1st Attempt at Rag Curls

I’ve been thinking more about curling my hair this past week, as the rain seems to have abated in Chicago, for a bit at least.  I love the look of my sponge curls, but they are really uncomfortable for me to sleep on.  I’ve been on the hunt for a pain-free way to curl my hair when I started thinking about rag curls.

Pin curls are the easiest and most comfortable to sleep on but I’ve attempted pin curls once and the result was *blegh* looking, not to mention the curls lasted for all of 20 minutes.  I’m sure it was a user-error on my part, but I’m not jumping to try them again anytime soon.

Doing a quick search online led me to the following tutorials for rag curls:

I find that no one tutorial is the best and I take important information from each to do my own hair.

I cut around 16 strips or so of some basic cotton fabric from my scrap pile with the dimensions of 1.5″ wide by 6″ or 7″ long.

If you have the strips too long it looks more of a mess on your head and may be tricky to find which ends belong to each curl/knot.  But if you cut the strips too short, it’s hard to tie them up as needed.  I found 7″ in length was good enough for me.

I spritzed each section of my hair with setting lotion (lottabody watered down, as needed) and did one curl.  Then I spray another section of hair, and curl that.  I can’t spray my whole head at the same time since by the time I do one side of my head, the other would be dry again.  I’m just that slow…  So I only spray each curl by curl, as I go along.

Methodology of a Rag Curl:

You can use your finger, a pencil, or whatever ‘tool’ you have handy to curl your hair around.  You curl your hair around ‘tool’ and around the fabric strip at the same time, and then tie it once you’re done curling the piece of hair.  Essentially you’re making curls of hair without a foam roller in the middle.

Naturally, I found some long knitting needles to try out as ‘tools’ for curling my hair.  I had three different sizes and finishes of knitting needles and settled on using my jumbo US 35’s (15mm) of wooden needles for the bulk of my hair.  It seemed the most similar size to the foam curlers I had been using, so I thought the curls would be the same in the end.

For the short hair at the nape of my neck, I switched to a much smaller diameter of knitting needle (US size 13’s aka 9.0mm) so that the ends would stay tied in and I could get a few rotations of the tool to create the curl.

Surprisingly, it was easiest for me to curl the back of my head and tie a knot than it was to do the front of my head.  (This is the opposite of sponge curlers… where it’s harder for me to do the back vs. the front).  At a few points, I walked into the office to ask Felix to tie a knot for me since the sides were tricky to knot myself.

The first time trying anything new with my hair takes me F-O-R-E-V-E-R.  It took me around an hour to do this rag curl set.  But I’m a total newbie to doing my own hair, so don’t let this put you off from trying it yourself.  Next time, I’m sure it will take me less time as I’ve gotten a better hang of it.


I will say that sleeping in rag curls was a bit better than sponge rollers.  But I still woke up at several times throughout the night to get comfortable.  For me, I can only find 1 or 2 ‘less pain filled’ positions in which to sleep in with sponge rollers.  Whereas with the rag curls, I could sleep the way I normally do with less pain, but it was still like sleeping on tiny knots of fabric.

After sleeping :

I tied all of the  curls pretty tight, and only tied a single knot, instead of a full square knot (tying the knot twice).  I only tied a full knot on two curls that were at the base of my neck since those were the shortest and most likely to fall out.  But after sleeping, none of my curls came loose.

I brushed out each curl individually when I removed the rag, and this is what it looked like:

At this point, I noticed that the curls didn’t seem quite as tight and sproingy as when I use the sponge curlers… But I proceeded as I normally do with brushing my hair out.

After running the brush through a few times yields this lovely sight:

My hair looks like it could be that of an evil Disney character, no?!

But don’t fear!  Continued brushing fixes most of this.  :)

This came with much more brushing.  But I found that it was still a bit too full than my normal, sponge curl set so I tacked some pieces back on either side with bobby pins.

What I’ll do different next time:

My rag curls weren’t as precise and tame-able as the sponge curler set usually is.  I’m going to try and curl/style them a bit differently next time.

In order to sleep better, I’m going to use a smaller tool and start the curls lower down on my head.  This will get me a relatively flat crown but with tighter curls at the bottom of my hair.  I’m thinking that moving the curls further down will help me have a flatter head-surface to sleep on more comfortably.  :)  Doing this will make my curls look a bit more 30’s than 50’s.

But again, the rag curls were still better to sleep in than sponge curlers.

As to the styling, I think I’ll brush less and try to finger pick through my hair instead.  Since the rag curls wern’t as tight as the sponge ones, I’m thinking that a good finger picking through the curls may yield different & better results.

