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How to Make a Braided Hawaiian Ribbon Lei

In Hawaii, you don’t need much of an excuse to give or wear a lei. People love to meet folks at the airport with a fresh flower lei, but ribbon, leaf, bead, shell, candy, and even liquor mini bottle lei are popular, too! I’ve gotten a lei checking into a hotel, showing up at a party, and for no reason at all. People give them to sporting teams, classmates, and friends, and sometimes people wear a lei just because they felt like it that day. Even though flower leis are popular, and what people usually think of when the imagine a Hawaiian lei, they do tend to wilt pretty quickly. As a result, ribbon lei are also popular, especially for graduations and holidays. This tutorial shows you how to make your own Hawaiian ribbon lei. It would be perfect for Valentine’s Day, graduation, as favors for a DIY wedding, or “just because.” The supplies are inexpensive and, once you get the hang of it, braiding the ribbons is pretty quick and easy. Check it out!

Make your own Hawaiian Ribbon lei

One of the neat things about making this basic ribbon lei is that you don’t even need to cut the ribbon ahead of time. You can work right off the spool, basically eliminating wasted ribbon. For this tutorial, I used 1/4″ ribbon, which results in a finished lei that’s about 3/4″ wide. You can use smaller or larger ribbon – the choice is yours! With 1/4″ ribbon, I usually need about 3 yards of each color. This means you can buy two 10 yard spools for a dollar or two each and make three lei from them! That’s pretty inexpensive. If you use wider ribbon, you will need more yardage.

Materials needed to make a Hawaiian braided ribbon lei

Yes, that really is all you need. Pretty cool.

How to braid a simple ribbon lei

This is the simplest braided lei, but it can still take a minute to learn. Don’t get frustrated if you need to start over a time or two! Before you know it, you’ll be braiding like a pro. Plus, I created a quick little video showing the process in action, so you can check it out if you get stumped. =)

1. Pull at least 6-8 inches of each ribbon free from the spool.

pull out some ribbon

2. Decide which ribbon you’ll start with. This is now ribbon one (red in the example). Make a slip knot in ribbon 1, 6-8 inches away from the end.

ribbon 1 and 2

tie a slip knot

3. Make a little bunny ear-stye loop 6-8″ along ribbon 2 (white in the example).

make a loop with the second ribbon

4. Insert loop 2 through loop 1.

insert loop

5. Pull loop one tight. It should be snug against loop 2, but not cause any puckering.

tighten the slip knot

4.  Using the longer, spool end of ribbon 1, make a loop. It doesn’t matter if you fold it “forward” or “backward,” just pick whichever way is easier for you and stick with it for the entire lei.

make a loop in ribbon 1

5. Insert this new loop through the loop in ribbon 2.

6. Pull ribbon 2 tight.

snug down second loop

7. Fold a new loop in ribbon 2, insert it through the loop in ribbon 1.

repeat

8. Pull ribbon 1 snug. You should start to see a checkerboard pattern developing!

checkerbord pattern

9. Repeat…

repeat again

10. And repeat…

11. Until it’s as long as you want! As you go along, try to minimize gaps as much as possible. It makes the finished lei much nicer looking. You can make the lei as long or short as you’d like. Super short ones can make pretty bracelets and slightly longer ones can be headbands, if you don’t feel like making a “necklace” lei. Most lei are about a yard, 36″, long, but some are longer.

make the lei as long as you'd like

12. When you’re happy with the length, cut your ribbons. Once again, leave at least 6-8″ free, or more if you’d like an elaborate bow. Once the ribbons are cut, pull the tail end of the last loop all the way through to finish off the braid.

pull ribbon through last loop

13. Tie the lei’s two ends together.

tie lei ends together

14. And finish it off with a bow, if you’re so inclined. To make it super nice, trim the ends and then heat seal (singe them lightly) with a lighter to prevent fraying.

tie a bow

15. Wear or gift your handmade lei with pride!

red and white valentine's lei

Honestly, I’m sort of irritated I didn’t think of making these in our wedding colors as favors! Wouldn’t they make fantastic DIY wedding favors? I also wish I’d known how to make them before Papi Chulo returned home from his last deployment. I gave him a braided ribbon lei (that’s still on display at home), but I purchased it. At his next homecoming, he’ll have a custom one in colors I pick out (instead of the pictured, very interesting combination of yellow, purple, green, and orange).

homecoming

Yep, now that I know how to make ribbon lei, his next homecoming lei will be a bit more coordinated than that! You may be able to tell the lei shown above is a bit more elaborate than the one I just demonstrated. Don’t worry – if you’re hoping for mind-bogglingly complex ribbon lei, they are forthcoming.

Looking for even more Hawaiian ribbon lei tutorials? Check these out!

Learn how to make a tricolor braided ribbon lei:

How to Make a Tricolor Braided Ribbon Lei

A double braided (four strand) lei:

Braided Four Strand Ribbon Lei Tutorial

And a lovely spiral ribbon lei!

how to make a spiral ribbon lei Skillshare class

Have you ever received or given a lei? What was the occasion?

natashal

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{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Marieken January 29, 2015, 06:25

    I was just talking to a friend, about what would be a cute project involving ribbon 🙂

    • Natashalh January 29, 2015, 09:48

      Well here you have it! =) It looks great with picot, too.

