My husband’s job took our family to live on O’ahu, Hawai’i from 1998 through November 2001. Local crafters create all sorts of handmade leis for gifts and for sale, using every substance imaginable, from the freshest island flowers (mmm!) to cut-up soda straws (a toddler’s first lei-stringing project) to ribbon, rick-rack, crochet thread and yarn. One of my favorite lei materials is the ubiquitous “Spool ‘o’ Ribbon” brand by Offray, in 1/8- or ¼-inch double-face satin in a rainbow of colors. These leis are plaited using what is sometimes called a “military braid”.
If you’re a Texas-based reader, you’ve seen the braid on Texas-style Homecoming corsages, generally made out of edged ½ or 1-inch streamer ribbon—finished strips sell for a couple of bucks at the florists around October.
The basic Ribbon Lei technique is very popular in Hawai’i and is a standard choice when making leis in school colors for graduation or other special occasions. It is easy to do on the go as it doesn’t require anything beyond two rolls of ribbon in your choice of colors and dexterous fingers. It’s a good airplane craft.
I rarely made my own leis when I lived in Hawai’i, as it was easier to buy them premade from my friends or pick them up at craft shows or at thrift stores, where second-hand fabric, seed and shell leis are almost always available. The rainbow-hued lei pictured in the photo below is a custom-made lei I purchased for Easter from a vendor at the Kam Swap Meet in Pearl City, HI in 1999.
Lately, though, I decided to teach myself the technique. I found a wonderful tutorial on the Internet, published by the Star-Bulletin, Hawai’i’s second-largest newspaper. You can find the link to the tutorial, which is an archived piece from 1998 here. I recommended you copy the text and photos and save them because who knows how long the information will remain in archives.
I have made several leis in the past few weeks—a blue-and-white one for an Alice in Wonderland themed necklace, one in red-and-green as a sample for Band Parents (I’m going to offer them for sale in the fall) and one made with two different ribbon types to honor my dog, Taco.
Using a ribbon with a pattern on one side is tricky—you have to make an extra fold and be careful you don’t shift the plaiting direction as it will add a twist to the finished lei. I plan to try more complicated patterns, including braiding three 1/8-inch wide leis and plaiting them together like the sample below.
Photos by C. Bruhn
Photos by C. Bruhn