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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 lei 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.
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 ribbon lei
- 3-4 yards each of two colors of satin ribbon (I used double-faced 1/4″)
Yes, that really is all you need. Pretty cool.
How to make a Hawaiian 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.
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.
3. Make a little bunny ear-stye loop 6-8″ along ribbon 2 (white in the example).
4. Insert loop 2 through loop 1.
5. Pull loop one tight. It should be snug against loop 2, but not cause any puckering.
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.
5. Insert this new loop through the loop in ribbon 2.
6. Pull ribbon 2 tight.
7. Fold a new loop in ribbon 2, insert it through the loop in ribbon 1.
8. Pull ribbon 1 snug. You should start to see a checkerboard pattern developing!
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.
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.
13. Tie the lei’s two 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.
15. Wear or gift your handmade lei with pride!
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).
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.
More Hawaiian ribbon lei tutorials
Learn how to make a tricolor braided ribbon lei:
And a lovely spiral ribbon lei!
Have you ever received or given a lei? What was the occasion?
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