To understand how a head full hair develops in to a head full dreads, you first need to understand what a single lock looks like at its basic level. At the root of the dreadlock phenomenon is the idea that when hair is left alone, over time it will tangle and become matted in sections. So, essentially dreadlocks are individual masses of knots that the wearer encourages to continue growing into a tangled coil or spiral that eventually resembles an irregular piece of rope or yarn. Up close, a dreadlock looks similar to steel wool -- a tangled mass of fibers woven together so thoroughly that they form one solid mass.
Picture a very tightly knit rug. If you look closely, what you see is hundreds of filaments of thread woven together. If you followed one single thread, you would see that it moves in and out from between the other threads over and over. Since each thread is locked into place by the pattern of the knitting, the rug itself looks more like a single mass of fabric than a collection of many threads.
A dreadlock is very similar, with the exception that the individual "threads" of hair are not woven together in any set pattern. They are random. In fact, some hairstylists actually offer immediate, temporary dreadlocks they create by knotting the hair quickly with a crochet hook.
Once a dreadlock is formed and the individual locks grow, new hair will continue to grow in that tangled pattern. Eventually, the hair will wind itself around the original knots until it forms a spiral pattern. Think of a ringlet of hair that is compressed until the curls are tightly packed against each other. As the hair continues to grow in that spiral pattern, the hair becomes more and more interwoven until the lock is permanent.
Read on to find out how people form their hair into dreadlocks intentionally, without having to wait for the hair to tangle by itself.