Sunday, 26 May 2013

Choosing Hair Colour When Wig Making & Colour Blending

Over the years that I have been undertaking the wig making research process, I noticed that there is an aspect of wig making that tends to get somewhat overlooked: hair colour. So much of a wig maker's focus tends to be on the construction of the wig foundation or the hairpiece base, that what type and colour hair to use is sometimes almost an afterthought. In reality, it should be given equal thought.

Unless one is making a wig for a character as part of a production (TV, film, theatre etc), then there seems to be two situations regarding hair colour:
  1. People who want to stick to, or as near as possible to, their own hair colour (or, in the case of alopecia totalis/universalis and people who dye their hair, what they think would be their own hair colour).
  2. People who want to use supplemental hair as an opportunity to change their hair colour.
In situation 2, choosing hair depends on what the wearer envisages, as the change could be minimal (1 shade lighter), but you may also find that some people do not mind having far more expressive, modern and funky hair colours. For people who are open to suggestions, it can be a case of: anything goes and I think as a wig maker, it can be a good way to exert some creativity.

At the same time, it is sometimes hard to imagine how a wig or hairpiece is going to look, so asking the prospective wearer for pictures (from magazines or printed off the Internet) that demonstrate the colour they are trying to achieve can be a good way to aid the design process. It also helps to minimize getting your wires crossed about what they really want, and you think they want. Do not be afraid to make well-thought suggestions if you think the colour or colour combination may not be the best option for them. If you choose this be careful how you word it; usually it is better to gently suggest an alternative.

It is also important to be aware that not all colour tones suit all skin undertones. For example, I am a person who struggles to wear blonde. It's definitely not an easy colour for me to wear because most shades of it can make me look sickly, pale and/or yellow. I tend to suit daker hair colours, certain reds, and highlights that are light brown rather than blonde.

For people in situation 1, while adhering to requests for a match to their own hair, it is important to try and achieve as natural a hair colour as possible. For example, people who have European-type hair tend to have hair that has a range of hair strands of different tones that make up their 'one colour', rather than every hair strand being the same colour. As a wig maker trying to achieve this look, this is where colour blending can be a good option. If the request is for colour 8, blending a 6 and a 10 together can achieve a nice shade that is somewhere in the middle and has a depth and richness that may not be achieved by using just one colour.

The wefts below are virgin European human hair in a number 6 (the darker on the right) and a number 10 (the lighter on the left):

Hand Wefted Virgin European Human Hair in Number 6 and Number 10
Close Up of Hand Wefted Virgin European Human Hair in Number 6 and Number 10

Combine these two colours - 1 weft sewn on top of the other, and you get this blended hair colour:

2 wefts blended to make a mid-range hair colour
Close up of the blended hair colour
On the other hand, people of other ethnicities, such as Asian and African, who are opting for colour 1, 1b and 2 will generally be okay with having a 1 shade colour. This is because it is rarer to find a high level of variation in individual strand colour in these shades.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Quick Wig Making Tip: Taking Old Wigs and Hair Pieces Apart

People are often really surprised by the amount of random things I know about wigs and hair pieces; sometimes I even surprise myself! It's taken me a long time and quite a lot of work to amass this knowledge. Much of it has come because I have spent so much time wearing supplemental hair, and when you wear it, you want to perfect it, so the search for the best and the most realistic cosmetic hair solution starts and never seems to end. Sometimes people ask me how they can go about learning all the little bits and bobs of knowledge that some of us wig makers and wearers take forgranted. Here's a quick tip...

If you are seeking to learn more, one of the best ways you can build up a good level of knowledge is by taking apart old wigs and hair pieces. In my opinion, as a wig maker it is really important to understand how wigs and hair pieces work - i.e. what makes them look a certain way, what makes cetain construction methods (types of wigs and hair pieces) work or not for different needs/uses/situations and so on. By taking apart ones that have already been made, not only do you learn how they are constructed, but you can also keep some of the 'spare parts' for later use when experimenting or making your own. For example, wig springs, combs, clips and even adjustable straps can be re-used when learning.

