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16 December 2011 @ 07:22 pm
How to make ti leaf lei.  
It's almost graduation time for some collegest this semester. Well, it is for my school. The local tradition here is to give graduates lei, which is what I have been doing for quite a while. Instead of buying them which can get pretty pricy depending on how fancy you want your lei to be or how specific you want your flowers to be, I'll teach you how to make on yourself. You guys already know that I work in a flower shop, so I've been doing this for many years and I would like to call myself at least proficient in it.

Anyway, let's go in first at what type of lei I'm going to teach you how to make. Instead of the regular blooming flower types, I'll teach you how to make ti leaf lei. 

There are two types: Maile style and regular style.

Maile style is based off of the maile lei which consists of leaves from the maile vine strung together in a thick, long strand that has a nice fragrant flavor. In the ti leaf lei version, there are inserts or filler cut from the ti leaves that are inserted into the strands as they are being entwined. These are usually open-ended and meant to drape over the person's shoulders.

Regular lei are just ti leaves strung together without the addition of filler or inserts to give it that more leafy appearance. It gives a simpler and less full look which is more commonly used for females versus the males as the males are larger/broader and in need of longer length and width. These can be open-ended or closed-ended that someone can wear like a regular or as a draping like maile lei.

So before you start preparations let me go into specifics. Ti leaf come in different sizes; large, medium, and small. It doesn't really matter what you choose for your lei because they're all going to be entwined together, but the larger ti leaf means you'll have to use less leaves to make the full lei. Smaller leaves are better for use as inserts.

Green leaves that are without blemishes (spots, holes, etc...) are preferred but if the leaves are starting to turn yellow that's fine too. It doesn't really matter when you start braiding it together because the color overall is going to be a dark green.

I'm going to make mine maile style so if you want to make it just regular style you can skip the insert instructions.

+ Ti leaf (obviously)
+ Scissors (to cut the ti leaf)
+ 3 Clothespins (to hold it together)
+ Raffia or String (for use as a base)


Decide on what type of lei you want to make first. Maile style lei take a lot more ti leaf. A regular ti leaf lei takes about 6-10 pieces depending on the size of the leaf and how long you want your lei to be. It's always better to get more than exact because if you have junk leaves that shred or tear while you're making it, you want to have that back up. Also, allow for a generous amount of ti leaves for fillers because these take up a lot of ti leaf.

I'd suggest this preparation step be done the day before you actually make the lei because this process takes about an hour.

I'd suggest you use an ample amount of newspaper or something to cover the area you're going to work with because it's going to get messy and you don't want that staining your floor.

All right, now that we've got that out of the way, shall we begin?
First, you need to take all of your ti leaf and cut it in half along the spine. At the end you'll have two pieces.

Here's a picture for guidance:

Next, you need to make inserts (if you're making a maile style lei). Take some of the ti leaf you've already cut and cut those further into smaller pieces. The shape they should be cut in should either be similar to a rhombus or a parallelogram. I'd suggest having them at least be three and a half inches in length with a minimum of two inches for the width. You can get about three inserts from one half of a ti leaf, so cut according to your needs.

Here's a picture as a sample:

After that you're going to take all of your halves and your inserts and drench them with water. Make sure they're fully soaked because if they're not entirely wet, when you pull them out to use them they won't be soft and pliable when you're twisting and braiding them. The leaves will crack and tear which will make them very difficult to use or useless.

Once you're done while the leaves and inserts are still wet you should stick them in the freezer. I'd suggest maybe using a plastic bag or a small container to store them. I usually just either bend the long pieces in half or have them in a roll and stick them in.

You can leave them overnight to freeze. When you use them again they'll probably be stiff and have ice on them but don't worry. They'll soften as it warms up and it's totally fine to gently pull the ti leaves apart if they stick together. Just don't pull it too roughly or hard.

If you're in a hurry you can do it the other way, which is to microwave them. You drench the inserts and pieces with water, exactly the same as the step I said above, and then stick it in the microwave. You cook it for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on your microwave, or until it starts giving off this very noticeable and distinct smell. I liken it to burning rubber. When you pull them out they should be soft, sticky, squishy, and  slimy. 

I like the freezing method better because there's no smell and the leaves are less slimy.

You're done with this step.