  • Edi January 29, 2015, 09:24

    You amaze me each week with your vast knowledge you share with us. You use different materials, do different styles of projects. No two are alike!
    These are so fun. I think I’ve seen something similar done with candy wrappers. But that might be a different technique?

    • Natashalh January 29, 2015, 09:48

      It is actually pretty similar. I know people use a very similar technique for gum wrappers.
      I think that my life would be simpler if I didn’t like so many different materials! I certainly know I’d have an easier time keeping things organized in our small apartment. I can’t wait to share more lei designs in the future – I’ve adapted some paracord lanyard techniques to ribbon and am working on some pretty cool things!

  • Duni January 29, 2015, 20:58

    I visited Hawaii with my Dad when I was ten and I received a pretty pink flower lei 🙂
    Your lei turned out so sweet! I couldn’t see the video, but I “get” the weaving technique!

    • Natashalh January 29, 2015, 21:11

      Oh, no! Does YouTube normally work for you? I wonder if there’s some regional setting I should check.
      Doesn’t getting a lei make you feel special? I think it’s a pretty cool feeling.

  • Ivy May 28, 2015, 14:34

    If i use multiple spools of the ribbons, how do i attach a new spool to the one I’m already making?

    • Natashalh May 28, 2015, 15:12

      Unless you’re making a very long lei, you shouldn’t run out part way through. One of these needs a minimum of about 6 yards, and even small spools are usually 10. Unfortunately, with this style it is difficult to attach a new strand. I would suggest overlapping the end of one piece with the beginning of the other by several inches and working with both pieces for several loops. This will help secure the new spool.

      I hope that’s helpful!

  • Chey June 4, 2015, 06:29

    Finally, a tutorial that I can understand! I have watched 5 videos for ribbon leis, but it’s so hard to tell which ribbon is being looped with fingers in the way in photos or even on video. I think I’ve got it now. Thanks so much. Have two boys graduating high school this weekend and wanted to use their school colors to order leis, but our florist is backed up with orders so I have turned to google to search for a DIY version. This is perfect! and cheap! I’m going to leave it open and tie to each end a flower made of $20 bills.

    • Natashalh June 4, 2015, 07:01

      I’m so glad you found this helpful and congratulations to your boys! I really appreciate your making the time to leave me a comment. I know exactly what you mean about videos being difficult to follow – that’s why I decided to make my own tutorial once I figured it out!

  • Tammy June 1, 2016, 09:28

    Thank you for such a great and easy-to-follow tutorial! My husband and I recently went on the Norwegian Cruise Line cruise around Hawaii for our belated honeymoon and they had a ribbon lei-making class. I ended up having to Google more detailed instructions and found that yours were the best! Ever since then I’ve been making ribbon lei for friends and family. So far I’ve been able to make this, the tricolor braided, and also the double braided. I have yet to try the spiral ribbon but hope I will soon! I learn much easier through videos so is there any chance you will have a video for the spiral ribbon? Thank you so much!

    • Natashalh June 2, 2016, 08:24

      I hope you had fun on your cruise!! I’m so glad you like my tutorial. =) I’m not planning on re-doing the other tutorial to include a video (I’m actually not even at home right now and am literally replying from the wifi at a McDonalds!), but I’ll keep it in mind for whenever I need a tutorial and am not sure what to do!

      • Tammy June 2, 2016, 09:21

        Ah thank you for the reply! I’m sure I’ll be plenty occupied with all the ribbon lei I’m making now. I’ll be looking out for your blog posts from Kailua Kona 🙂

  • Cindy April 14, 2017, 02:58

    Thank you for the easy to follow tutorial! I will need at least 15 total for my daughters good friends who are graduating high school. (15) possibly even more.
    Would you say these ribbon leis are the cheapest way to go? Because i need to make so many, I got to be frugal and classy. Lol
    Which brand and where do you recommend is the best place to purchase this ribbon?

    Thank you!

    • Natashalh April 14, 2017, 09:22

      Ribbon lei can definitely be a cost-effective way to go! Looking for the long spools of ribbon, if you can find them. My local craft store has 50 yard spools of single-faced satin 1/4″ ribbon that are perfect. Mine don’t have a brand name on them, though – I think they’re from some direct Asian import company since I live in Hawaii. I’ve also used Paper Mart online before. They have some really great ribbon prices you might want to check out if you can’t find any locally: https://www.papermart.com/fabric-satin-ribbon/id=9914

  • Daniela July 6, 2017, 13:26

    Hi there I was wondering about how many yards you would need for a child’s lei ? Around 4-5 years old .

    • Natashalh July 8, 2017, 10:46

      Probably about half as much for an adult lei, but the easiest thing with this style is just to work off the ribbon spools until you’re satisfied with the length and then cut the ribbons.

  • Joyce M. McCord October 1, 2017, 16:03

    omg how can you print wrong measurements and not make everyone angry? You try only 3 yards of each color and see how long a lei you can make!!!! Grrrr I am so angry at you!!!!

    • Natashalh October 1, 2017, 17:03

      I’m sorry you’re angry and your lei didn’t turn out like the example! I used very narrow ribbon and did only use 3-4 yards of each one per lei, but the width of ribbon used and how tightly you braid will influence how much you need. It’s not difficult to add on more ribbon if your run out before you’re happy with the lei’s length. Simply overlap the end of the ‘old’ ribbon and beginning of the ‘new’ by several inches and braid, treating the two pieces as one.

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