October 6, 2018

How To Make a Curly Yarn Wig

My youngest granddaughters are going to be the sister combo
 characters of "Little Red Riding Hood" and her
 "Grandmother" this Halloween. I offered to make a yarn wig 
for "Granny" even though I have never made one before.
I was sure I could find a tutorial somewhere on the internet. 

I did find one that was "oh so close" to what I had in mind.
Heidi at the blog "Hands Occupied" made a yarn wig for her
husband one year to wear on Halloween that looked like
I could "kopy kat" her technique. Only, that yarn wig was 
straight "hair". I wanted "Granny" to have a perm. 

Then I tried to find a tutorial on how to curl yarn...no luck.
I remembered curling ribbon for my daughter's 
corkscrew hair bows when she was little. This involves
baking ribbon wrapped around dowels in the OVEN...crazy!

I decided to try the baking of yarn in the oven. Actually, I 
thought it would melt or burn but it did not! Here's a some
 pictures and the trial and error of making a curly yarn wig. 

Heidi used a knit hat, yarn, scissors and a needle to make her
  husband's wig. For the curly wig you will also need those plus
 wooden skewers or dowels, starch, an oven and embroidery floss. Clothes pins are helpful if you have them and if the hat
 does not fit snugly on the wearer's head, you will need elastic.

I found a black knit hat for $1 at a thrift store and cut the flower
off. Since "Granny" is only 18 months old I hand sewed some
 elastic (stretching it slightly as I sewed) on the underside of the
 hat to keep it from slipping off from the weight of the yarn.

The first step in curling the yarn is to wind it around wooden 
skewers or dowels. I used mostly skewers since they are so
cheap and are available at grocery stores. I did try a few dowels 
to see if they were better but there was not much of a difference.

Since I already had wooden clothespins I did use them to hold the
yarn on the dowels. You can just tie the yarn onto the skewers at
each end however. Don't overlap the yarn on the skewer but you
can keep the yarn side by side on the skewer. 

You can make the curly yarn in "batches" and reuse the skewers 
after you have starched, baked and unwound the yarn off the skewers.

I had been going for a "salt and pepper" color for "Granny"
 but I wondered if it was getting a look that was too much
 pepper and not enough salt. I couldn't find that exact type
 of yarn in a grey but I got a more twisted yarn in solid grey
 to use with the  marled yarn. 

Here is the grey yarn wound on the short dowels.
These dowels came in a pack from Joann's. They were in the wooden craft aisle. 

(Honestly, I don't know how many skewers of  wound yarn
 I used on the wig but I had yarn from both skeins left over.
 You can just make some curly yarn, cut it, sew it on the
 hat and then make more if it is not enough. )

Next is the starch step. I did try to bake the yarn without the 
starch but any curl was not pronounced and it went away 
quickly. At first I used spray starch on the wound yarn on
 skewers which did work BUT there was lots of aerosol in the
air and the spray can's contents did not go very far.

A better option (cheaper for sure) was liquid starch. Usually,
 but not always, you can find it on the clothes detergent aisle
 at the grocery store. If you want to make your own liquid starch
using powdered corn starch, here is a recipe...that works too. 

A starching technique that worked for me was to "paint" the 
liquid starch onto the wound up yarn on the skewer. Make sure
 you get plenty on the yarn. See the difference in color between 
the wet (starched) yarn and the dry yarn in the photo below?

You would not have to do this but I tried to go on and bake the
yarn/skewer soon after putting the starch on. This "set" the starch
 a little better than air drying BUT if your yarn is not suitable
 for heat,  you can just let it dry on its own. It might take a day.
I used parchment paper under the wound up yarn on cookie sheets but it is not a "must".

I did experiment with plastic straws as the winding tool.

Of course, you cannot bake plastic straws. The above picture
 shows wound yarn secured on the straws with paper clips. You can
 put the starch on the yarn on straws and let it dry on its own.

The picture below shows starched yarn (air dried for about 
24 hours on the straws) after it has been taken off the straws.
It has a very good curl. That is another option. 

