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Hair Braiding Basics for Dutch, Fishtail and French Braid Hairstyles

LongLocks Hair Braiding Basics provides step-by-step instructions to teach you how to braid hair into English, Dutch, fishtail (aka herringbone), French (with a cornrow variation) and under braid styles. Braids can be incorporated into formal updos for prom and wedding hairstyles, as well as casual styles for long hair. With little practice you will become an expert at creating beautiful braids on yourself and others by following the simple steps outlined below.
Before you begin you will need to have a few things within arm's reach: a wide-tooth comb (my personal favorite of the many combs I've tried is the Mebco Shower Detangler), a somewhat fine-tooth comb or if creating a fishtail or French braid, a rat tail comb (a comb with a long narrow handle that comes to a point), a soft hair-friendly ponytail holder (you absolutely do not want to use rubberbands... check our award-winning LongLocks Ultimate Guide to Growing Long Hair to find out why), and most importantly, a bit of patience.

If you aren't going for a trendy messy look, your braid can get unintentionally messy fast if it isn't very smooth and tight when you create it. If you want it to last, especially if you plan to sleep on it, you'll need to take precautions to achieve that end before you begin braiding.
Friction will also cause flyaways, and flyaways will ruin your braid, so it's important to make your hair as smooth as possible before you start. The most effective way to do that is to use a good quality smoothing gel. If your hair is fine, fly-away, or more than one length a really good styling cream or a light gel applied before braiding is a must (try the all natural organic hair care products from JustNatural that do a great job of controlling frizzy hair, their Frizz Hair Shea Butter is a fabulous hair smoother that I personally love... and it contains zero silicone!)
La Soif by William Bouguereau, depicting an English braid Many people, especially those with curly or wavy hair, find braiding damp hair will result in a nice smooth, tight braid much easier than braiding dry hair will. Keep a small spray bottle of water close-by so you can redampen your hair if it dries while you work; however, keep in mind that "damp" is the way to go (set the nozzle to "mist") because very wet hair will take an extremely long time to dry once braided.

A really good hair spray applied after braiding is vital for all hair types to help keep stray hairs from coming loose from the finished plait (if you really like the idea of controlling what goes into your hair care products or want to save yourself a pretty penny, check out our free Hair Care Cookbook for natural and organic alternatives to consumer hair products you can make yourself).
If you are doing your own hair and one is available, you will find an adjustable wall-mount mirror to be extremely helpful (like, "why did I ever try to do this without one?" kind of helpful) when set up across from a stationary mirror to enable you to see the back of your head without trying to juggle a handheld mirror, at least one comb, and several strands of hair, especially when attempting French, Dutch or fishtail braids. You will be amazed at just how much easier this can make doing all sorts of hairstyles, and once you get used to the concept of working in reverse with a "mirror within a mirror," you'll never want to be without one again.
Begin every braid by making sure hair is as smooth as possible and entirely free of even the smallest tangles (check out The Ultimate Guide to Removing Knots to learn how to do this safely). Comb it with a wide-tooth comb until the comb moves easily through all the hair, then divide it into small sections and comb it with a finer-tooth comb to be sure all knots have been removed. Even small knots will cause you problems down the road. If you have very long hair, be sure to comb the unbraided hair routinely as you work, including the ends of the sections that have already been braided. Before beginning be sure to remove any rings or bracelets that have prongs or catches that might get caught in hair, and make sure your fingernails are filed smoothly, as snagging can easily undo all your work.

Most importantly, give yourself time to learn. By following the steps below you'll master hair braiding in no time!
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Basic English Braids

This is the most common braid and is quick and easy to create even on yourself.

1. Divide all the hair into three even sections and comb each section smooth.
2. Cross the right hand section over the middle section. The original right hand section is now the middle section.
3. Pull all the sections away from each other to tighten the plait.
4. Cross the left hand section over the middle section. The original left hand section is now the middle section.
5. Tighten the plait again.
6. Continue the process alternating right and left sections over the middle section, tightening each plait as you make it.
7. Secure the end of the braid with a hair-safe ponytail holder.

Tips for English Braids

You can learn the braiding process by using three pieces of string or rope laying flat on a table. Once you understand the concept, it's easy to make the transfer to braiding hair. With practice you will be able to hold all the sections in your hands to increase your speed and ensure uniform plaits.

When you are comfortable with the motions of braiding your own hair, try holding the outside sections between the thumb and index finger of each hand and moving the middle section between the index and middle fingers back and forth between both hands as the outside sections are crossed over it.

Once you've mastered the basic braid, try dividing your hair into three sections along the hairline at the nape of your neck, braiding each individual section, and then braiding all three together for a more complicated look!

Fishtail or Herringbone Braids

This is a stunning two-strand braid and is a great way to learn the concept of French braiding before tackling three strands.

