Project Phoenix: Crocheting Dreadlocks with Jaelen Stodghill of Hair Pollution

Happy New Year, Phoenix! What, you've already broken all your resolutions? Yeah, us too. But we're bouncing back with some inspiration. Whether you've been considering a new hair style or a new kitchen project, we're here to help with Project PHX, our annual "how to" guide. Step into Pane Bianco's kitchen to learn how to pull mozzarella. Or brew beer, crochet dread locks, learn how to build an electric guitar and make a screen print. Five local experts are here to guide you. Today: Crocheting dreadlocks with Jaelen Stodghill.

It's 5 in the evening and most of the stylists at Hair Pollution salon are either cleaning up their stations or finishing up their last clients of the day. But not Jaelen Stodghill. She's just getting started for what could be a late-night affair: dreadlocking hair.

Her client, 16-year-old Karly Sampson has done her research and chose Stodghill specifically. Despite having done it for only about year, dreading has sort of become Stodghill's specialty, being one of only two locations in the salon.

See also: Project Phoenix: How to Roast a Pig, Restore a VW, Distill Bourbon, Farm Organically, and Make a Wedding Dress

"This isn't something they teach you at beauty school," she says as she sets up what looks like a surgical tray full of metallic instruments, sprays, and colorful combs. Stodghill, who has dreads of her own, learned the skill from a former co-worker.

When it comes to dreads, there is no one set method, she says. Dreads are determined by a variety of factors: the skill level of the hair stylist, the quality and texture of the client's hair, and even race and gender.

Stodghill prefers to crochet her dreads but other approaches include interlocking, twisting, and the rub and rip, a process that reportedly is as painful as it sounds.

There also is, of course, neglect, which essentially boils down to abandoning most haircare maintenance until one's messy locks gradually form into something more structured. It's how most people outside the haircare world assume dreadlocks are made -- that and complete disregard for washing one's hair, which, as Stodghill points out, is a major misconception.

"The best dreads are clean dreads," Stodghill says. Dirt, oil, and everything else that accumulates in unwashed hair not only can damage the dreads, but also untangle them.

She adds that those dreads should be, above all, dry.

She recounts a horror story about a client who washed her dreads often but failed to blow-dry them properly. She came into the salon months later with several stages of mold growing on her head. Stodghill had to cut them off for safety reasons.

She shakes her head. "Blow-drying will keep the shape and actually help [the dreads] mature."

Before Stodghill gets to work on Sampson's hair, the stylist consults with her client to make sure Sampson knows what she's in for because, to Stodghill, having dreadlocks isn't just a hairstyle, it's a lifestyle.

"I went through a lot with this," she grabs a handful of dreads from behind her neck. "It's like I'm growing little children on my head."

She prefers to not take on clients who view dreads as a temporary fix. She adds that, even if she would do that, removal is not always successful. The way she does it, "it's a long-term commitment."

As soon as Stodghill is sure that everyone is on the same page, she divides Sampson's hair, clipping the top half of her hair into a large mound on the head, and combing out the bottom half she intends to dread. Sampson wants only half of her head in dreads. One at time, Stodghill separates a section of available hair, teases it with a comb, and then crochets it up and down repeatedly until it become a dread.

Stodghill moves quickly and dexterously. Her movements are so fluid that, from a distance, she appears to be stabbing the back-combed hair into submission. In actuality, however, she's pushing a crochet hook through the dread, wrapping it around to collect loose hairs, and threading those hairs back in. In a matter of minutes, the hair begins to form a sold mass, creating what Stodghill calls "a baby dread."

Haphazard as it may seem, the process of creating dreads is a form of cosmetic architecture. Stodghill points out that a loctician must factor in certain variables, such as sectioning, shape, and girth, in order to avoid, among other things, dread breakage.

It ends up taking only a couple of hours to complete the look Sampson wants: 17 dreads strategically built into the bottom half of her head, giving her the option to either show them off or keep them concealed.

Both client and stylist appear pleased. Now they're both part of what Stodghill calls "the dread community" in Phoenix. "Everyone has their reasons for getting dreads," she says, "but when you see them and they see you, you just have a little respect for each other because they know what you went through."

How to Make Dreadlocks

Section off the hair you wish to use for your dreads, moving any additional hair out of the way with a clip or tie.

Determine the intended size of your dreads and gather your first section of hair from either side of your head.

Tease the selected hair by repeatedly combing the hair backward (upward and toward the skull).

Starting from the root, take a crochet hook to pick through the teased hair, creating knots within the individual strands.

After the entire length of the dread has been knotted, gather any loose hairs with the crochet hook and weave them back into the dread, cleaning up the look of the lock as you work your way down.

Continue steps three through five until you have dreaded the remaining sections of your hair.

Palm the dreads with both hands using a tightening gel such as Knotty Boy's LockSteady Dreadlock Tropical Tightening Gel.

Do not wash hair for a week after your initial dread installation. Once you resume washing your hair, be sure to use a residue-free shampoo and avoid conditioner.

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