The long fight between those who are for crocheting dreadlocks and those who are against - who will be the winner? you decide.
There are several questions you’ve got to decide when it comes to starting dreadlocks things such as freeform or backcomb, salon or homemade, to crochet to not crochet, and it’s this question of whether to crochet or not that really gets people.
There are online dreadlock communities, forums and facebook pages, places where people converse about all things dreadlock-related, sharing knowledge and experiences, when it comes to most questions there’s either a straight forward answer e.g - should I wax my dreadlocks - “no”. For other questions you’ll get a balanced response such as whether to go for backcomb or twist & rip - people will usually state which they chose and importantly why they chose it, giving the individual some options… however when it comes to people asking about whether to crochet or not, everything explodes, lines are drawn, people take sides and vicious arguments erupt, with one side claiming that their dreadlocks don’t work without crocheting and the other side that crocheting will destroy the dreadlocks and that they’ll fall clean off of your head.
There is a great degree of bullying when it comes to the topic of crocheting - from both sides. You can find those who crochet criticising the look of those who neglect, while those who neglect may claim a form of “cheating” or corner cutting on the side of the crocheters. I personally find such arguments to be non-productive, especially when most dreadheads spend a great deal of their time arguing for equality and their right to express themselves with their hair in their own way, to then be unaccepting when someone else decides to express themselves with their hair in a slightly different way... well that doesn't seem like it benefits anyone.
As you can imagine, a significant section of my inbox is then devoted to questions on this subject with people asking me to decode these arguments and just get through the arguments and down to the answer to the question that as originally asked.
For those that don’t know, very briefly crocheting involves the use of a crochet hook, which is a long needle with a little hook on one end - this is pushed through a dreadlock, loose hair is “hooked” and then the needle is pulled back through the dreadlock, pulling that loose hair in with it in the process, the loose hair is then deposited inside the body of the dread. In this way loose hairs, loose tips and loops etc can be pretty much instantly pulled into the body of a dreadlock. So whereas most maintenances are slow processes that gradually encourage hairs to lock up, crocheting provides pretty much instant results. Depending on how much crocheting is done to a dreadlock the results can range from subtle tidies, to total sculpts.
The change that occurs from crocheting can vary from temporary to permanent depending on the individual’s dreadlocks, very young loose dreadlocks can loosen back up again if the bodies of the dreadlocks are not yet really strong enough to hold the crocheted hair and the bodies of the dreadlocks themselves may continue to change as they develop, whereas with tougher more mature dreadlocks hairs that are crocheted in can remain crocheted in almost indefinitely - although that’s not to say that other hairs will not fall loose.
The instant and usually fairly permanent changes that occur allow people who are unhappy with certain aspects of the dreadlocks to change those aspects which can be helpful for those whose dreadlocks may potentially go through stages which simply are not acceptable for their current situation or whose dreadlocks form in a way which is simply not in line with the look that they’re after.
Onto the argument surround risks, problems, damage and destruction. There are a few potential problems that you can run into if you crochet dreadlocks, several of them are most likely when working with a lack of experience - such as there is the potential for over tightening which can leave dreadlocks stuffed and stiff and overstuffing dreadlocks in this way can hinder their natural progress a. Another potential problem that can occur when the hook is in inexperienced hands is overworking of the roots. Young dreadlocks will be loose at the roots and it will take time for that area to mature and start locking on it’s own as the hair grows. There is a great temptation to go in a crochet that area, however working on the roots not only risks pulling on the root hairs so tightly that scalp irritation can occur, but if the roots are crocheted up tight they will become unable to continue to develop on their own again until they loosen back up - and often as they’re loosening back up again the temptation to crochet returns and so a cycle may ensue with the roots being maintained over and over instead of them having matured and locked on their own.
Anyway, the main risk and the topic for debate and straight up argument is the risk of breaking hairs and damaging the dreadlocks, anytime you’re introducing friction to the hair - pushing or pulling something through the body of a dreadlock, there is the potential that hairs will get broken in the process. Pushing the needle through may potentially break hairs, pulling the needle back through may potentially break hairs - the pulling on the hooked hairs may potentially break them.
The words which I use when it comes to crocheting are ‘risk’ and ‘potential’, I use these words very deliberately. Risk does not mean that something is certain of happening, risk relates to the likelihood of it happening, the potential for the negative effects to occur. This means that sitting down and crocheting your dreadlocks once does not instantly issue some sort of death sentence, of course it doesn’t (though some will certainly try to paint that picture), but every time you push the hook through and pull it back you are increasing the chance that negative effects will occur and that they will have a noticeable impact.
The potential for damage depends on a few things - the size of the crochet hook, the smaller the hook, the fewer hairs you’ll be able to hook in one go, but the easier it will be to pass it through the dreadlock without damage - if you go in trying to jam something the size of a knitting needle through the dreadlock, you’ll end up punching holes straight away. The number of times the dreadlocks are crocheted will also have an effect, obviously the more the dreadlocks are crocheted, the greater number of times the needle will be passed through the dreadlocks and the more chance there is of seeing negative effects, as once hairs are damaged, they cannot self repair, and so it has the potential to accumulate over time. Another factor is the skill and experience of the person doing the work, now this one is harder to quantify, but someone with experience will be able to choose the right needle and apply it appropriately, not just jabbing and ripping away, and should also help manage the risk of potential damage.
