Rag Curls

Years ago, way back when I was a pig-tailed precocious brat in Primary School, there was a girl in my class called Dorothy. Everything about Dorothy was nice - from her perfectly packed, healthy lunchbox to her beautiful manners and impeccable clothes....and most of all her hair.

Dorothy's hair used to fascinate me. It was long and dark and the luxurious tresses were always formed into eight corkscrew swirls of miraculously formed sausage curls - every day. In truth Dorothy's hair was as straight and limp as a wet cat's tail but her mother used to painstakingly put her daughter's hair in old-fashioned rag curls and it was a rare occurrence indeed to see Dorothy with her hair in it's natural, straight state -she looked like an exquisite creature from another time and place but the effect was still charming.

Consumed with childish envy, once or twice I begged my mother to do the same with my own ordinary hair and give me a 'rag set' but I never had the commitment to see it through with any sort of regularity and neither did she. Besides, I wasn't sure my mother knew what she was doing - my rag curls were never the same as Dorothy's - there was an art to this rag curling and I seemed to look more like Harpo Marx than Mary Pickford. One thing I do remember though, is that the curls seemed to be much stronger and firmer than hair curled with ordinary rollers and the curl would last for days rather than hours. I also vaguely recall that some kind of gluggy setting lotion may have been involved.

Silent film star, Mary Pickford.
How to do Rag Curls
There is indeed an art to old-fashioned rag curls and it's all in the wind...well mainly in the wind. Here's what you'll need:
  • tail comb for separating
  • setting lotion
  • soft cotton cloth (old sheets are perfect) cut into 6" strips or 8" for very long hair and around  an inch or two wide
Begin with clean damp hair, not too wet or it will take an eternity to dry in the rags. Now depending on whether you want large, looser curls or smaller tight ones, section your hair into bundles, remembering that the more hair you wind around a single strip of rag, the looser the curl is likely to be - a good inch width of hair would be about right for an average curl size.

Sausage curl princess, Shirley Temple
Comb some setting lotion through the bundle of hair and line up one end of a rag strip with the ends of the bundle of hair. Carefully wrap the hair around the cloth strip in an even spiral beginning close to the scalp, making sure to leave to some cloth out at either end, so you'll be able to tie the whole lot together. Repeat with all the remaining hair.

Unless you want very relaxed curls, wind the hair fairly tightly. Leave the rags in overnight if possible and when you unroll in the morning, you'll have fantastic sausage/spiral curls that will last for ages. No need to brush the curls when let loose - just fiddle around the hair with your fingers.

Easy option: For a super-quick wind and loose, big sausage curls, divide your hair into two pigtails - dampen with water and a little setting lotion. Wrap the hair from each pigtail around a thick strip of rag (a light handkerchief will do the job), tie the ends and leave overnight.