Stitch Unpicker
A Stitch Unpicker - This can be really useful when taking apart
old wigs and hair pieces.
You might be wondering how to get your hands on some wigs and hair pieces for the purpose of taking them apart. If you have friends who wear them, then ask them for their old ones they might throw away so that you can experiment. If you don't have any old ones and no kind friends to donate them, then try buying some old 'beaters' (well used full lace and lace front wigs that would overwise be hitting the bin/trash can) or second hand wigs and hair pieces on ebay. You can sometimes find old wigs for sale on Remember, don't pay too much! 

A good way to get the most out of this learning experience is to use a camera to document the process. Take pictures of the inside of the foundation (cap)/base and then as you remove sections or unpick parts, take pictures of that too. It can also be helpful to make notes and drawings to refer back to later. It's easy to quickly forget what you are seeing/learning. I like to create a wig making notebook and folder in which to keep all my notes, pictures and other resources that I have amassed. It also is quite a boost to eventually look back at how much you have learnt.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Important Considerations When Making A Wig - Darts

Darts are an inevitability for a wig maker. If you don't know what a dart is, then here's an explanation:

The reason they are found in hand-made wigs and larger hairpieces is because both a wig and a large hairpiece (that encompasses the curves of the head) are not a flat shape. When flat fabric needs to make a rounded skull shape, some form of dart is involved. Another reason you may run into them along your wig making journey is when making alterations to a wig.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I recommend gaining some sewing skills before you set about hand-making wig foundations and large hairpiece bases. Both of these tasks require not only sewing skills such as knowledge of various sewing stitches, haberdashery and perhaps how to use a sewing machine, but also an innate understanding of how to use fabric to design and make something you are evisaging in your head.

There are a few rules that should be followed when making wig foundations and hairpiece bases that incorporate darts:
  1. Unless the person you are making for has an uneven head shape (for some reason), aim to make the darts 'even'. That means: if you have a dart over one ear, you should have one over the other ear. In reality this usually means making the first dart smaller, and then making another dart the other side, taking up the rest of the slack you have realeased off the first dart you made (so basically halving the dart you had initially made). 
  2. Darts on the side should be turned towards the back.
  3. Darts on the crown and back should be turned towards the centre.
  4. With wigs, if pinned correctely darts should not be placed on the vertex. 
Here is a primative drawing (!) I did - excuse the egg-head:

The red triangles are the 'darts', the blue line on the side view is the wig edge. The red line denotes the middle of the wig; it is helpful to mentally divide the wig down the middle so that you ensure you have an equal dart on the opposite side. You can see why you would want the darts to be even, as it helps to create a symmetary to the wig shape and ensure it fits properly without being bulky. 

Example of darts placement on a wig - note that each one is mirrored by an equal on the opposite side


Re: #1 - When laying the lace/tulle/net/monofilament, or whatever fabric it is you are using to make the foundation/base, you will intially pin various points of the material and start to make darts as you lay and stretch the fabric to make the rounded scalp shape. As you then move further back, or around to the other side of the block/head, you will find that you need to unpin some points that you have already pinned in order to make the cap smooth and shaped correctly. In the case of darts, I try to pin both sides at the same time because I know I need to create an equal dart on the other side. I.e. if I am pinning a dart on the right side, I will start adjusting the left side in the same place/location, using temporary pins half-pushed-in (rather than completely pushed in/fixed) to hold sections, so that I create two equal darts on both sides, instead of one large one on one side. How many darts you end up using depends on the person's head shape that you are making the wig for, and how many pieces of material you are using to make the wig. Some wigs are made using only 1 type of material as the base. Others have several sections to their pattern and use a different piece of material for each section. Regardless, the same principle applies throughout.

Re: #2 and #3 - When you make a dart, you literally pull a section of fabric up in your hand and then fold it over, as it is essentially 'excess' material. You would then pin it, to hold the excess fabric in place while you pin the rest of the wig material onto the block. There are different types of darts used in dress making and other types of sewing, but usually in wig making, darts are triangular in shape because of the cap shape we are creating.