I find that both the temptation to crochet and the risk as a result are at the highest when the dreadlocks are young. Young dreadlocks will be loose, messy, lumpy and bumpy. Having young dreadlocks can be tough and for some people the temptation to crochet can be overwhelming. However while the dreadlocks are young and immature the bodies of the dreads will be loose and so hairs that are crocheted in will not necessarily hold up as well, and lumps and loops may continue to keep forming as the dreadlocks have not yet locked. This can be a really dangerous combination when someone picks up a crochet hook for themselves trying to constantly “fix” the dreadlocks. There really is a huge scope when it comes to crocheting, from people with dreadlocks that they’ve allowed to mature who get tips blunted or loose hair tidied by a professional a handful of times per year… to people with brand new dreadlocks crocheting by themselves every day - and I’m sure you can see where the greatest risk of damage resides.
My personal view is that I look at crocheting hair in the same way as I look at bleaching hair - when you’re bleaching hair you’re aware of the risks, you know that bleaching can damage the hair, the potential for damage depends on the product that you’re using and the skills and experience that you or the person doing the work has - and the risk for damage increases the more times you bleach the hair. However bleaching hair produces results that can only be achieved through bleaching - you can sit in the sun for a whole summer and you’re still not going to get bleached blonde hair - and so you have to weigh up the risk of hair damage against the reward of bleached blonde hair. I look at crocheting in the same way, the results are unique, and there are certain looks that can only be achieved through the use of a crochet hook - these are looks that some people aspire to, and some people don’t - some people love the natural, neglected look, some people want the smoother, uniform, crocheted look. Following the path for one will not provide you with the results of the other. You can go full freeform neglect for 2 or 5 or 10 years, but if you want them to have a look that can only be achieved by crocheting, then you could be waiting forever. If you want your dreadlocks to look that way, like with bleaching you have to weigh up the risk of damaging the hair against the reward of achieving that appearance. It’s your hair, you should be able to make it look the way that you want - you’re growing the hair for you and you’re the one wearing it - but at the same time, you’re responsible for the long term outcome, and you’re the one that has to live with the results for better or for worse.
I think each person has to decide for themselves whether crocheting is correct for them - I think each individual needs to be presented with the risks and the benefits, they should be in a position to weigh them up for themselves and then decide what they think will be best for them and their hair in the long term. I think the problem a lot of the time is that a lot of people seem to be dead-set for or against crocheting depending on how they maintain their own hair and then when someone asks for advice they get a straight one-sided answer rather than being put in a position to decide for themselves. What’s right for one person who wants one type of results and who is in one type of situation is not necessarily going to be right for another person who may want totally different results. Maintaining via crochet is not going to give natural looking dreadlocks… but at the same time going total freeform is not going to give neat, even, crocheted looking dreadlocks… you have to decide which way you want to go.
I will say that I understand why people are so strongly opinionated as on the one side the potential for damage is real and permanent and can manifest itself very quickly - I’ve come across people who’ve gone into crocheting blind of the risks and ended up hacking their hair to pieces. I’ve met people who wanted natural looking dreadlocks but didn’t want to wait for them to mature and didn’t realise how permanent the crocheting results can be. I’ve had messages from people who’ve had sections of dreadlocks weaken, thin or break off from over crochet use with very little they could do to reverse the process - and I’ve also come across people who’ve tried to brush out their dreadlocks after long term crochet use to find that the hair left behind was incredibly broken and damaged… however on the other side it is completely undeniable that there are thousands of people out there living happily with dreadlocks maintained via crochet - dreadlocks that are either maintained this way because it’s required for their situation, be it job or school - or simply because that’s how they want their hair to look. Countless people will go their entire dreadlocks journeys without ever experiencing the potential negative effects.
I think it’s pretty common knowledge that I don’t personally recommend crocheting dreadlocks. If you’ve messaged me and asked whether I would recommend crocheting or how often to crochet etc, my personal advice will have been to hold out and let the dreadlocks develop more on their own - But if someone has weighed up the risks and decided that crocheting is right for them then I don’t try to put them down or to stop them. The reason that I don’t recommend crocheting is that I have a responsibility for the advice that I give - I feel responsible for the results that come from the advice I give and while many people will get away without noticing negative effects from crocheting, some won’t be so lucky - and you can never be 100% certain which side you’ll be on - everyone thinks they’re the one who’s doing it the right way… right up until the moment they notice something’s wrong. I wouldn’t feel comfortable being responsible for those people in those situations. So if someone has weighed up the risks and rewards and decided it’s for them, then I think they should be able to do as they feel best for them, but the responsibility will also be their own - and I hope my position on this is an understandable one.
Ok so hopefully that helped demystify the situation surrounding crocheting dreadlocks. When it comes to a permanent decision like crocheting, no one should decide for you. Don’t allow yourself to get pushed one way or the other before you’ve been able to decide for yourself. Do the research, you can never do too much research - explore the longterm risks, explore the longterm results - and remember they are longterm. When in doubt, wait. Don’t rush into such permanent decisions if you’re unsure - dreadlocks can’t be un-crocheted again later if you change your mind - but if you give them more time while you decide, the dreadlocks will continue to develop on their own, reducing the amount of work you would need to do should you later decide. The longer you wait, the more mature the dreadlocks become on their own, the less crocheting you’d need to do - or be able to do, the more likely it would be for the results to hold and the less overall crocheting you’d need to do anyway - which would make it less risky.