I tried to brush and style like I do with the 50’s style sponge curl that I do, and I don’t think I can do the same styling with a different curling method such as these rag curls.

While I’m pleased with my first attempt, I have a bit of refining to do in order to sleep better and style my hair a bit nicer.

Have any of you gals tried rag curls before?  Thoughts?  Tips?  Or do you have thoughts on an alternate curling method (no heat sets please) that would let me get better sleep?  :)

In: Hair & Beauty

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Comments (23)

  1. llynnda May 9, 2013 — 7:50 AM

    I love your rag curls. I had forgotten, or didn’t know about using the knitting needle. My Mom used to tie me up at night and I have on occasion “knotted” my daughters hair. What fun to see something from long ago!

    Thanks, Llynnda

    1. Liz May 9, 2013 — 11:54 AM

      Hey Llynnda! I tried using a pencil as that’s what a lot of people seem to use, but mine was so slippery and short to handle, a knitting needle seemed like the best alternative. :)

  2. A more fluffy and less firm pillow might help out some. I’ve noticed that when I’m traveling, curling my hair becomes more painful and I think it’s because of crappy hotel pillows. I tend to do mostly pin curls with bobby pins.

    You might also need more product to help your curls stay in, especially if it is going to be raining or humid. I have three different products that I mix and match for setting my hair-a setting lotion, a curl scrunching gel, and an anti-humidity paste. Plus I have a good anti-humidity hair spray to set the finished look after the brush out.

    And it does take a bit of practice to get the curl set and brush out down so keep working on it. I’ve only recently started not rolling my curls all the way up as high as they will go and it’s much more comfortable plus it’s much faster to brush out.

    Happy hair styling! :)

    1. Liz May 9, 2013 — 11:53 AM

      Thanks so much Stephanie! I do have a firm pillow and probably should buy a soft one for when I have curls in my hair. :)

      I generally don’t have a problem with my curls staying when I use lottabody with sponge curls. But I hear you… I should be open to trying new products for different types of curls. :)

  3. lauria May 9, 2013 — 9:24 AM

    I’ve used rag curls before, but I’ve never curled around a tool. My fabric is some jersey cotton and it’s cut fairly wide, which gives it a good amount of bulk for the curls to curl around. Since it’s curling directly around the cotton, I’m not worried about squishing the curls and will sometimes sleep in a wig cap (like a nylon stocking for your head. It usually goes over pincurls and under a wig to provide a smooth surface for the wig to lie on) because I’m such a mobile sleeper. I’ll remove it in the am and may need to blow dry my hair a little, since the nylon doesn’t release the moisture as quickly. (Long hair, slow to dry.)

    One thing I’ve found is that you need to be really careful about where you’re curling your hair on the fabric. If I’m not paying attention I might travel up down the fabric a little, and that will drastically affect how my curls behave once my hair is down. Traveling up the fabric means that my hair will want to move up, too, rather than down in ringlets.

    It’s been awhile since I did rag curls! My hair is so long right now it would be pointless. But I’m getting it cut soon, so maybe it will be time to experiment!

    1. Liz May 9, 2013 — 11:51 AM

      Thanks so much Lauria for your curling tips. As you probably saw, I’ve only used the thin cotton gingham to curl with. Perhaps switching to a cotton jersey would be a better choice as it’s thicker and spongier than my gingham.

  4. OMG, you look just like Amy March in Little Women! Too adorable. Even your “Disney villain” photo is charming!

  5. Lauren May 9, 2013 — 9:54 AM

    Well, the finished result turned out SUPER cute, omg! I do find rag curls tricky, though. When they’re good… they’re real good. They last for dayssss and as they relax, they look better and better. But when they’re bad… they’re horrible and too poofy and I end up flat ironing my hair :\ I never thought about using a tool to roll then, though, what a great idea!

    Right now I’m experimenting with these little sponge rollers from China – http://www.ebay.com/itm/251210909851?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1439.l2649. They’re easy to roll up, although you do have to stick a pin in them to keep them from unrolling in your sleep. A tiny bit more comfortable than other rollers because they’re so soft. AND THEY LOOK LIKE STRAWBERRIES :) I do find that they give me more body than curl, though. My hair refuses to curl with the humidity, so it’s not really an issue right now.

    1. Liz May 9, 2013 — 11:46 AM

      They are sooo cute!! I’d love to see what your hair curls up like with these, since I think we have similar lengths of hair. :)

  6. Ultimately, these are ADORABLE! You look really, really cute with curls.

  7. That looks lovely. The one thing people don’t realise is to KEEP brushing past the alarming frizz stage. Though I love my short hair, I do miss being able to do pin curls, victory rolls etc. Keep it up, you look lovely.

