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Tangled Up In… Strings: Tips for Rescuing Knotted Wigs

This past weekend at BaseLAN 29.5, I launched a mostly-completed version of my Arcade Sona cosplay. While it generally all turned out exactly or better than I had hoped, time got the better of me and a few details were missing which I need to rectify before its next showing.

I ran out of time to add a rainbow of pixels to the skirt, my gloves ended up being a little bit saggy, and I had planned to at least have some sweet, chrome, blue nails to complement the outfit. But the biggest time sink was my wig right through to the day of the cosplay. My attempts at dying the wig used a method involving acrylic ink and 70% isopropyl alcohol was not only a failure in colouring, but also made a disaster of my pigtails. My final attempt to colour the pigtails with an over-saturation of ink was completed the day before wearing and hung to dry overnight.

In the morning, I awoke earlier than anticipated, ready to start getting myself together to head to BaseLAN. I peered into my workshop to see how my wig pieces had dried and…

A bird’s nest.

I was left with a mass of crunchy, knotted hair that leeched magenta ink onto my hands with any small amount of friction, despite having rinsed them sufficiently the night before.

Three hours of excruciatingly patient work and being set back in my original schedule, I was left with this:

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Long, soft, tangle-free pigtails that actually resisted new tangling.

So, how did I do it?

Besides patience being a virtue, there is a method to my madness in successfully trying to rescue what some would consider an un-rescuable wig (yes, I know, not actually a word!) It is possible to bring your wigs back from the dead and not have to consider replacing them. Not to say you shouldn’t replace your wigs. Just like clothing, eventually, no amount of washing can save them.

First of all, let me tell you a little more about this wig. This is a cheap (about $25 with shipping from China) Hatsune Miku wig. It’s comprised of three pieces: The base and two pigtails. The base is actually a bit too small for my head and, while my head isn’t all that big, it cuts into the sides of my head just above my ears. Not exactly comfortable for long wear, but it does the job when I need it to. It’s also made of a special fiber popular in cosplay wigs called Kanekalon. It’s soft, silky, has a similar look and feel to real hair, and is moderately heat resistant, so it can take styling with hair tools fairly well.

With that information, here’s a list of what you’ll need to help rescue a knotted wig:

  • Something to hang the wig from so it hangs straight down without touching the ground
  • A wide tooth comb
  • Hand lotion
  • Small scissors
  • Straightening iron
  • Hair clips

Be very patient with this process and make sure you’re comfortable. If your wig was as long and as knotted as mine was before I cut a foot off the length, you’ll be stuck in one place for a while. Don’t rush it. The process may even become meditative and therapeutic.

Firstly, section off a small section of hair. I worked with maybe an inch of hair or enough that was about an inch wide when you gathered it like a ribbon, but you could still see light coming through. Start by working your fingers through it slowly. Use the hand lotion to help prevent static and to help smooth the hair. Don’t apply too much lotion, just as much as you would normally put on your hands.

Start at the bottom of the hair and work your way up. Don’t rip out any tight knots, just focus on trying to get your hands through most of the hair unstopped. When you’ve completed that, downsize to the comb and repeat the process. At this point, you may have some tight knots that have gathered near the bottom that won’t budge. Carefully clip these out with your scissors. Don’t worry. You won’t be cutting so much hair that you lose length or thickness. If you like, you can continue one step further with a fine tooth comb.

Smooth the strip with the straightening iron, watching the temperature carefully with what your wig can handle. Err on a lower temperature, if you’re not sure, because you can always making extra passes, but you can’t un-melt a wig. Once this strip is straight, and tangle and static-free, clip it to the side and move onto the next lock of hair.

Yes, it is an arduous task, but sometimes you have to work with what you have on hand because either you’re out of time or out of resources. Give yourself plenty of time and don’t be like me, untangling a web of synthetic hair the day of the event, setting back my whole day by hours.

J. Tanooki is a Contributor for aybonline.com. She has been a lover of cosplay for over 10 years and regularly works on new and exciting cosplay projects. She actively posts about her cosplay plans, progress, and random shenanigans on her Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram. Her opinion is her own. 

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