I learned to make a coconut palm leaf lei at a workshop with the fantastic Hawaiian musician, Kuana Torres Kahele. I really enjoyed this craft and wanted to try to make similar lei at home with my own windmill palm tree and ribbon.
Kuana Torres Kahele is a renowned musician as a soloist and with Nā Palapalai. He writes music, he sings, he plays instruments, he is a kumu hula (teacher), he makes Ni’ihau shell earrings, and he makes a huge variety of lei. I encourage you to listen to his music and look at some of the variety of lei making he teaches.
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You will need
Coconut palm fronds, 14 or more (other palms have shorter leaves, so you will need more!)
Dental floss unwaxed
Upholstery needle, 4 inches
Towel or newspaper
Nitrile gloves if desired to protect hands
Corrugated cardboard circle, 1.75 inches diameter
For ribbon lei, approximately 24 yards ribbon to make a 36 inch lei, 3/8 inch wide or wider
- Cut a circle from a thick, corrugated cardboard box. Make it 1 ¾ inches in diameter. Punch a hole in the center (it only needs to be big enough for a needle). Cut a straight line from the center to the hole.
- Lay out a towel or newspaper to work.
- You will split the palm fronds to make strips about 3/8 inch wide. Some fronds might make 3, some might make only 2. Halfway down the frond, insert the needle and pull. Turn the frond over and repeat from the same place to make a complete strip. Use your judgment to strip out ribs that might be two tough to fold
- You will need 96 inches of unwaxed dental floss. This is a very long length to work with at one time. I suggest cutting two lengths of 48 inches and tie together halfway through.
- Thread the needle and pull the floss through so you have a double thread. Tie a knot at 6 inches from the bottom.
- Push the needle through the hole in the cardboard so that about half of it is sticking up. Place a coconut strip on the needle. Use the circle as a guide for folding the strip and piercing again with the needle. As you fold and punch, each fold should move a little around the circle. After 6 or 8 folds, you should have a circle or floweret of leaves.
- When one strip is done, add another. When the needle gets too hard to hold (about 3 inches of lei), slide the cardboard circle off and push the lei down onto the string off the needle. Don’t mash together.
- Put the circle back on the needle and continue folding strips into florets.
- If you have used a 48 inch string, stop when there are 6 inches left at the needle end. Tie to the next 48 inch string pushing the knot tightly against the already formed lei.
- Continue until the lei is 36 inches long, or the length you desire. Tie off the ends.
- There will be lots of little curly bits along the lei. You may want to keep these, or trim them off with scissors for a cleaner look.
- Allow your lei to dry in a safe place and enjoy!
[You can use the same technique with grosgrain ribbon. You may want to cut the ribbon into 36 inch lengths.]
Resource links for coconut leaf lei
- Make Lei DVD from Kuana Torres Kahele
- YouTube video of Kuana Torres Kahele making a lei
- Windmill palm tree from Gardening Know How
- How to trim fronds from coconut palm from SF Gate
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