Here is an example of how a dart is created:

The blue arrow indicates the fabric being pulled over so that the two yellow lines meet (the yellow line edge of the fabric on the right side lays on top of the yellow line edge of the fabric on the left side). After pinning the whole wig, you would then sew along the pinned edge of each dart - along the yellow line, so that the fabric is joined together permanently and, most importantly, lies flat. I sew mine along both edges to make sure they are totally smooth and low-profile.

It is also imporant to follow a basic rule when marking darts on a wig:

Darts on the left - fold towards the right
Darts on the right - fold towards the left

Or... another way of looking at it = if you are making a dart on the side, you are folding towards the rear of the head/wig and if you are making a dart on the back, you are folding towards the opposite ear.

Re: #4 - As a general rule of thumb, it is less desireable to create darts on the vertex (the vertex being the top of the head from front harline to crown and from side to side before the head curves away). The reason for this is because you want the area everyone looks at (the top and front) to look seamless, and smooth... as if the person is not wearing a wig. Sometimes we have to make darts in this area due to the fabric being used and/or the shape of a person's head. In this case, it is very important to think about their placement. You want to think about the hairstyle that the wig will end up being styled in. E.g. if the wig is going to have a partline, don't make a dart that shows in this area. If the hair is going to be brushed back for some reason (ponytail or up-do or short hairdo) and/or you are creating a wig with a very fine, graduated hairline, putting a dart somewhere at the front will be more likely to show. Usually one would aim to have no darts on the front hairline, and if you need to put darts in the front section of the wig, then place them over the ears, or along a line around the crown (but avoiding any partline or open crown areas).

Example of a wig dart

Purple lines highlight the two darts -
one is deep over the ear, but misses the vertex and the other
is on the side pointing towards the crown, but again is hidden.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Important Considerations When Making a Wig or Hairpiece Foundation - Part 2

One of the aspects of making wig foundations (caps) and hairpiece bases that I realised early on is: the necessity to think ahead, because what you make at the foundation/base stage, can have a massive impact on what you eventually achieve after all the hours of hard work. No one wants to waste lace, hair or other materials. It can be equally demoralising to realise you have wasted a lot of time and energy, making something that is not quite right. Of course in reality, no experience is wasted - we learn through our mistakes, or at least we should be striving to do so. Even in a taught situation, where one is receiving hands-on teaching and training from a tutor/teacher, we still learn through our own efforts and attempts at achieving what is being asked of us.

As part of your wig design and making, don't forget the above steps!
For me, the necessity to think ahead has been highlighted by my own wig making mistakes. I am at a point now where my mind is capable of thinking ahead to other stages in the wig making process, that are later down the line, and assessing whether there is 'going to be a problem'. This is a really good position to be in! If you are earlier in learning the wig making process, this is what you want to be aiming for, because in doing so you will reach the stage of being able to anticipate problems before they occur. The end result will be much better, and you will find your are making better use of materials (less waste) and your time and energy.

Being able to think ahead is closely linked to being able to honestly evaluate your own work. An example of this for me has been when I made my non-bonded galloon edge wig. Overall the cap design works well, but there are things I would change if I made one again. For example, I would not bother to make an extended nape. At the time I made the extended nape because I was curious as to how it would look, and whether it might be a good option for me. In reality, not only did it add on extra work in terms of making it and ventilating it (it adds another few inches of ventilation vertically, and goodness knows how much horiztontally), but it also is unnecessary for my daily wear needs. I learnt that I don't need it, but I also learnt that if I do need it one day (because I want a certain type of hair style), I will be sure to make it differently, and to make it only on a specific type of wig: one that I would wear for special occasions that required me to have my hair up.

I believe it is therefore important to not just keep making items, but to spend time noting what works and what doesn't. I know from a friend's experience that it is very easy to get trapped into the cycle of making more and more wig foundations for example, and finding that they don't fit the way you thought they were going to. Not only is this rather exhausting, but it is also a waste of resources. If something doesn't work, it can be very helpful to not just think: that didn't work, but to figure out why, and to learn from that experience too. Sometimes a bit of brainstorming and discussion with others can be really helpful.