How to Make a Lei

Making a lei is a fun activity for a family or group of friends to do together. For Hawaiians, a common activity is to make leis from leaves and flowers or from other materials such as money or candy for certain occasions. Weddings, graduations and birthdays are occasions for some of these specialty leis. The chosen materials make an enormous difference in the look of the lei as well as how well it works together as a whole. Some of the flowers that are often used in Hawaiian leis include:

  • Plumeria (called the Melia in Hawaiian)
  • Mock Orange (Walahe’e Haole)
  • Hibiscus (‘Ilima)
  • Bougainvillea (Kepalo)
  • White Ginger (‘Awapuhi ke’oke’o)
  • Gardenia (Kiele)
  • Tuberose (Kupalo)
  • Stephanotis (Male)
  • Poinciana (Ohai Ali’i)
  • Orchid (‘Okika)
  • Arabian Jasmine (Pikake)
  • Roses (Loke)

Preparation

Be sure that you have enough flowers for the lei you want to make. A general rule is that each inch of lei requires about 1.25 flowers. So, if you want your lei to be 40” long, you will need at least 50 flowers. Onto that length, add 2” or more to your thread to allow you to tie the ends of the lei together.

Materials

For this project, you will need your chosen flowers, a needle and thread for putting them together and a plastic baggie.

Begin

Using exotic flowers, particularly those that Hawaii is known for is a great way to start your lei, but you can also use flowers, vines and leaves from your yard to make your own lei. An easy way to create a basic lei is to make a single-strand one from flowers. To make a 40” lei, collect about 50 medium-sized flowers. Cut thread into a 100” length. Fold the length in half and tie the ends together to make a 50” length. The knot you use on the ends should be a large one that will keep the flowers in place and act as the lei’s stopper. There should be at least an inch of string left after the knot to allow you to tie the lei together when you’re finished.

There is a large lei needle that is often used in Hawaii to make this type of lei, but you can use a large needle of any type for your lei. To string your flowers, put the needle through the very center of each flower and guide it along the string to the end. Avoid forcing the flowers so that they don’t tear. Once all of the flowers have been strung, tie the ends together and you have your own lei to wear or give as a gift. When you’ve finished it, put it into a plastic baggie that you have misted with cool water in order to keep it looking great until it is worn.