1. Divide a small section of hair where you want the braid to start (usually at the hairline at the front of the head or just behind your bangs if you have them) into two even sections.
2. Comb each section smooth.
3. Cross the left hand section over the right section.
4. Pull the sections away from each other to tighten the plait.
5. Using the pointed end of a rat tail comb, lift a small section of hair on the right by drawing a line against the scalp from the hairline at the face to the braid about a half inch to an inch beneath the first plait, depending on the thickness of your hair and how woven you want it to look (more strands create a more woven appearance).
6. Add the new section of hair to the existing section on the right and then cross it over the left section; tighten the plait.
7. Again using the handle of a rat tail comb, lift a small section of hair on the left by drawing a line against the scalp from the hairline at the face to braid even with the section you just lifted from the right, add this hair to the existing section on the left and then cross it over the right section.
8. Continue the process alternating right and left sections, tightening each plait as you make it, until you reach the hairline at the nape of the neck.
9. Secure the remaining hair with a hair-safe tie or for a much more elegant look, a silk scarf tied as a ponytail holder. You can then let the remaining hair hang free or weave a standard English braid to the ends.

Tips for Fishtail Braids

For a different look, cross the sections of hair under each other instead of over. This method is also known as "underbraiding."

Keeping your hands close to the head will create a tighter braid, holding your hands away from the head will create a looser, more drapey look.

French Braids, Dutch Braids and Cornrows

These are beautiful braids that look much more complicated than they are. They can be done in two styles, the overbraid which creates the classic woven appearance of a French braid, or the Dutch Braid (sometimes called an underbraid or inverted braid) which creates a rope that sits on top of the hair.

The French braid is also the basic method to create African braids or cornrows though on a much smaller (and harder to master) scale. To make cornrows, the hair is parted into narrow sections, divided into tiny strands and worked very close to the scalp. Follow the below method of adding hair to the braid, which is pulled from the edge of each parted section rather than from the hairline.

1. Divide a small section of hair where you want the braid to start (usually at the crown of the head) into three even sections.
2. Comb each section smooth.
3. Cross the right hand section over the middle section. The original right hand section is now the middle section.
4. Pull all the sections away from each other to tighten the plait.
5. Cross the left hand section over the middle section. The original left hand section is now the middle section.
6. Tighten the plait again.
7. Using the pointed end of a rat tail comb, lift a small section of hair on the right by drawing a line against the scalp from the hairline to the middle of the braid about a half inch to an inch beneath the first plait, depending on the thickness of your hair and how woven you want it to look (more strands create a more woven appearance).
8. Add the new section of hair to the existing section on the right and then cross it over the middle section; tighten the plait.
9. Again using the handle of a rat tail comb, lift a small section of hair on the left by drawing a line against the scalp from the hairline to the middle of the braid even with the section you just lifted from the right, add this hair to the existing section on the left and then cross it over the middle section.
10. Continue the process alternating right and left sections over the middle section, tightening each plait as you make it, until you reach the hairline. Secure the end with a hair-safe ponytail holder or continue weaving an English braid to the ends of the hair. This style is gorgeous with the remaining English braid coiled in a chignon and secured with LongLocks HairSticks.

Tips for French Braids

You can create braids to frame your face or make multiple braids in wider rows by sectioning the hair you want the braid to follow and working within the part(s) of each section.

To create a Dutch braid (also known as an under braid), cross the sections of hair under the middle section with each pass instead of crossing over it. Keeping your hands close to the head will create a tighter braid, holding your hands away from the head and allowing a bit of slack in the hair will create a looser, more drapey style. Keep in mind that the tighter the braid the longer it will last. Be careful not too pull it too tight however, as putting constant tension on the hair can actually cause you to lose it!

French and Dutch braids can look stunning with the braid ending at the hairline and remaining hair caught in a ponytail, with the remainder of the hair being braided, or with the remaining hair tucked under the woven sections.

If you leave the hair that begins at your neck loose, try tying a beautiful ribbon or silk scarf at the end of the braid where it meets your neck for an elegant, polished look. If you're wearing a drapey blouse that came with a self-belt, use that as your hair tie for a great way to coordinate your look!
French and Dutch braids are gorgeous when they have small dried flowers, hair-safe pearls or sparkling crystals tucked into the entire length of them.

The braid isn't the only place you can add some flair to your new style, try adding a trendy skinny double headband as a finishing touch, and/or adding lift to the back of your hair before you braid. Try to avoid backcombing your hair to add height, as this causes irreversible damage. A much better idea would be to use an old fashioned "hair rat" if you are lucky enough to find one, or a hair accessory that accomplishes the same thing, such as Bumpits. If you go the Bumpit route however, be very careful not to get it tangled in your hair and be gentle when removing it.
A woman wraps pearls in her hair in this 19th century portrait painted by Daniel Maclise
See the LongLocks HairStyle Gallery for some easy braid hairstyling suggestions, and be sure to check out all the great available books about braiding for detailed instructions for more complicated looks.

Braiding won't be easy the first time you try it but with just a little bit of practice you will quickly become an expert. Soon you will be creating your very own versions of braided hairstyles and elegant updos, and may even gain the confidence to attempt more intricate (and stunning!) advanced braids with even 5-, 6- or 7-strands!

See the LongLocks HairStyles Gallery for illustrations and detailed instructions for using plaits and hair sticks in several different hairstyles. If you'd like even more information, you will find several books about braiding at all levels from beginner to advanced in our curated Hair Styling Library. Don't forget to adorn your finished hairstyle with the one-of-a-kind LongLocks HairSticks design that reflects your own personal style!

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