Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to make a hair rat for free

The Common Hair Rat (Rattus pilosus)

Nests near the heads of fashionable women during the day; nighttime burrow is located in bathroom cabinets.

Feeds solely on stray hairs gathered from hairbrushes and combs.

Varies greatly in size, color, and texture.

(First of all, I understand that some of you are uncomfortable collecting and wearing your own discarded hair, but allow me to remind you that felt—the material—is nothing more than hair shorn off of a sheep that has been washed and densely matted. Thus an all-natural hair rat is simply felt made of your own hair. Or, if you prefer to think of it this way, a hair rat is a large dreadlock that you wear in your hair that happens not to be attached to your head. If you are still having reservations after these explanations or find the sight of discarded hair unpleasant, stop reading and click on one of my other non-hair-rat-related articles!)

Making your own hair rat couldn't be easier or cheaper. It costs absolutely nothing and takes only a minute to make once you've collected the material. Unfortunately, building up a large enough ball of hair shed form your head to make decent sized rat may take some time, anywhere from three weeks to a couple months depending on the length of your hair, the rate at which your body sheds it, and the size and shape of rat you wish to make.

How to make a hair rat using your own hair.

Step 1: Collect your own hair
Take it from your hairbrush or comb. You can also run your fingers through your hair in the shower or when dry to remove strands that fall out easily. But stay away from the stuff that clogs your shower drain! If your hair is long, you may have enough after a couple weeks. If not, try collecting for a couple months. You may wish to conceal your collection from others who are not wise in the ways of hair rats lest they question your sanity.

Two months' worth

Step 2: Gently form your ball of hair into an oblong shape
You may need to pull and tease the hair to get it to do this.

Step 3: Roll hair between the palms of your hands until it forms a little hair sausage
Stop occasionally (especially earlier in the process) to ensure that your rat is of an even width along its entire length. If one area is too thin and another too thick, pull and tease to even out the disparity.

Rollin' rollin' rollin'!

Step 4: Roll until hair is fairly densely compacted
The three photos below show how the shape of mine changed the more I rolled it. I set it next to my previous, smaller hair rat for comparison.

Your hair rat is now finished and ready to use! From now on, even with regular use, it should require no extra maintenance and will keep its shape. If you think it needs a wash at some point, bathe it in warm water with a drop of shampoo, rinse, gently press the extra water out with a towel, and let air dry.

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What to do with your new hair rat

The sausage-shaped roll can be pinned or sewn together at the ends to create an aid for achieving the perfect hair bun. Or use it as is to give your French roll/French twist some extra volume. Or try creating some nice Bettie Page-style bangs with your rat, along the lines of one of this tutorial by Fleur from Diary of a Vintage Girl:

My favorite hairstyle that can be made with the sausage-shaped hair rat is the Gibson roll. Long before I knew this hairdo had a name, I came across this advertisement for Le Creuset enamelware from the 1920s showing a woman at a stove sporting an elegant hairstyle:


A closeup of the Le Creuset woman, with apologies for the reflection in the window.

Instructions for shoulder-length or longer hair: Comb hair back, with or without a middle or side part, as if you were going to tie a pony tail at the nape of your neck. Holding the hair back and out away from your head, place the hair rat on top of the hair, almost but not quite at the tip. Tuck the tips over and start rolling towards your head. If you have layering in your hair, some strands will fall out, but you can tuck them in as you roll. The hair on the sides may puff out the closer you get to your head; this is okay! Hold the roll with one hand and slip hair pins into the crevice between the roll and the hair on the back of your head. When the back is secure, roll the sides up to the temples, pinning to hold in place.

I found BerlinHairBaby's tutorial is quite helpful for achieving this style:

Experiment until you find a method that works for you, and don't be afraid to redo if you don't like the results the first time.