  8. paisley apron May 9, 2013 — 11:46 AM

    Wowee, such a success on your first try! I love the Disney villain picture. I remember the first time I did my hair up in rags and brushed it out, that happened to me, but there was no one to tell me to keep brushing (it was 1993), so ended up rewashing my hair. After that, I just finger combed them.

    Do you use a sleep cap when your hair is rolled? I find a tighter satin sleep cap holds my sponge or rag rollers in place and makes it more comfortable to sleep on. It also keeps your curls in place on the second or third night and you wouldn’t have to re-roll them. I second the idea to use a squishy pillow to support your neck and to yield to the rolls better.

    I prefer sponge over rags any day because if I roll them right on the back of my head, they are soft and I can still lie on my side, but not on rollers. Whatever you do, don’t use the sponge rollers that have a wire in them and are covered with satin…they poke you in the head all night.

    Have you looked into using a bonnet hair dryer? That would be an excellent alternative to sleeping on rollers and you could knit while your hair dries.

    1. Liz May 9, 2013 — 11:49 AM

      Yeah, I remember when I was little my mom curled our hair every Sunday for church. But being in the 80’s she always left our hair quite fuzzy, as that was the style. I always look back and think… if she only brushed it a bit more it would look so much better.

      My pillow is quite on the firm side, so I do think a new ‘curler’ pillow is in order. May make sleeping in the sponge curls more bearable as well.

      I’ve never heard of a bonnet hair drier. I’ll have to look into that. :)

      Thanks so much for all your helpful thoughts.

    2. Liz May 9, 2013 — 11:58 AM

      Okay, I just looked at the bonnet hair drier. I’m not sure I’m that committed to non-sleeping curls yet.

      To be perfectly frank: I feel like I’m already at the edge of looking like an old lady around the house in my curlers/rag curls. For fear of having my husband being never attracted to me again…. I think I’ll hold off on the bonnet hair drier for now. heh

  9. Kelly May 9, 2013 — 12:06 PM

    Well, I think you look super cute! I have no advice having only tried pin curls a couple times, unsuccessfully, but it’s really interesting to read everyone’s responses!

  10. I remember rag curls from when I was a kid! Your curls end up tighter than the sponge curlers because you are wrapping around a smaller area. You may want to try fabric curlers. These are like soft versions of your sponge curlers, so they are more comfortable to sleep on. But they are thicker than the rag curls, so you have the larger curl. There is some info on craftster, including a link to a tutorial:

  11. Rachel May 9, 2013 — 2:45 PM

    Mum used to do my hair in rag curlers- but she did it differently. I need to get her to show me how ;)
    As far as comfort… the ONLY one I found comfortable to sleep in, was pin curls with bobby pins! Rag curls hurt. Pillow rollers hurt (I made my own, that was kind of cool ;)). Sponge rollers are uncomfy. Bendy rollers (the kind that look like hot sticks but are for wet sets) are uncomfy.
    I figure if I got into the habit of doing it daily, I’d get used to it ;)

  12. Kat May 9, 2013 — 7:53 PM

    Every time I’ve tried to curl my hair it all goes to he’ll when I get to the brushing out part. My hair just seems to go frizzy but not curly at all. Yours looks amazing! Is there something I am probably doing wrong? Also what sort of brush do you use to brush your curls out? I’m determined to figure out how to curl my hair properly.

    1. Merry May 9, 2013 — 9:36 PM

      Using a wire round brush after the initial brushing out tidies up the curls quite a bit.

    2. Brush your hair against your other hand to help keep the frizz down.

  13. Merry May 9, 2013 — 9:35 PM

    I normally use pillow rollers when I set my hair. I find that it is the best of both worlds- it gives me a great set, comparable to good pin curls, are easy to put into my hair, don’t put a kink in the curl (like sponge rollers), and are pretty easy to sleep in (because they’re just a bunch of foam).

  14. Meli May 10, 2013 — 8:43 AM

    I did rag curls for my first communion in second grade. They came out really tight, so my mom insisted on brushing them out..and she got the brush stuck in my head. I haven’t attempted rag curls since then, I’m too scared!

  15. gidget September 16, 2016 — 12:03 AM

    I know this is and old post but for anyone who lands here I have a tip. If you like the look of the sponge roller but the comfort of the rag rollers, simply remove the the plastic clasp and insert a 1 inch x 12inch strip of fabric(rag) through the center whole of the sponge. Roll hair as you normally do, then tie to keep in place.

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