if making roaches was easy then everyone would be making them. anyone can learn to make one. not everyone has artistic ability though, that is evidenced by some of the roaches you see at some pow wows. some are the kit roaches you see, made by first timers. or some roachmakers just dont give a damn in how well they make the roach. done for a quick buck. commercialization. i will show the steps i follow in making a roach. it is just a step by step process. you do the same thing over and over. you dont have to do it the same way. develop your own style. i once read that some roachmaker said he was only one of a few roachmakers in the country that made roaches the way he did. the guy is full of it. most roachmakers use the same basic techniques. not much has changed in the art, just some of the materials. artificial sinew, for instance, is used today because it is more durable. yarn or rope is used in the mat, because it takes more time to use hair for the mat. and is more costly.
the first thing i do is make the base. i use aunt lydia’s 3 ply rug yarn. the company is out of business so it is hard to find. the online auction site has it but you pay more for it than it is worth, then the cutthroats add shipping costs to that. i still use the yarn for the base cuz i learned how to make roaches with them. so i still do. if anyone out there knows where i can buy some of that yarn for a fair price let me know. i am always looking for supplies. they use to make the mat with deer, elk or moose hair. you pay more for that today. some supply houses sell ready made yarn or rope bases. if you’re going to make a roach, do the whole thing. i braid three strands of the yarn together like you would braid hair then sew that into a keyhole shape. it is done the same way that yarn rugs are made. some want the mat to match the color of their outfit, but you dont see much of it at all. the spreader may cover most of it. the spreader may be a leather one or it can be a fancy silver one. some even bead their spreaders to add color. some even use a cd. feathers are attached to the spreader. most dancers have their own preference in how the spreader looks.
i tie the deertail trim for the inside next. there are how to videos out there and the kits come with instructions so i wont go into how to tie the roach. i think there is a book on tieing also. again techniques are different. some tie left to right, others from the right to left. some use a single strand while others use a double strand. the deertail and the porky hair is tied the same way. and sewn on the same way. some of the techniques in sewing them on are different also. thing is do it the same way everytime. once you develop your technique you can improve on it by doing it over and over. practice makes it better. i was proud of my first roach i made. it doesnt compare with the ones i make today. i have gotten better by making them for over thirty years. most roaches are made the same way they have always been made. you can see roaches in museums that are over a hundred years old. so it works. they are made to last unless it is not taken care of properly. sadly some dont take care of their roach, then want to blame the roachmaker. when the roach is not in use, it is best to keep it wrapped on a stick. that helps shape it and it protects it. i have seen a roach left out exposed to sunlight. the color in the deertail gradually faded. it did give it an antique look. wrapping the roach prevents the hair from breaking too. if you allow the hair to keep breaking off it will make the hair appear to be sparse. protecting the hair keeps the roach full.
i sort the porky hair next. i buy it by the pound. a kit will sell you an ounce and a half of hair, thats the amount needed to make a roach. give or take. the kits are usually a rip off. you will get more bang for the dollar if you bought 3 or 4 ounces of hair for the same price, then sort it. if you use the hair in the kit, you are stuck with what hair is in the kit. more than likely they pulled the long hair out anyway. same with the supply houses and the online auction site. they pull the long hair to sell it at a higher price. then you dont really get what they advertise either. it is much better to buy hair in a large quantity then sort it. i pull out all the hair that is not black with the same colored tips. some hair is all blond, some is all black. i pull these out. then some have tips that are longer. i try to match the tips so they are the same size. tips that are too long distracts from the look. other hair has too much white at the bottom. some white will show at the bottom, but the deer tail trim will cover this. if the deer tail trim wont cover the white (usually about 3″) i will pull that hair out. the more time you spend sorting the hair, the better the roach. i spend alot of time in sorting hair. sometimes i sort hair for weeks. without even trying to tie a roach. when i have a supply that is ready i then can tie a number of roaches. not quite an assembly line but it works for me. i can tie a roach in 3 days if i had to. i spend more time preparing than i do in actually tieing a roach.
the hair should end up looking like this. all black with solid colored tips. in order for the hair to bounce when the dancer moves the hair has to be at least 7 inches. longer is better, however it is hard to find long hair. even if you buy in large quantities. now and then i get a request for a roach with 10 inch hair in front. yeah right. i dont have enough hair out of the last 5 pounds of hair i bought to tie even one roach with 10″ hair in front. i sort the hair in bunches so it gradually decreases in size. that way when it is tied, it has a symmetry to it. it is rounded in shape. i use hair that is around 5″ long in the tail piece. anything shorter than that just dont look right. that is just my personal preference.
i tie the porky hair on a board. long ago some used a bow like frame to tie the hair on. we adept today. i use a board from the house i grew up in. some government program demolished it to make way for a new home. so i retrieved a board from the old house to tie my roaches on. i tie the hair in a single row. i have seen where some advertise that they tie two or three rows of hair to make it thicker. then they still look sparse. the old guy that taught me how to make roaches said to do it with a single row that is thick enough. there is now need to sew several thin rows together. so thats how i do mine.