In many parts of Africa, the head wrap completes the outfit. A nice head wrap can make a plain gown or two piece look elegant and a bad head wrap can ruin an outfit. Here are instructions for tying a basic West-African head wrap and how to add variations.
Pick the Cloth
Any type of material can be used to tie an African style head wrap. In Nigeria for example, cotton, velvet, lace, silk and other materials are all used to tie a head wrap. The most important thing to remember is the size. A head wrap should be about ½ a yard to 1 yard in length and the width really depends on the cut of cloth -- some pieces of cloth come in wider widths than others. The cloth usually goes around the head once but may go around twice if the cloth is more than a yard.
Determine the Style
While there are many styles out there, the basics are mostly the same, with some variation of course. You should have an idea of if you want some cloth sticking out to form, say a flower or fan style, wings at each side of your wrap, or just a simple wrap,
Basic Head Wrap
Get your cloth and hold an end in each hand. Bunch it up at the sides for a firm grip on the cloth. Place the middle of the cloth at the nape of the neck. Do not release the cloth in your hands. Take the left side of the cloth and wrap it around to the right and the right side of the cloth and wrap it around to the left. This will form a v-shape around the forehead. Firmly pull both ends to the nape, wrapping the cloth once or twice around the head. Tie the loose ends together and make a knot, at the nape, where you started. Tuck in stray pieces of cloth at the knot and all over to smooth out the wrap.
To create different styles, think about how you want the stray pieces of cloth that will stick out while wrapping the head to look. For example, if you want your wrap to look more hat- or wing-like, you can pull pieces of stray ends out at all sides, while making sure the back knot is still secure. The stray ends come from the edges of the cloth that somehow have not made it neatly into the creases while wrapping the cloth around. When pulled out uniformly, a style has been created. If you want the appearance of a fan or petal effect above the forehead, tie the knot where the v-shape should be and leave one end out. Tuck in the other end under the wrap. Take the loose end and shape it by lifting up vertically and spreading out the creases.
A Head Wrap with Very Little
Say you have an occasion and a nice African outfit but very little cloth remaining to make a head wrap. You can fold your cloth into a rectangle, by folding both horizontal ends in to the middle. Take this piece of cloth and simply place it over your forehead and tie in the back. Use this method only when nothing else is available because it is very simple.