If your yarn allows, baking comes after applying starch.
 My yarn was 50% polyester and 50% wool. It did very well
 in the oven on low temperatures without even any smell
hinting at burning or melting. You will need to do a trial run
on your yarn staying close to the oven while trial baking.

After some experimenting, I found that an oven temperature of
225 degrees was "good enough" to dry the starch on the yarn. 
Most of the time, it only took about 20 minutes of baking.
If the starch is not dry in 20 minutes, you can bake the yarn 
a few more minutes or let it air dry to get any more moisture out.

After the yarn has baked or air dried, carefully unwind the yarn
 off of the the skewer, dowel or straw. The yarn did just slide off
of the plastic straw with slight tug but with the wooden winders,
it had to be twisted back off in reverse of putting it on. Don't put
anything heavy on the curled yarn after it is off the skewer/straw. 

Here are some examples of how the dried starched yarn looks
 after coming off of the skewers/straws...
From left...small skewer, large skewer, straw, dowel

The wig I made is for a little person. I cut the curls about 4" each.
If you are making the wig for a larger person you can decide
how long you want the strands of "hair" to be. Keep in mind 
that these strands are going to be folded in half on the wig.

You may find a better technique for speed but I laid a ruler and a long curl together and cut three curls at 4" intervals. Save any left-
over (less than full length) curled yarn to fill in blanks spots, etc.

To keep from attaching each yarn strand to the hat make bundles
of the curled yarn. Heidi used the same yarn she had cut for hair
to tie the cut bundles in the middle...like you are making a tassel.

I used four or five curled yarn pieces in each bundle. 

To try to get about the same length on each side of the bundle
I used a ruler to measure each side for the first few bundles until
my eye got better at discerning the middle of the curled yarn.

If you want exact even bundle ends you could cut after tying.
I just hated to lose any of the curled yarn I had worked for. 

I don't know what to call the knot(s) that I used to tie the bundles
securely. I could not find a name for it. I did a knot like the first
step of tying a shoelace. Then instead of making a bow I tied two more of those knots on top of the first one. I use this in crafting and it holds well for me. You might know a better knot. 

In addition to yarn I tried regular thread and embroidery floss.
Here is what the bundles look like...
From left...regular thread, embroidery floss, uncurled yarn and
curled yarn. 

The one material that I did not like to tie the bundles was the
regular thread. I felt it was too flimsy to work with. The floss
worked fine but you might need to cut the floss ends close
after tying if they will bother you visually in the wig. 

Uncurled yarn works well but it adds a different "hair" texture
to the wig. Curled yarn looks the best but you have to be a 
little careful not to pull the curl out of the yarn while tying. 

Make some curled yarn bundles and then start attaching them to
the hat. Heidi left long ends on the yarn she tied the bundles with
and then used a tapestry needle (large eye) to pull the two ends
of the tying yarn to the inside of the hat and tied them together.

I did try that technique and it does work. I decided that was
 a lot of threading-yarn-through-the-eye-of-a-needle 
(two times each bundle). 

To cut down on threading a needle so much I tried using a long
piece of yarn on the needle to attach the bundles. Starting from the inside of the hat I pushed the needle up to the outside of the hat,
left a loop of yarn on top of the hat and pushed the needle back to
the inside of the hat.

On the outside push/pull the middle of the curly yarn bundle 
under the loop then pull the yarn on the needle tight to 
secure the bundle to the hat.

Cut the ends of the yarn and knot them together on the inside to
 keep the bundle tight on top of the hat. Cut the end of the yarn
on the needle to go to the next bundle. Depending on how
 long you make your threaded yarn, you can attach four or 
five bundles without re-threading the yarn.

I did use the long-yarn-on-a-needle technique for some bundles
but sometimes it was hard to get the yarn through the hat.

I switched to using the embroidery floss to secure the bundles to
the hat. Also I switched to working on top of the hat instead of  making the knots on the inside.

Push the needle threaded with floss through the hat leaving a 
long "tail" of thread.

If you have run out of pre-made bundles of yarn just place some
curled yarn on top of where the floss goes under the hat.

