Mastering the art of cornrow plaits may initially appear daunting, but it is a testament to their intricate beauty. But like any craft, a clear guide, patience, and practice can lead you to create these beautiful, time-honoured braids from the comfort of your home. You’ve come to the right place if you have contemplated adorning your mane with cornrow plaits.
A Cultural Note
Before we delve into the practicalities, it’s essential to understand the cultural significance of cornrow plaits. Their roots dig deep into African soil, transcending centuries, symbolising identity, and often marking significant life events. As you learn to craft these plaits, you’re not just learning a hairstyling technique but partaking in a rich cultural tradition passed down through generations.
What You’ll Need
A few essential tools can ensure your cornrow journey is a smooth one. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A good-quality comb with both wide-toothed and fine-toothed ends
- Hair moisturiser, preferably a leave-in conditioner or oil
- Small rubber bands to secure the ends of the plaits
- Hair clips to hold sections of hair away while you work
Once you’ve gathered your essentials, you are ready to embark on the cornrow journey.
Step 1: Preparing Your Hair
Begin with clean, detangled hair. Depending on your hair texture, you should straighten your hair slightly to make it more manageable. However, avoid over-straightening; some natural textures will make braiding easier. Next, apply a leave-in conditioner or oil to moisturise your hair, ensuring it’s healthy and manageable. Besides nourishing your hair, your plants will also look smooth and polished.
Step 2: Sectioning Your Hair
Decide how many cornrows you want. Remember, smaller sections will create more, finer cornrows, whereas larger sections will produce fewer, chunkier braids. Use the fine-toothed end of your comb to part your hair into sections. Getting these parts as straight as possible is crucial to ensure each cornrow is neat and even. Use hair clips to hold the sections you’re not working with out of the way.
Step 3: Beginning the Braid
Starting at the forehead, take a small portion of hair from the top of the section you’re working with. Cornrows are formed from this base. Divide this portion into three even strands – Strand A (left), Strand B (middle), and Strand C (right). Hold Strand A between your thumb and index finger of your left hand, Strand B between your thumb and index finger of your right hand, and Strand C between your right hand’s middle and ring fingers.
Now, initiate a regular three-strand braid. Cross Strand C (right strand) over Strand B (middle strand), so the right strand becomes the new middle strand. Then, cross Strand A (left strand) over the new middle strand (originally the right strand). These initial crossovers anchor the cornrow, creating a secure base for the rest of the braiding process. Ensure this part is braided firmly (but not too tight), as a loose start may lead to the cornrow not lying flat on the scalp.
Step 4: Crafting the Cornrow
After making a few crossovers, you’re ready to start creating the cornrow. This involves adding more hair to the braid with each crossover. Each time you cross a strand, pick up a small portion of loose hair from the same section and incorporate it into the strand. This means when you cross Strand A over the middle, you add more hair to Strand A before crossing it over. Do the same when crossing Strand C. Continue adding hair and crossing over until you reach the navel of your neck. The braid should now contain all the loose hair from the section.
Step 5: Finishing the Braid
When there’s no more hair to add from the section, continue braiding the three strands in a regular plait until you reach the end. The braid will naturally detach from the scalp and hang loose at this point. Secure the end with a small band. Ensure the band is tight enough to hold the plait together but not so tight that it causes tension or breakage to the hair.
Step 6: Repeat the Process
Move on to the next section and repeat the process. Continue braiding until your entire head is adorned with beautifully crafted cornrows. You may wish to secure all the ends using weaving thread for a neat finish. The time this process takes will depend on how many cornrows you’re making and how quickly you can braid. But don’t rush – patience is vital in creating neat, even cornrows.
Once your cornrows are in place, maintenance is key. Wrap your hair in a silk scarf at night to prevent frizz and maintain the braids’ neatness. Moisturise your scalp regularly with lightweight oil to prevent dryness, which can lead to breakage. When washing your hair, use a diluted shampoo to gently cleanse your scalp and braids without causing frizz or unravelling. Rinse thoroughly to ensure no product residue is left behind.
Learning to cornrow is a journey that requires patience, practice, and a little arm strength. But the results – a head adorned with beautifully crafted cornrows – are worth it. So take your time, enjoy the process, and remember: every cornrow you craft is a continuation of a rich, cultural tradition, a testament to your skill, and a bold fashion statement rolled into one.
Images: Miyake S23, Kenneth Ize S22. Main image: Victoria Beckham SS23. Launchmetrics.