Trim: I just get a blunt cut from the Great Clips on the corner when it gets so long that it won't hold the curl all evening. I don't like to cut my hair too often because the ends are tougher to get around the curler when newly cut. Too straight and not damaged enough! (When you're starting out, if you don't have dyed hair, it's gonna take a few times for your hair to get used to being curled. I never dye my hair; too much maintenance. Though I like henna.)
Wash hair: I'm not particular about shampoo, other than something that smells decent. Freshly washed (that day) is important, at least for my hair. I've tried it with yesterday-washed hair and the curl didn't take. Plus, the natural oils in your hair heat up under the soft-bonnet dryer, which amplifies the scent. Not nice.
Dry hair: barely damp - so it feels dry but cold, like it's retaining a little water. Bone dry is fine too. I never, ever wet-set. That would require tiny little pin curls and a whole lotta time. The ends of my hair stick out and refuse to curl if they don't have a support, so I don't bother.
Apply mousse: softball-sized dollop. Smooth bits of it through hair with fingers, from roots to ends, especially focusing on hair touching the neck. Hair there is finer and less damaged, thus will curl less easily, plus if you perspire, that hair will straighten first.
Brush out again, as mousse will tangle hair a bit.
Put in curlers:
Starting at forehead, section out a lock of hair with fingers (through hair at scalp.) Smooth lock of hair with brush and bring curler close to ends.
With free hand, wrap that last little bit of hair around curler, tucking tips in while you roll the curler down to roots. I don't bring the curler out to the very ends because it's different lengths and it will all fall out of my hand. Just make very sure those tips are tucked in right.
A mirror positioned so you can see the back of your head is a very good idea.
Here's the pattern I use, only because it's easy. I start with the "mohawk", then do the sides near my temples, then the rest.
Sit under soft-bonnet dryer: Plug it in and turn it to the hottest setting for a few seconds. That'll soften the bonnet so it's more comfortable. Put the bonnet on your head, making sure all the curlers are inside, and pull the drawstrings away from your ears to tighten. Make sure the bonnet goes down to just above your eyebrows, or it won't heat the curler right above your forehead.
You will now feel extremely glamorous. What a stunbucket.
I keep it on for 40 minutes. Any less and the curl will go limp within an hour after styling. Those of you with hair that likes to curl can get by with 20-30 minutes. I do my makeup while I wait. Since the bonnet needs to be low on my forehead, I apply makeup there first, then pull the bonnet down.
Remove curlers: Just undo, loosen, and pull the curler directly out from the lock the rest of the way. If I carefully unroll them, my curls don't "ringlet" as nicely.
Hair-spray ringlets: If I don't do this, the curl will sometimes come loose too quickly. This helps set it a little and gets all over each ringlet, whereas if you only spray after styling, it only gets to the outside of the mass of hair.
I make a side part and start with pieces on top. If it looks too flat or poofy the way I roll it, I'll take it apart and make the part on the other side.
Section out a lock of hair with fingers. If you have fairly thick hair, don't use too big a lock, or it'll be unwieldy and 50 pins won't hold it in place. Starting near the roots, wrap it around your finger, keeping the ends behind the roll. Position the roll where you want it. Sometimes if it doesn't look good, you have to let it go and try again.
Once you like it, cross-pin it. Insert pins below the roll and parallel to your scalp, then radially through the roll, and anywhere else you need to keep it in place. You may need more pins than you imagined you would. I usually have 4 to 12 pins in each roll. Obviously, try to conceal the pins as best you can.
Once it looks like it's going to stay on your head and not wobble or shift, smooth the frizz and spray well. When you do side rolls, otherwise known as victory rolls, there will inevitably be some hair that wants to stick out. Don't worry about it until you have it well-pinned, then comb back into place and smooth with hands before and after spraying. Also with side rolls, make sure they're symmetrical. Sometimes one likes to be higher or poofier than the other.
Loose back part:
Run fingers through the remaining loose curls. Look at the back in your back-of-head mirror to make sure it looks even. Before the hair ends in curls, there will probably be a straight part. That's good. Smooth it with a comb before spraying. Make sure you spray underneath and near the neckline.
I think I got my hair cut just before this photo. It's a bit shorter than I like it now. It relaxes through the day, though, so it might have descended after an hour or two.
If you have a lock that didn't curl as well as the others and is sticking out, wrap it around your finger like a pincurl and cross-pin it to your scalp to hide it. A couple hours later, it may be curly enough to take out. This often happens when my hair is longer and it's warm out, so my neck perspires a little.
To keep the curl for the next day, I put some larger curlers in overnight - as few as I can manage. If my hair is long enough, I pin the curlers all on top of my head so I sleep easier. I just don't roll the curler all the way up to the root, and pin the curler up with a metal clip.