How to Braid Cornrows
 The long version...
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Here you will find full instructions on how to braid cornrows including answers to common questions that come up.  This page is graphics rich and has a bit of text so please give it time to load.  It'll be worth it :)

Okay here are the basic instructions, with some additional notes.  After this, there are illustrations with hand positioning tips.
The first step in cornrowing is NOT parting.  It is planning

First, you must think about what kind of style you want to do.  If it helps, draw a picture or make notes.

Once you've thought about it, then you make your parts as you go along, not all at once in the beginning.

When you make your first part, bear in mind that this is going to be the guideline of the rest of the style.  Some people like to start on the left, and some on the right.

If you're doing the "sunray" pattern or another style that is dependent on interesting curves or angles, you might even want to start in the center of the head.

Either way, make your first section, and then move the other hair out of the way with a rubber band or hair clip.

To start a cornrow, first take a small bit of hair from the beginning of the row, and braid it for one or two stitches.

This is important to reduce the chance of too much tension (pulling).  A thicker row may only require one "stitch" (braid cycle), but a narrower one may require two, especially if you're working with straight hair.

It's common for braiders to pull harder on straighter hair, but this is not necessary.  If the braid won't hold from normal braiding, use hair wax or a flex gel.

Now bring this braid back towards you.

You should pick up a little hair right under where you started, and add this to the middle strand.  What you're about to do to accomplish this is called an "underhand" movement.  This is where you reach from under, and pull gently up and outwards.

To do this, the outer strands may need to be held in the crook of your pinky fingers, and your index and thumb will be holding the middle strand.

You will temporarily release that middle strand while you grab more hair, and then add it.  Then you have the middle strand plus the added hair.

Smooth this into one strand and bring it outwards and make it the outer strand.

Then again, reaching under, you will grab the new middle strand with the other hand while picking up more hair.

If it helps, you can make this two steps.  Switch the outer to the middle, get situated, and then add more hair to the new middle strand.

In time though, this will become automatic.  You've just got to practice.

Some people find this and other instructions somewhat confusing.  So now we'll go step by step with the hand positions that are commonly used:
 
Hand Position 1
Hand Position 2
Hand Position 3
Hand Position 4
Hand Position 5
From here, it's just a matter of a cycle...Reach under and pull up, reach under and pull up, reach under, and so on...

Hand positioning is crucial to a good turnout.  Different methods and positions work for different people but remember that your objective is to get the hair that will be added to the middle strand (or rather the strand that is going to be in the middle) from under your other hand.

Some add hair to the outside strands, but be warned that for many people, this is confusing. It resembles French braiding too closely, and those who are used to French braiding may get mixed up.
 

Common Problems and Solutions:

The Salon Chair

Most cornrowing in this world is not done in salon chairs.  They are done in stable normal diningroom chairs, on park benches, and most commonly with the person sitting between the stylist's knees or laying on their lap.

Why?

Because it is nearly impossible to braid comfortably for long periods of time standing up with your arms raised away from your body.  Some people can do it...some male stylists prefer the salon chair because it is most comfortable for them, but most people do it the old fashioned way.

You can replicate the time honored ways in a salon environment and still look out for client comfort and sanitation.  An easy way is by setting up a stool and chair and rigging it so it won't slide around, or purchasing an African head rest so that the client isn't actually laying on your lap.  Get a high one that will fit between your legs with the headrest part just higher than your thighs.  Put a towel over your lap and the headrest.

Fatigue

Even if you choose a good braiding position and your arms are comfortably on or near your body, you will still get tired after awhile.  When you're tired, you may make mistakes such as using too much tension (tightness) that can cost your client their hair and alot of pain.

Ideally, you should break every half hour for about 5 minutes, and every hour for at least 15 minutes.  If you're doing extremely fine tedious work such as microbraids or mini rows, then take an hour break every 3 to 4 hours as well.

Have food, water, and coffee nearby for yourself and for your client.  If you're in a salon where you can't bring food into the styling area, then offer them something during the breaks.

Tension

Braid tension is one of the most common causes of hair damage and loss due to cornrowing.  It defeats the whole purpose of having a natural hairstyle if the style ruins the hair.  This is why being rested and in a good position is so important.

Do not try too hard to pull the hair into position.  Natural hair is going to have a little frizziness, and this is okay.  It is best to resolve this with good hair care rather than more tension.  Use the dexterity of your hands, not the force of your arms.

If you are working with straight hair, or hair that is too frizzy, a good product to use for holding is hair wax.  It gives great hold without the stiffness of gels.



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Other useful free instructions:
The Super Duper Long Version
Free Caring for African Hair Tutorial
How to Put Beads on Braids
How to Make Dreadlock Beads
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