Interview with Karen Ribble of Braided Image Hair Braiding
~by D. A. Fox and Leia B.~
"The crown style is by far my most frequently requested braid. A crown style stays up very well, and looks good on almost everyone. Crowns are very comfortable to wear even with very long hair. The weight of the hair is evenly distributed around the head and will not usually cause a headache." - Karen Ribble
Karen Ribble, Owner of Braided Image
In the Lone Star state of Texas, a star began to shine in the hair care world; her name is Karen Ribble. Karen grew up on working farm in Weatherford TX., which is located just west of Fort Worth. Braiding hair has taken her to various cities and states within the US. From Renaissance Festivals to weddings, Karen's beautiful braids adorn ladies across the country! Karen now operates her business from the hills of Tennessee. We are thankful to have this special opportunity to talk with Karen!
Queen Anne Braided style - pinned up
Karen, when did you first learn how to braid hair?
I learned to braid hair from my mother and maternal grandmother when I was a very young child. My grandmother is right handed as am I, but my mother is left handed. When my grandmother would try to teach my mother any sort of needle work or craft she would tell her to just turn it around. So my mother flipped her braid over not realizing that you do the same thing with both hands when braiding. By proximity I learned both the French and Dutch techniques because of it. I had two sisters with very long hair that needed braiding for school every day and for working on the farm. Braids will always be popular in Texas! I learned the braiding basics really well when I was a child. That, and milking cows prepared me for braiding professionally many years later. Anything you learn even a little bit as a child comes much easier as an adult.
How true! What got you interested in braiding for fun and profit, and learning new and complicated braiding styles?
I quickly learned many new styles when I started braiding at Renaissance Festivals with my good friend and mentor Deni Hodge. I was working my way through nursing school at the time.
Did you ever go to beauty school?
No, I went to nursing school, but my mother and both her sisters are beauticians.
How long have you been working in this field?
I started braiding hair at both the Scarborough Fair Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie, TX (just south of Fort Worth), and the Texas Renaissance Festival just north of Houston in 1988. At that time I always thought of braiding as a side line or hobby to get myself through nursing school. Little did I know I was preening myself for my own future business.
When did you establish Braided Image?
The door was opened for me to go independent at the Renaissance Festivals in about 1993. The name Braided Image was established in 1998. I was wanting to start a family and stay with my child. I saw braiding as a way to do that.
Do you have children?
I have one son who is starting kindergarten this year.
Does this force you to juggle your schedule a little?
Having a child is a major, wonderful life changer. I think it often inspires a person to rise to greater heights than perhaps they would have otherwise. The thought of another person looking up to you and depending on you makes you try harder.
Dutch Crown Braid
How long does it take you to complete one of your more complicated styles, for example, a crown braid?
I can consistently complete a crown style within 10 minutes, even on very long hair. I can do most of the basic styles in about 10 minutes on any average length hair. Additional, small, accent braids significantly increase the time it takes to complete a style. I will say here that I am an exceptionally strong braider. I have braided hair with many girls that had the skill to do nice braids but did not have the upper body strength or stamina to stand and braid hair all weekend long at a show. Braiding hair is a lot more physically taxing that many people realize. Did I mention that I milked a cow every day when I was growing up! Talk about strong hands and arms!
On your site, you have a link to hair care tips, which shows you are interested in taking care of hair, as well as braiding it! Are you a long hair enthusiast?
I grew up with two sisters both having very long hair. I never had hair past my shoulders when I was growing up. I was such a tom boy, my mother kept my hair short to very short. In adulthood the situation is reversed. I have, through my business, grown into a long hair enthusiast. Now that my hair is the longest it has ever been in my life, I have really grown to love it. It has become part of me. That feeling is cultivated through the process of getting it to be long and beautiful, and of course encouraged and reinforced when I get compliments on my unusually long, braided hair.
