sure you've seen dozens of videos, but this one shows two things: how to keep the braid close to the scalp, and how to add just an inch of hair at a time, about even with where the braid is laying next to the scalp.
4) Try a three strand / half-French braid by adding just one side, an inch of hair at a time: Left over / Right over (plus extra) / Left over / Right over (plus extra), etc. You'll get about 6 or so sections added, then braid the rest normally.
5) Try doing a braid from back to front. A Dutch braid with the ends tucked under the front edge would be cute. Or style the ends as bangs.

If all else fails, try getting a large doll or a wig and practice, practice, practice.
posted by TrishaU at 5:04 AM on February 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

I taught myself to french braid my hair as a kid. I also found the dutch braid easier at first and later switched to the standard french braid. (As a bonus, I find it really hard to french braid other people's hair.)
posted by mchorn at 6:12 AM on February 7, 2017

Practice, practice, practice! I too started with dutch braids (i did either the "boxer braids" or something that wrapped more around the hairline for a more elfin/twee look, but with that undercut i think down the middle is gonna be your only option.)

Dutch braiding is way easier for me, but I'm starting to get better at french braids. I seriously will be sitting on the couch and just start french or dutch braiding my hair while I'm watching TV. I do it because I get fidgety and bored but it's also good practice. Being on the couch also helps because I can rest my arms on the back of the couch when they get tired. For me, looking in the mirror just confuses me anyway.

Replicating the exact look in that photo is gonna be really hard - the braid is actually loose side-to-side with a lot of body in the pieces as they go up into the braid, but tight/short front to back. There are probably some pins in there. I've seen stylists at my salon doing something similar to clients by doing a loose braid and then sort of working through tightening it upwards. But that seems hard to impossible to do on yourself considering I can't even explain exactly what they did. Generally for braiding my own hair, doing it tighter is easier, but as I've gotten more practice I can go looser without it going all to hell.

Finally, the shorter your hair is the harder it is for sure. I'm growing out my hair and I know part of my progress in braiding is practice but part of it is my hair is just longer.
posted by misskaz at 6:27 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Instructables now has online classes that seem pretty legit. They even have one specifically about braiding your own hair that I, a dude with long hair, have been meaning to enroll in. It's free.
posted by cmoj at 8:50 AM on February 7, 2017

Your example picture looks like a *lot* of length goes into just getting to the braid before it even starts getting secured by being woven in. It was also done by a professional stylist, so don't underestimate the achievement level here, nor the amount of hairspray and pins likely in use!

You have two primary difficulty factors at work here:

1. French braiding short hair is more challenging than french braiding long hair. Every video I've seen saying "how to french braid short hair" has somebody with bob-length hair rather than pixie-length. Some of that can be mitigated by the hair having to cover less of your head before being incorporated into the braid. I have a growing-out bob with an undercut; the top hair is down to my chin at this point, but that's still not long enough for me to do a single French braid on top. I might be able to make 2-3 smaller parallel french braids work, because again, the more hair length goes into the braid rather than having to cross your scalp to get *to* the braid, the stronger the braid is.

But either way, you still need hair long enough to go through at least 2-3 weaves into the braid. If your hair is fine and slippery, it'll escape more easily, and you need it to be longer and woven in more times.

2. Braiding your own hair is more challenging than braiding other peoples' hair. It demands different things of your arm muscles than braiding someone else's hair, and most of the time it's hard to see if you're doing the right thing, even with well-placed mirrors. If part of your challenge is that you don't understand how hair goes from undone to woven French braid regardless of who's doing the braiding, borrow a friend with at least shoulder-length hair and practice on them. After that, try doing just a partial French braid to get your arm muscles used to the motions and tension.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 9:14 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think a heavy-duty texturizer (I use this this Got2B powder) would help you get that kind of volume and address any short/slippery hair stay issues. You can gently pull at the outer layers of the braid pieces once you have it in to add more volume.
posted by moira at 11:16 AM on February 7, 2017

Also, I've done that style with my much longer hair, and using some bobby pins to pull the braid up and forward really helped.

I sympathize about the arm fatigue. I've found various ways to rest my arms depending on location, e.g., I prop my elbows against a shelf or lie down for a little bit while holding my hair (though if you had some good clips, that would probably work, too).
posted by moira at 1:01 PM on February 7, 2017

The hair in your example is at least below the model's ears, jawlength if not chinlength. If you describe your hair as a pixie you probably don't have enough length to work with. For that particular style anyway - but that's not reason not to try french-braiding your hair somehow, just don't get too fixated on that as a metric of success.

I'd start by french-braiding anything that isn't your own hair, just to make sure you've got the principles down. That can be a friend's hair, a doll's hair, the tassel fringe of a rug or scarf, a My Little Pony mane, basically anything that has a bunch of strands of something flexible, which don't all come in one round ponytail bunch. Work on just doing a braid that starts with a small subset of the available strands, and slowly incorporates more and more of them down the braid. Once you've got the general feel of it, move on to making braids in your own hair, but don't focus on doing a particular style, you're just learning to do the braiding by feel with your arms in the air (a challenge!). Start by just making a small braid that you don't worry about where it's going and how much hair is going into it, get the idea of it into your fingers and hands. Then you can work up to having a straight line down the top of your head that incorporates hair in evenly-spaced sections.
posted by aimedwander at 1:03 PM on February 7, 2017

I find that my arms get tired, but I also find that I get pinkie cramps (though I can't swear that it's normal) I use my index and thumb pairs to manage the active piece (of the 3 getting braided) and select the extra hair to weave in. But I'm using each little finger folded up to hold one of hte less-active of the main 3 pieces getting braided, and hold tension on those while I work... thus, pinkie fatigue.
posted by aimedwander at 1:09 PM on February 7, 2017

Thanks so far. I should have clarified that I know I can't get the volume of the photo but that's the only image I could find that even remotely looks like my hair. I don't mind doing a couple small braids or twists on the side. I do have a texturizing powder. And I could possibly convince my husband to practice on him because we're dorks with the same haircut just parted the opposite way.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:56 PM on February 7, 2017

My hair is a bit longer than yours—it's basically an angled bob that is chin length at the longest point, with a very high undercut. I know how to braid hair but have never ever been able to french braid. Your question inspired me to try just now, and it worked! The thing that only just clicked for me was starting with very small strands. My muscle memory from regular braids had me trying to take way too much hair in the beginning. Maybe it's the same for you?

Emily Anderson doesn't have an undercut but has short hair and does styling tutorials that often include braids: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/shorthairtutorialmonday/

And more pics of people with braided mohawks/undercuts
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posted by (Over) Thinking at 6:43 PM on February 7, 2017

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