As much as I love my natural 4A coils and spirals, sometimes I just want a break from day-to-day styling, brushing, and product buildup. Plus, not having to spend two hours a week on wash day is always a beautiful thought. That’s why every year for my birthday (sometimes more), I change my hair. Over the years, my curls have transformed into Fulani braids, box braids, butterfly faux locs, textured pixie, a big chop, and so much more. The versatility in styles is one of my favorite aspects of Black hair. And this year, my curiosity for wigs and weaves (frontals, closures, clip-ins, tape-ins, and sew-ins) sparked my latest change: a sew-in weave.
Having had only one other weave in my life at age 18, I didn’t recall many aspects of the process. As I scoured Instagram for inspiration on the length and texture I wanted, I began wondering: how much will this cost? What type of hair would I need? Does it hurt? Would the installation take as long as braids (6-8 hours)?
Spiraling with thoughts, I contacted Nadia Vassell, a celebrity hair stylist and owner of Nadia Vassell Salon for a custom sew-in and answers to all my burning questions. Ahead, the 411 on all things sew-in weave (including the benefits) from this hair-loving birthday girl.
What Is A Sew-In Weave?
Sew-in weaves are a process where your natural hair is braided down and a needle and thread are used to sew-in extensions into your hair. There are two types of sew-ins to choose from: leave-out, which keeps the perimeters and crown of your hair out to blend in and cover the tracks, or a full sew-in, where all your hair is tucked in and protected.
The main difference when it comes to maintenance is that a leave-out will require you to change your hair texture to the texture of the extensions for a seamless look. Meaning if you have 4A curls and coils like me, and get a straight weave, you will have to apply heat and styling products to your leave-out hair in order for it to blend in with the weave.
Vassell and I both decided that in order to protect my curl pattern and avoid heat on my hair, I would do the full sew-in with no hair out. I also work out six times a week, and the thought of having to heat style the hair that was left out multiple times a week after sweat-induced sessions exhausted me. What I was slightly nervous about was it looking natural. “Because we are doing a full sew-in you’re not going to see any scalp, and the scalp is what gives you the natural look,” Vassell shared. I went back and forth with the decision but ultimately decided that when my textured pixie is styled, I don’t typically wear it in a part, so no scalp shows anyways. Because I was used to that, I stuck to my decision to get a full sew-in.
What Hair Is Used In A Sew-In?
Once you’ve decided what sew-in to get (leave out or full), depending on your salon, you will need to buy or select the hair. Again, you can go two ways here: synthetic hair or human hair. Vassell notes that both come in a variety of textures (wave, curly, and straight) but give you completely different styling options.
Synthetic hair is made up of synthetic materials that work to resemble real hair, but can’t be styled with heat or have color applied to it. According to Vassell, people tend to choose this route for the affordability ($80 for a bundle) verses the typical $200 and up pricing for human hair. Virgin hair, also known as human hair, has not been altered by chemicals, dye, bleach, or harsh washes. And because it is real hair, it can be dyed or heat styled as you please.
Trust the process
What Happens At A Sew-In Appointment?
Next, you’ll want to prep your natural hair with a deep condition, fresh wash, and detangle. “Moisturizing your hair before the weave install will keep moisture in the braided hair and seal the ends to avoid split ends,” the expert shares. Luckily for me, this was all included in Vassell’s offerings. When I walked in, my hair was treated with a keratin conditioner from the experts hairline, Hair Freaq. The stylist raked in the product and first detangled with her fingers and then a wide tooth comb to make sure there were no excess knots. This process took close to 35 minutes and felt ultra-hydrating on my curls. I was then shampooed and conditioned and blow dried out in prep for the braids.
The small cornrows underneath the weave act as anchors for the weafs (hair extensions) to attach too. Vassell started by braiding two small braids in a circle on my head. These were then followed by four to five straight backs (cornrows) on each side of my head. The braiding itself took 50 minutes to complete and to my delight, it was pain-free. Vassell says a common misconception for weave wearing is that the tighter the weave or braids, the better the weave. “Some clients ask for their hair to be really tight,” she tells TZR. “But tight tension will pull your edges out.” She encourages clients to always speak up if they feel any type of pulling or tightness. Although I wouldn’t have been shy to describe any discomfort, I really appreciated her checking in with me throughout the process to make sure I wasn’t in pain.
