How to Make Graduation Leis

The types of lei made for graduation are as varied as the mainland locations where the Hawaiian tradition has been adopted. Island etiquette doesn't call for certain types of leis for graduation. Whether you create leis of ti leaves, flowers, money or candy depends on skill, personal taste, budget, time and access to materials. Among the easiest lei to make is a single garland of flowers using the method of kui pololei, which means to string the blossoms from front to back. The net tube lei filled with candy or money is equally easy.

Flower Lei, Kui Pololei

Things You'll Need

  • Large needle, such as an embroidery needle.
  • Strong threading material such as embroidery thread or monofilament fishing line. 
  • Fresh flowers: **Plumeria, vanda orchid and carnation** are among the most common, although in Hawaii, many [traditional lei flowers]( grow. If using plumeria, vanda orchids or carnations, you need about 40 to 50 flowers per lei.


  • When picking plumeria, avoid touching the milky sap that spills from the stem of the sweetly fragrant flower. While you're picking, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes if you plan to look into the tree. Typically, the mild toxin isn't harmful if washed off the skin or out of the eyes, but if discomfort continues or blurry vision develops, seek medical attention.

Flower Lei Steps

  1. When picking your own flowers, remove any tiny insects, taking care not to bruise the petals.
  2. Cut a strand of thread or line to 40 inches, triple knot the end, and thread the needle. 
  3. Arrange your flowers on a table in the pattern you want to string them, for example, you may want to make a lei pattern using the school's colors. Or, use a single color or flower, perhaps the graduate's favorite.
  4. Insert the needle into the center of the front of the flower, gently pushing it through and out the back of the flower.
  5. Pull the flowers gently to the end of the thread tightly, so the small stems do not show, or loosely to expose the stems.
  6. Continue threading the flowers until about 5 inches of thread are left on each end.
  7. Securely tie the thread ends together.
  8. Lightly mist and store the leis in the refrigerator. Plumeria, carnation and vanda orchid leis will stay fresh in this manner for two to three days.

Net Lei of Goodies

To include money and/or individually wrapped candies in a lei, the simplest method uses narrow ribbon and net tubing, the latter of which is found at many craft stores. You need about 40 inches of tubing for each young adult's lei.

Knot the tube closed at one end. Push a few pieces of candy into the tube -- avoid candies that might melt -- and/or folded paper money. Then, tighten a piece of ribbon around the tube just after the items you added and secure with a pretty bow. Repeat this process until you have just enough netting tube left to knot the end. Using a piece of ribbon, tie the two ends together and create a bow.


  • In keeping with Hawaiian tradition, show respect for the recipients by not wearing the leis yourself. Instead, present the graduation leis in this manner: Carry them over your outstretched arm, and place the lei over the graduate's head, draping it around the upper back, over the shoulders and around the chest. The lei should gracefully encircle the wearer rather than hang straight down. Many graduates receive so many leis that they are draped right up to their eyes.