DIY Cloth Hair Rollers
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
Creating your own cloth hair rollers is a great way to get beautiful, no-fuss curls without the heat, while also putting an old t-shirt, pillowcase, or leftover sewing fabric to use. In this post, we'll cover How to Make Cloth Rag Rollers and How to Rag Roll Your Hair.
A few years ago I made a conscious decision to stop making self-deprecating comments about my appearance. After overcoming a severe eating disorder, becoming a mother, and experiencing completely unmedicated childbirth I finally realized the following:
My body is pretty awesome
All women’s bodies are pretty awesome.
Downplaying your awesomeness because of some weird societal pressure to bring yourself down is NOT awesome.
And so, don’t mistake my assertion that I have crazy hair to mean that I am engaging in any sort of false humility, or that I in any way shape, or form dislike my hair. On the contrary, I love my hair! However, I am also well aware of the challenges in managing hair that is long, thick, more-than-wavy, less-than-curly, and generally capricious. I used to keep it in check by sporting a pixie cut, but I just don’t have time to get to the salon for the type of dedication and maintenance a pixie requires. Instead, I’ve learned it’s best to go about 4-months between cuts, wash with shampoo no more than twice a week, and avoid applying heat to my hair at all costs. I also stopped color treating my hair several years ago. My hair is so much healthier and less dried out, I definitely haven’t regretted the decision.
Most days I throw my hair in a ponytail or a braid and things look pretty good, but sometimes, I miss really DOING my hair. You know what I mean: “Pre-motherhood, big-date-night, I have all the time in the world to do my hair, ” hair.
I’ve accepted it will be a long time before I have that sort of spare time (or motivation). When I get the urge, I use rags to roll my hair into big, glamorous curls. I discovered this trick when I entered a local broadway singing competition and I decided to perform as Christine from Phantom Of the Opera, and rag rolls achieved the look perfectly!
Rag rolling is gentle on your hair because it requires no heat, there are no metal or plastic clips which helps to reduce breakage, and (perhaps best of all) making your own reusable rag rollers is a great way to repurpose an old, worn-out t-shirt or leftover sewing fabric, which helps to reduce waste.
How to Make Cloth Rag Rollers
To make your own rag rollers you will need:
Enough fabric to cut out 8-12 rollers that are approx. 2 by 12 inches. A big old t-shirt or pillowcase works well for this (an absorbent material like cotton is best). In the photos above, I used 100% cotton flannel that was leftover from making my son’s Halloween costume.
Scissors or rotary cutter
(Optional) A sewing machine & thread (If you want to sew the edges of your rags so you can reuse them for longer).
Tip: Zigzagging the edges of your rollers is a great way to use up odds and ends of thread from past projects. Who cares if your thread matches your fabric for rag rollers you’re only going to wear at home? Though… no judgement if you decide to hit the grocery store with these babies in your hair.
If repurposing an old t-shirt or pillowcase: Cut the top off of your old t-shirt by cutting from armpit to armpit. You will be left with a big tube of fabric. Cut down one seam of the tube to turn the shirt into a long rectangle. If using an old pillowcase, but along one side seam and one top seam to make a large rectangle.
If you are using scraps or other fabric, trim, and prep your material so you can easily cut your rag rollers evenly
Lay the rectangle out flat and press with an iron to remove wrinkles (this isn’t totally necessary, but it adds a touch of precision...especially if you want to give a set away as a gift).
Using your ruler and scissors (or rotary cutter), cut the fabric into approx 2 in. x 12in. These don’t have to be absolutely perfect...slightly wider, thinner, longer, or shorter won’t make a big difference. You can get away with making your rollers shorter with stretchier fabrics. Depending on the size of your fabric, aim to get about 8-12 rag rollers total, though if you can get more out of your fabric, go for it!
(Recommended by not absolutely necessary): Use your sewing machine to zigzag stitch the edges to keep them from fraying. You do not need to sew two strips together. You can simply zigzag the edge of a single strip.
Rag Roll Your Hair!
How to rag roll your hair
(There are actually multiple ways to do this...this is just my approach):
Start with hair that is damp but not wet. If you wash your hair first, wait until your hair is 85% dry to start the rag rolling process. If your hair is dry, dampen your hair with water from a spray bottle. You can also use a sea salt spray or a bit of mousse for texture if you wish.
Separate your hair into four sections. If needed, use clips or hair ties to keep any section of hair you aren’t currently working out of your way.
Working with one section at a time, start rolling the rags into your hair by combing a bundle of hair smooth, then place the end of the strands of hair onto the center of the rag roll. Hold the hair and the rag together and gently roll up, winding the hair around the rag as you go. Then, tie the ends of the rag together to hold your hair in place.
If you want big, loose curls, just use one rag for the entire section of hair. If you want tighter curls, use two or more rags for each section of hair. The more rags you use, the smaller each bundle of hair will be, and the tighter the curls will be as a result.
Repeat until all of your hair is rolled into the rags.
If you are worried your hair dried out too much in the rolling process, spritz your hair with water one more time. Then, cover your curls with a silk scarf or similar fabric to protect them. I actually find that another old pillowcase or large, soft t-shirt works pretty well for this step too!
Leave the rag rollers in until your hair is completely dry. You can leave them overnight and sleep on them or you can leave them in as you go about your day (I often do this on Sunday afternoon). Your hair should dry within a couple of hours.
One roller at the time, untie the ends of each rag roller, and gently unwind your hair. Gently separate the curls with your fingers and fluff them out. If you’re going for a truly curly look, do not brush them, just finger-comb. If you use a brush, you will probably end up fluffing out the curls into big waves. When you first take them out, your hair will look crazy, but after a few minutes, the super tight curls will start to relax.
Set with hairspray, mousse, or another preferred styling product if you wish. Enjoy your curls!
To care for your rollers: I recommend hand washing them in the sink and laying them flat to dry. They won't be getting super dirty. However, you can wash and dry them with your regular laundry, especially if you're using cotton fabric. Just keep in mind they got lost in the wash as easily as baby socks!
If you’re interested in more information about sustainable craft projects, don‘t miss my series on sustainable crafting including: