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How to: Make a ti-leaf lei

By Mālie Larish Staff Writer
On November 28, 2010

The ti plant flourishes in landscapes throughout Hawai`i. Red ti plants grace the walkways around the UH Hilo Library, and green ti plants surround the buildings at HawCC. Each ti plant is topped by a fan of long, glossy leaves. Hawaiians use these leaves to wrap gifts and food, construct hula skirts, and craft beautiful leis.

"Spiritually, it's supposed to keep bad energy away," said HawCC Hawai`i Life Styles student Tommy Kahihikolo-Yamashita in reference to the ti leaf.

A ti leaf lei is one of the easiest leis to make.

"Even children can learn it," said Melanie Marciel, Native Hawaiian Success Counselor at the Hawai`i Life Styles Department at HawCC.

"It's cheaper to make your own than to buy one in stores," Marciel added.

With the instructions below, you will be able to create your own ti-leaf lei to give to family and friends for special occasions like graduations, weddings, or birthdays.


1. Pick six to ten ti leaves. Once you start looking for ti plants, you will be surprised at how ubiquitous they are. If you'd like colorful accents in the lei, pick orchids, plumerias, or other thin-stemmed flowers as well.

2. Use scissors to cut the midrib out of each ti leaf, thus separating each leaf into two long strips. Cut as close to the midrib as possible so that each strip is wide.

3. Soften the strips by briefly ironing both sides of each strip. The leaf will become silky to the touch. (Alternately, you can place the ti leaves in the microwave with an open container of water. Four leaves need about four minutes of microwaving).

4. Take a strip and hook it around a stationary spike, like your toe or the upturned leg of a chair. Adjust the strip so that both the left and right sides are equal in length.

5. Using both hands at the same time, twist both the left and right sides of the strip towards the right. Each side of the strip will compress down into a tight, spiraling rope as you continue twisting each side to the right.

6. Cross the right side of the strip over the left side.

7. Continue twisting each side to the right, and continue crossing the right side of the strip over the left side of the strip.

8. Twist to the right, cross right over left. Twist to the right, cross right over left. You've got the pattern. It's all right!

9. When you reach the end of one strip, add a new strip by placing the new strip up against the old strip. Twist the old and the new together until they are one solid strand, and continue crossing right over left to lock your work in place.

10. Add flowers by incorporating the stem into the crossing-right-over-left action.

11. When your double-helix lei is long enough, tie the end into a simple knot. Place the knot through the loop that you formed at the beginning of the lei.

Hana maika`i (good job)!

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