After the braids is the real magic — the weave install. High on my list of things I loved about my experience at Nadia Vassell Salon (including the brilliant iced coffee) was the quick installation process (1.5 hours; I’m used to 4-7 hours for box braids) of the actual weave. The hairstylists fully washed the extensions (also a product from Hair Freaq) and blow dried the hair in front of me. This was something I really respected, as unwashed synthetic hair from a previous braiding session I had years ago caused a terrible reaction, leaving me scared of using unwashed hair. Because synthetic hair can’t be manipulated with heat and color, many people use it for protective styles like box braids and Senegalese twists. “Synthetic extensions have polymers and chemicals that look like human hair,” the pro tells TZR. “If you don’t wash them, you risk leaving on the coating serum that's added to the hair than can cause an allergic reaction.”
Because I opted for a full sew-in, the hair extensions were sewed all over my head, working their way from the back to the front. Vassell used a curved needle to go easily in and out of the braids, sewing stitches rather closely to each other to keep the hair secure. The needle was attached to a nylon string, which the artist prefers over cotton. “Cotton thread will swell when you shampoo your hair and could cause the thread to show or loosen the hair extensions.”
After the weave was installed and my fringe hung, it was time for the cut. Because I was going for French girl bob, Vassell then took scissors to the 8-10 inch hair and shaped and formed my cut into a just-past-the-ear bob. As a first time bang wearer, I wanted them to be slightly wispy versus full-blown. To achieve this, Vassell took scissors and sliced out some added volume to make them more peek-a-boo as opposed to covering the entirety of my forehead.
Lastly, my hair was spritzed with water and a lightweight mousse was massaged in to achieve my ideal beach wave texture. To finish out the sleek look, I sat under a hooded dryer to make sure my whole scalp and hair were dry. Of course it totally depends on the hair length, texture, and sew-in you want, but the total time I was in the salon amounted to five hours.
What Are The Benefits Of A Sew-In Weave?
Ranging from $400 to $1500, and an extra $80 to $600 for the hair, sew-ins are pricey. But fortunately, they have many benefits. For starters, the lack of maintenance is significant. Previously, I’d spend anywhere from five (light oil and water spritz) to 40 minutes (curl refresh days) in the morning doing my hair. Now, in the morning I don’t have to do anything, allowing me to wake-up-and-go — something I’ve never been privy to. The style itself also lasts up to 2.5 months, which is one of the main reasons I got it as we are approaching summer when temperatures and humidity get the best of my curls.
Sew-ins are also a great style to sport when you want to switch up your look. You get the benefit of your hair being tucked away and protected from weather conditions and heat styling, while testing out a new texture, length, or color.
Can You Wash A Sew-In Weave ?
The answer is yes. Vassell recommends washing it every two weeks or once a week if it feels itchy. You can shampoo and condition the extensions and your scalp, and then detangle with a wide-tooth comb or paddle brush — this will also prevent the hair from matting. The one requirement the artist recommends is making sure the hair underneath is completely dry before going to sleep. “If your braids underneath aren’t completely dry before styling, it can cause mildew or fungus on your actual scalp — leaving you with lots of irritation and discomfort,” Vassell tells TZR. For this, she recommends a hooded dryer to save your arm the pain of drying your hair with a hand held blow dryer.
Although a night routine is not necessary, you can wrap or pin curl your extensions to preserve the hair. Sleeping on a silk pillowcase works well, too. If you decide to get a leave out weave instead, make sure to apply a heat protectant whenever you are using tools.
Does A Sew-In Damage The Hair?
If your hair is not installed properly (too tight or too loose) weaves can damage the hair. And at $600-$1500 a piece, Vassell recommends going to a reputable stylist and schedule a consultation to make sure you know exactly what will occur in the appointment. And although the weave could still look good, the pro doesn’t recommend keeping it in for longer than 2.5 months as it could affect the health of the natural hair underneath.
Taking out your weave on your own instead of seeking a professional could also damage your hair and edges. “I have seen clients who remove their weaves at home come in with choppy hair because they thought they knew what they were doing,” says Vassell, who uses small pointy scissors to snip the threads.
All in all, sew-in weaves are a great protective style that allows you to experiment with other textures, hair colors, and lengths. For me, only a day in, its given me the cool and effortless French girl energy that I’ve aspired to my whole adult life.