A couple weeks ago I did a how-to post on one of my favorite braids – pretty side braid into a bun. After, I received several requests from friends for a tutorial on mastering the French braid. I’ve been braiding for so long that I didn’t even think that perhaps we should start from the beginning. As with anything, braiding takes practice, yet once you’ve got it down the possibilities are endless! But first things first, let’s master the French braid, shall we?
step 1: no more braiding to the side
Over the years as I’ve watched friends braid their own hair, I’ve noticed that many actually braid their hair to the side so they can see what they’re doing in the mirror. If this is your method of braiding, the first step in becoming a master French braider, I’m sorry to say, is to stop doing this. Simple, right? Well, you’ll get used to it soon enough! If not, and you usually braid with your hands completely behind your head, then skip to step three.
step 2: master the braid behind your head
Braiding with your hands completely behind your head, rather than to the side, is oddly different. Your hands move differently. Try it. Start with a braid in the back, then move it to the side. You’ll notice you have to adjust your hands. It’s hard to describe, but you’ll know what I mean when you try it. Anyway, the next step is to master braiding your hair behind your head (how-to braid tutorial). That’s it. Just braid. Nothing fancy, no adding hair, just braid.
You can do this while watching TV, before you go to bed each night, while waiting at the doctor’s office…where ever. But you really want to get used to braiding with your arms high in the air, hands behind your head, and no mirror. Do not move on to step three until you are able to do this easily and quickly. And once you do, you’re nearly there!
step 3: begin French braiding
Now, you’re ready to French braid. By definition, a French braid is a braid that begins near the crown of the head, ends near the nape of the neck, and gradually adds hair to each section along the way. In this step, I want you to get used to adding hair to each section. Don’t worry about it being perfect for now, just practice adding hair each time you cross a section of the braid.
The result is simple and clean. You can use a mirror to help you in the front so you know where along the hairline to grab hair from, but eventually you will be able to do this without a mirror. Why? Because your hands become your eyes. As you become more familiar with the braid and your own hair, you’ll be able to feel exactly how and where the hair should go. Practice this step over and over again until you can do it easily. The more you practice, the easier it gets. Don’t move on to the final step until this step becomes second nature. Actually, sleeping in a French braid helps protect the hair from tangles and breakage, so do this before bed each night and within a week or two you’ll be a pro!
step 4: now let’s work on technique!
Yay! You’re now ready to get creative and work on your technique. And now you’re ready for a mirror;)
- hairspray helps
Use it liberally! It adds texture to your hair and makes it much easier to grip. Don’t be shy, spray the heck out of your hair! And then let dry.
- create a youthful look
The smaller the pieces of hair gathered for the braid are, the more cross sections you create, and the tighter the braid. Also, begin the braid close to the crown of the head (i.e. as close to your forehead as possible), together these two techniques create a more youthful look.
- alternate where you gather hair from
You don’t always have to grab loose hair from your hairline. By alternating grabbing hair from further in and then from the hairline, you can control the angle of the braid.
- how to get rid of the end of braid bump
I’ve found it can be quite hard to get rid of the loose hair or bump of hair that forms at the end of the French braid (right where the regular braid begins). No matter how tight I pull the hair to create a cleaner look, it seems to always loosen within a few minutes. See the before picture below.
To get rid of that and make a more secure finish (like the after picture above), follow these steps.
- Once you reach near the end and have only two more sections of hair left to complete the French braid…
- Take one section of hair from underneath and on the opposite side of the braid. In the middle illustration above, I took hair from the right side (instead of the left), crossed it under the center braid and added it to the left side of the center braid.
- Take the final section of hair from underneath and the opposite side of the braid. Again, in the last illustration above, I took hair from the left, crossed it under the center braid, and added it the right side of the center braid.
- These last two sections of hair will come from each opposite side and cross underneath the center braid. This technique is similar to a reverse French braid or Dutch braid (another tutorial for another day).
- Continue braiding.
No more bump!
- braided bangs
A great way to transition from a traditional French braid to the pretty side braid is to practice with a small section of hair on top of your head. Create a part in your hair from whichever side you prefer and take a small section of hair from the hairline, along where your bangs would fall. As a beginner, try pulling the rest of your hair back in a ponytail to separate the sections. It will help you focus on the front and gathering the right loose hair for the braid. Then begin braiding away from your part.
The beauty of this braid is that you only make a few cross sections, meaning the braid is very short. You can do this over and over again until you get it right, and you’ve still only spent about 5 minutes on your hair!
It’s a simple, but delicate hairstyle that looks good for all occasions – date night with your significant other, Sunday brunch with girlfriends, or a family barbecue. Where ever, whenever, it’s so pretty! Oh, and this is also a great hairstyle if you have really short hair and aren’t able to do a full French braid!
Congratulations, you’re now a master French braider! Now, I can’t wait to share with you my other favorite tutorials!