Tightly and securely tie the yarn bundle down to the hat using
the end of the floss and the floss closest to the bundle.
 Cut the end of the thread on the needle side and move on. 
You will probably need to rethread the needle with floss every
five bundles or so (but to me that is better than every bundle).

Here is the wig with a row of curly yarn bundles attached to the edge of the hat. You can decide how much you want the ends of 
the yarn bundles to come past the edge of the hat. 

Then I added another row above the first ones. You can be more
random in placing your curly yarn bundles if you want to. The
goal is to have the hat not showing through the curls.

 I wanted to use my best curled yarn on the front of the hat (the part
most noticed) so I went on and worked on finishing that part first.

This is the back of the wig in progress. I used some longer yarn 
bundles back here to try to speed up the coverage process. Keep 
adding bundles until you are happy with the coverage.

I did have two skeins of yarn to work with because I did not 
choose my initial color wisely but I think the wig would only take one skein of yarn to make the wig in a single color.

This curly yarn wig would be cute in many different colors and
for a wide array of different characters.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the curls might not last
through getting wet since the starch is water-soluble. Good news
is that even if it gets wet and loses its curl, you will have a wig
that looks like the following wig...

Just for fun I tried using the same techniques but with only
yarn straight off of the skein...not curly. This one is more like
Heidi's wig but with a more textured yarn.

I used the same mix of yarns as the curly wig. To make the yarn
bundles wind yard around a card or board. I used a piece of 
foam core cut to 3". These bundles will not have their length
cut in half.

At the top of the card tie the loops of the yarn together tight.

Cut the end opposite the tied end at the bottom of the card.

(The uncurly wig was made on an adult knitted hat. It was way 
too big so I turned it under, made a channel for the elastic with
simple hand stitches leaving a space to insert the elastic.

Put a safety pin on the end of the elastic to help pull it through
the channel. Adjust the elastic as needed. Cut the elastic.
 Pin or sew ends of elastic together.)

Sew the yarn bundles on the hat in your preferred method. 

I stuck with embroidery floss sewing on the topside of hat.

Keep adding yarn bundles.

After completely covering the hat with textured
 yarn here is the result...

My dear friend let me borrow her adorable girls to be
 my models since my grandchild is so far away. 
Here are the girls with their granny sweaters, pearls 
and the wigs side by side...

The curly wig is more time-consuming so don't start it on 
Halloween afternoon. The non-curly wig takes much less time.

There are more steps to the curling the yarn, etc. but most of the
steps can be done while watching t.v. or a movie or even at
kid's sports practices or doctor's appointments.

This would be cute in red yarn for Little Orphan Annie or there
are so many other options for curly yarn wigs in other colors too.

Here is a good "pinnable" image if you use Pinterest...


  1. So cute! Your granddaughters are going to look great at Halloween!

  2. If this isn't the cutest thing ever! So adorable! Your directions are so detailed. I've made corker ribbon using dowel rods but I've never thought to use skewer sticks which is a fabulous idea especially if the material is thick like yarn! I love the look of the curled yarn the best and I'm sure your granddaughter will look adorable in it! I bet your friends' daughters hated giving the curly yarn wigs up after modeling! Too cute!

  3. Oh, my goodness! Too cute! I love the look of the curled yarn, but I don't have the patience...ha!

  4. Your little models look so adorable in your wigs

  5. This is brilliant, time consuming but brilliant!
    I love how you share every step of the process in your photos. it makes it so easy to follow.

  6. This is so creative. I marvel at your patience to do this. But it turned out so great. And it reminds me off little orphan Annie from the comic strip back in the day. Great tutorial and your little model is adorable!!

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  10. Love love love this. I have stay-flo liquid starch. Should I dilute it with water at all or use it as it comes out of the bottle?

    1. Sorry to be so late in replying but do not dilute the liquid starch before putting it on the yarn. It will make the yarn hold the curl better.

  11. Very interesting tips. Making such a cute wig for a child will be a great gift for him. When visiting this barbershop, my child comes out with a good mood and a beautiful hairstyle.

  12. Wow! It looks really cute. Want to make that one for the kids. goo.gl/maps/xw9Pg324ERzcuHm7A


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