This tutorial explains how to create a sausage-shaped hair rat, but forming a "pouf" for creating a Gibson Girl hairstyle or a nice high beehive should not be too different from the instructions I give below. The hair should initially be kept in a ball form and rolled in a circular direction with your palms.

Charles Dana Gibson's famous sketch. Source

A beehive on Brigitte Bardot. Source

My experiences with this method

Using an all natural hair rat (i.e. no hairnets or other filler material) has taught me a few things:
• Stray hairs do not fall off the hair rat, as some of you might fear.
• The hair rat stays clean since it does not come into contact with the oily hairs closer to the scalp. This is because it is always rolled into the hair starting at the tips, not the roots. And since it is hidden beneath a layer of your intact hair, hairspray will not reach it, either.
• Since it is made of my your hair, it is virtually impossible to spot when your hairstyle slips somewhat or you inadvertently leave a small hole where the hair rat peaks out.
• Hair pins will not destroy your natural hair rat as they do foam rats or rolls, and they are much easier to insert.

The best part of all? It is free! So, as strange as it sounds, start collecting today and in a month or two you will have enough material for a nice little roll. If in the end you feel uncomfortable or uneasy wearing your rat, toss it out, which is what you would have done with the hair anyway. What have you got to lose?

Other tutorials of interest

I have not found many websites that describe the process of making an all-natural hair rat or what it is like to use one, so most of this information was gathered from my own trials. However, you may find these tutorials useful:

On creating hair rats with your own hair, sans pictures:

On creating a hair rat using synthetic materials, with useful hairstyle pictures:

On creating a hair rat using hairnets, also with useful hairstyle pictures:

On creating a hair rat using synthetic materials:


  1. Great resources on a topic I want to know more about, top marks, thanks!

  2. @Lisa Thank you for your kind words. Up until now I have always kept quiet about my hair rats. I think if people can get over the strong initial emotional reaction toward this technique, they will discover natural rats to be far superior to their foam counterparts.

  3. I would have never considered doing this. After about 10 years of short hair, I've recently grown my hair out to shoulder length and have been experimenting with different ways of styling my hair - so maybe I'll consider it. If the rat was made out of dog hair, I'd probably already have all the materials needed. ha ha!

  4. @Reduce, Reuse and Rummage That's hilarious! You know, some dog breeds have such silky, luxurious fur that I've wondered if you couldn't wash it, blend it with sheep's wool, and spin some nice yarn out of it...

    1. the only problem with that is that when it gets wet,(like on a rainy day) you end up smelling like wet dog! I know a dog groomer who wove a beautiful coat out of her affgan dog clients' hair. She spun the 'hair', dyed it, wove it and then sewed the material into a coat. It was a beautiful work of art...but she said it smelled of 'dog' everytime it rained! Go for it, but don't get it wet!

  5. I've actually been collecting hair for some time for this very purpose, but whenever I've tried to roll it my sausage gets all lumpy and bumpy. You've inspired me to give it another go - especially since I'm desperate to try the Gibson roll!

    xx Charlotte
    Tuppence Ha'penny

  6. I remember my grandmother telling me years ago that when she was a girl in the early 1900s, all the girls had small, dainty covered containers called hair receivers on their dressers where they saved hair for their rats. A typical receiver would be made of porcelain or crystal, sometimes with an ornate metal lid. The lid had a finger-sized hole in it where the hair collected from brushes and combs could be pushed in.

  7. Thank you! It has been hard to find tutorials about this. I shed like CRAZY, and now I can put all that hair to good use!

  8. Ive collected enough hair but theres so much lint and hairspray it has a white dust to it. Can I just wash it?

    1. Sure, try with plain water first, then shampoo if necessary. Be sure to press it with a towel afterwards to remove the majority of the moisture. In my experience (1) it's easier to clean the hair before you've rolled it into ball and (2) some of the lint won't come out no matter what you try.

      Be sure to report back with your results!

  9. Thank you so much! It worked like a charm I even got some rogue fuzz balls :)


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