Leis to Make if You Live on the Mainland

10 Questions Locals Get Asked All the Time-2

It’s graduation time again! Remember when you graduated in Hawaii? The leis were piled so high that you practically suffocated through all the plastic, flowers, and leaves. Your hair got all tangled up in the leis, and plastic beach floaties ran from your waist down to your feet. Your arms probably felt like lead, weighed down by leis as you tried to balance bouquets of flowers and other gifts given to you from friends and family. This is what it was really like graduating in Hawaii. Leis are a big part of our lives and our culture, and especially on this special day.


But if you’re on the mainland, it’s a little harder. Locals will realize they can’t just run to the store and pick up an orchid lei or pick some plumeria flowers for a quick fix. But no fear! There are a variety of other leis that you can whip up (or not whip up because some of these take some serious time to make) for your family, friends, or significant other on their special day.


While you won’t get to twist a pretty ti leaf lei for free, or smell the fresh scent of a maile lei, I’ve created a list to help you still pile your loved ones high with leis. And it doesn’t all have to be plastic. The mainland has some really beautiful flowers and leaves to use, and if you take the time, you can make some gorgeous, colorful leis that are Hawaiian in their own way.

Read on to get some ideas on leis you can make if you live on the mainland. I’ve also included some tutorials from other websites and blogs to help you out (photo cred notes will take you to where I got the photos from). 🙂


Pretty simple to make

Yarn Lei

All you need for this is some yarn and your hands. While I’ve never personally mastered the art of yarn lei making, these make some simple leis. They’re not the most aesthetically pleasing but if that’s all you got then it’ll work. Check out this helpful video to learn how to make this type of lei.


These leis are so diverse and beautiful

Eyelash Yarn lei

I love eyelash yarn leis, because 1) they’re easy to make, 2) they’re pretty, 3) they last forever and ever, and 4) you can give it to someone else when you’re pau with it. You might be thinking, why would you give your lei away? I think it’s just kind of special to either keep a lei forever or give it to someone else that you care about. With eyelash yarn leis, you can do that! Watch this aunty to learn how for do this (I was going to make a fast video on how to make these but didn’t have time. Sorry folks. At least Aunty’s got it down). 


Mmm… These are the best!

Candy lei

The standard way of making this is to use small pieces of candy and wrap then in a tube of cellophane, tying each candy off with a ribbon. These are really fun because who doesn’t like to receive candy? If you’re out of resources, saran wrap does the job just fine. These are so dynamic that you just can’t go wrong with them (unless it’s a really hot day and the chocolate starts melting, and trust me. We’ve all been there).


They’re so pretty! 

Origami lei

I’ve never made an origami lei, but I’ve received many of these. There are so many different ways to make these, that I can’t say there’s ONE right way. Making it look nice is the key to a successful origami lei–each fold and crease must be consistent and similar. If each origami piece is exactly alike, putting them together produces a gorgeous result. 


This is a cute idea for a lei

Bead lei

I’ve seen these made all kinds of ways. The most popular, I believe, is to combine some form of origami with beads. For example, I know a lot of people who made little paper stars and made leis out of these stars and little plastic beads. Super cute! Skim through this video to learn how to make the stars. 


Money lei


Who doesn’t like to receive some kala for graduation? What’s the fun in handing your graduate a check? Why not let them wear the money? This blog page has a helpful tutorial on how to make a money lei. 


Photo Cred

Shell or Kukui Nut leis

If worse comes to worse, and you have about a week or two, there are plastic shell leis and Kukui nut leis that you can have someone send up.


Photo Cred

Silk ribbon lei

These are very difficult and time consuming to make, but the results are pure art. These leis are pretty enough to wear even on their own to a special event or something else besides graduation. This video tutorial is a great way to start making an easy silk ribbon lei. 


Photo Cred

Rose lei

Elegant and dashing, these simple rose bud leis are fashionable to wear and not very hard to make, although they might make a dent in your wallet.


Double Red Carnation
This is one of my favorite leis (Photo Cred here)

Carnation lei

These leis are absolutely BEAUTIFUL, which is why I saved it for last. When I turned 8 years old, my mom made me a haku for my baptism out of carnations, and it was so beautiful. Depending on the season or where you’re located, the color and sizes of carnations vary. My favorite kind of carnation lei is the red one, with strands of carnations wrapped together to make a hefty, bulky lei. Carnation leis are dazzling and smell wonderful. They are definitely a special kind of lei for those special people in your life.


But please don’t do these…


I think there’s been a trend in lei-giving throughout the years. When I’ve seen pictures of my parents’ graduations, or of my uncle and aunt’s graduations, they are decked out with flower and leaf leis. Hakus, made of a variety of leaves and flowers, were worn by practically everyone. I can imagine how beautiful it must have smelled at their graduations, with all of the plumerias, orchids, and puakenikeni. And let’s just add the wonderful smell of maile to that. Lei-giving nowadays has changed. What makes me sad is that we’ve shied away from giving each other natural leis, made from leaves and flowers. A lot of people (and I’m guilty of this too) only give tons of plastic leis or worse, tons of “necklaces,” as I call them.


What are “necklaces,” you ask? I mean those last minute kine gifts where you never planned ahead so you run to the store, grab a bag of Haribo gummy bears, tie a string on it, and call it good. I know–I’ve been there. I did it too, and while it’s easy and lazy, it’s definitely pathetic, especially if everyone is doing it. These are ok if they’re placed on the bottom layer of the leis, but they just detract from the true beauty of leis that people had planned or put the time in purchasing or making for their loved ones.


We’ve kind of lost touch with the real point to lei-giving. When you give a lei, you’re giving a part of yourself. It symbolizes the time, love, and care you put into making it (or purchasing it, especially if it’s on the pricier edge… which, they all kind of are), and when you give it to someone, you’re showing how proud of them you are. It’s a beautiful gift. So the following “leis” need to just rest in peace… please.


Please no… (photo cred)

Straw lei

These are only cute if little kids give them.



Please just… don’t. (photo cred here)


Synthetic lei

Seriously? Did you get that off Oriental Trading or something? SHAME.



Noooo…. (photo cred here)

Plastic lei

Looks like trashbags all shriveled up to try and make it look nice.


I have nothing against this kid (or the person who took it) but do you see what I mean with those “necklaces” on him? They’re not even leis 😦

Candy bag leis

Please no “necklaces.” I just have to repeat that. And please, don’t try to spice it up by putting bubbles or cookies or cotton candy or anything else on that “necklace.” It’s not a lei. I know you’re in a rush, but please put some effort into making a lei!


Let’s keep the tradition alive and not turn this beautiful tradition into something that is cheap, rushed, and superficial. I’m not trying to preach, but I definitely feel like we need to remember the symbolism behind giving leis. Just think, what would your kupuna say if they saw the lei you’re giving? 🙂


Is there a lei you thought of that you can make when you live away from Hawaii? What was your favorite graduation memory?


***Aren’t those leis beautiful on the title of this blog post? Photo cred to another blogger and her amazing lei-making skills! 

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