My hair is just past my tail bone. I am shooting for the classic length of just below my bottom. My hair has never been this long before and I do not have any idea of how long it will get before I reach my limit. The length a person's hair will reach is determined by the life span of the individual hairs. Although that life span is genetically predetermined, it is also affected by external factors such as stress and nutrition. Now that I am getting older and grayer (I got gray very prematurely) I have noticed and felt a lot of pressure from society to cut my hair. It seems as though I am not the only one to notice this phenomenon. I love seeing all the support group/web sites for long hair. I hope this trend continues.
Partial Dutch Rows
Do you regularly wear your hair in braids?
I wear my hair braided 99.9% of the time. I love having it long and I love wearing it braided. I used to wear it in two classic Indian style braids. Now it is so long that the tails take a long time to braid and get in my way, so I usually wear a Dutch crown.
How long does hair have to be in order to braid it?
Depending on the thickness of the hair, it must be at least 3 to 4 inches before I can braid it. Because braiding takes up length, the thicker the hair is, the longer it must be before it can be braided.
I have many, many, long hair customers that come back time and time again. Part of my theory on this phenomenon is that people with short hair styles often enjoy the personal, intimate, pampering of a hair dresser on a regular basis. People with long hair often miss that intimate grooming experience. Getting a braided do, is one way of having that sort of experience over and over without sacrificing your hair length. You get a fun and different hair style for a few days with a break from tending your long hair.
9- strand braid
I keep an assortment of hair bands to accommodate for different colors and thickness of hair. Generally I use soft bands that do not break the hair. I use orthodontic bands for the ends of tiny braids. I use bob pins to secure the braid tails in up styles. I also keep a huge assortment of ribbon roses and satin ribbons for decorating the braids. I have found that braiding ribbon into a braid often helps hold it together better and give it weight. Great for fine or thin hair.
Zig Zag Dutch braid
What is the most popular braiding style amongst your customers?
The crown style is by far my most frequently requested braid. A crown style stays up very well, and looks good on almost everyone. Crowns are very comfortable to wear even with very long hair. The weight of the hair is evenly distributed around the head and will not usually cause a head ache.
Do you have a favorite style?
I like crown styles. I like doing them, I like seeing them, and I like wearing them.
Have you ever made up your own braid designs?
Yes. Over the past 18 years of braiding hair professionally I have cultivated a huge portfolio of over 100 different braid styles. When I am braiding at a show I make most of them available for my customers to choose from out of picture books. My huge selection of styles is part of what sets me apart from other braiders. I often hear customers exclaim that they never dreamed there were so many ways to braid hair. People love looking at my pictures so much it has inspired me to put together a picture book to sell, featuring just pictures of braids. Look for it to be out by this time next year.
How do you keep the hair smooth when braiding?
I start with dry hair. I also use a quality hair gel (or bees wax) on my fingers while braiding. It helps get it tighter and smoother.
Mary's Hat, specialty braid
What tips would you give someone who is trying to learn how to braid their own hair?
Only look in the mirror to check if your additions are smooth. Do not look in the mirror to do your braiding! The reverse image will be confusing. Just think about what your fingers are doing with the braid.
What do you think is the most common mistake people make when they are braiding their own hair?
I think the two most common mistakes people make are trying to look in the mirror while they are braiding and thinking it will be easier to braid wet hair. For me, braiding wet hair is like going in slow motion.
Do you have instructional videos or books that can help people learn to braid?
Yes. I have had so many people over the years say they wanted to learn to braid that I was inspired to teach people how. I believe that I have self-published the very best braiding instructional material available anywhere. I have a "Beginning Hair Braiding" book, video, and DVD that teaches specifically how to braid on someone else. I also have a "Braid Your Own Hair" book, video, and DVD that teaches specifically how to braid on your own hair. It is a very different process to braid on your own head than to braid on someone else. Thus the two different complimentary sets. Very often when someone switches from braiding someone else to braiding their own hair, they unintentionally invert the braid. My instructions teach how to do the exact type of braid desired.
Karen, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us! Your work is certainly amazing and I am sure our members will want to learn more about you. Where can they see more of your work and order your products?
You can visit me at my website : I will also be offering a special "free gift" for Loom visitors, so be looking for my ad at the top of the Loom discussion board pages! The offer will be good through August 31, 2005.
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