Before you actually start making the lei you need a foundation for the end to work off from as you lengthen it. I'd suggest a table leg. Some people use other things, it's up to you.

Making one lei can take fifteen to thirty minutes. So be aware if you have a lot to make, you'll be spending a lot of time doing this especially if you're new at this. 

What I do is tie some raffia around the leg leaving some excess for the tail. If you don't have raffia, string works just as well. 

Here's what I mean:

Now what you need to do is get two pieces (make sure they're around the same length otherwise you'll have the annoying problem of one end being longer than the other when it's time to join them with more ti leaf) and maybe leaving about 2 or 2 and half inches at the tip for tying, cross them over each other. The side that has not been cut should be on the right for both pieces. 

Then you'll pinch them where they join up and clip them to the raffia with a clothespin.

Now you'll need to twist each piece to the right. I'd suggest taking the right edge of your piece and wrap it under and over your cut edge. As you go along your cut side might start the rip, shred, or tear, so by having the uncut edge go over the cut side it'll prevent this from showing. Make sure you twist it tight  otherwise you won't have a neat braid appearance. The ti leaf will become quite wet and will most likely start leaking out sap, so it's a good thing to have that newspaper underneath to catch it.

Here's a picture to help you understand my not so good instructions.

Next you'll start braiding the two strands. You'll put the right strand over the left and continue on down in this way the length of it. 

Don't worry if at first it doesn't look that nice or your loops are uneven in size. You'll get better with practice as I did. 

Now if you want to stick inserts in the lei you'll to open your twisted ends (don't undo the braid!). Take one of your inserts and pinch the bottom half of it and place it on the now open and flat area. Do thise for the other side as well. Now twist your piece over your insert. Make sure it's fully wrapped inside or it'll fall out. Then you'll continue braiding like normal.

It should look like this:

Now comes the tricky part. You'll obviously come to the end of your ti leaf pieces and will need to join it with more ti leaf to make it longer. The process is much the same as when you started the beginning. Leave about two inches at the ends and then taking two new pieces, place them crossed over each other where the braid stops. If you don't leave enough ti leaf at the end, you face the risk of the lei coming apart as you work.

Now take another clothespin and clip the braid and pieces on top of it together. 

Wrap your newly placed pieces over the old ones and continue as you go along. I actually use three clothespin in this process. One to hold the beginning of the lei to the raffia foundation. The second for the first joining and the third for the next joining. As you go along and get to the third joining just take the clothespin from the first joining and use it on that one. 

They act as a holder while you join the ti leaves together and prevent it from coming apart. 

Okay, so you've gone and made your whole lei. How do you end it? Well when you get to the end, it's simple. If you're doing an open-ended lei just tie the two separate ends with a know. If it's a closed-ended lei, just place the two ends together and tie the ends diagonally across from each other into a knot.

A finished maile style open-ended ti leaf lei should look like this:

A regular closed-ended ti leaf lei should look like this:


Once you're done, you need to soak your lei in a bucket or container of cold water. This is so some of the sap and juices that came out as you were braiding the ti leaf will wash off. I'd leave it in there for maybe twenty minutes.

After that take it out and either leave it to air dry or dry it between a towel, squeezing all the water out. Plant juice will probably come out and stain your towel green. That's okay, but I don't know if you'd mind losing a towel. You obviously don't want that stuff on the person you're giving the lei to.

Some people like to dress up the ti leaf lei even further by intwining it with tuberose, pikake, etc... It's totally up to you. You can insert orchids into the lei by lifting up one section of the braid and pushing the orchid stem through and securing it with another section of the braid (like how you'd sew).

I didn't do this because I don't have the extra money to pay for this stuff. So sorry no pictures for that. >_<.

Anyway, that's it! I hope this guide was helpful! Now you guys can all make ti leaf lei on your own. =). This is just my method of making ti leaf lei, other people have theirs, so if you find a more easier or faster way go ahead and use it. If you have any questions just leave a comment and I'll be happy to help you out. ^^;;.
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jlewenda on December 21st, 2011 06:35 am (UTC)
THAT IS AWESOME. I'm actually kind of speechless.
need_tea on December 21st, 2011 06:58 am (UTC)
Haha, thanks! Now you can make your own. ;).