A flower garland, such as the Thai Lei, pictured above, makes an unusual gift for a loved one as an alternative to cut flowers – perfect for mother’s day or any special occasion. Read on to find out how to make a flower garland with these easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions.
The use of flower garlands around the world date back to ancient times. In Egypt, they were draped over mummies in celebration of the afterlife. In ancient Greece, they were used to decorate homes, public buildings and temples. In Europe, flower garlands are a common feature in folk traditions – picture cows in the Alps bedecked with garlands of colourful flowers.
In Hawaii, necklaces of flowers, known as lei, are still used today as a sign of welcome or farewell. Similar neck garlands are found in Thai culture, also known as lei or more commonly phuang malai. Smaller garlands are also used as offerings in the temples or as gifts. Indian flower garlands are called mala or haar and in the Philippines, they are called sampaguita, after their national flower.
Which flowers to use to make a garland
One of the most common flowers used in India is the marigold. The bright orange and yellow flower garlands look so cheerful. I’ve seen them hanging around doorways and arches, draped around statues of Ganesh and as decorations at weddings. Jasmine, roses and leaves are also commonly used.
Above: A drink stall decorated in orange marigold garlands at a wedding in India. Notice the tree behind it wrapped in yellow marigolds. They were everywhere!
In Hawaii, plumeria, or frangipani as I know them, are most often used but you can also use carnations, orchids or even roses or smaller flowers like hyacinths. Another popular flower is Arabian Jasmine. In Tamil Nadu in India every day, every woman, even school girls, have strings of jasmine hanging from their hair.
Some commonly available flower types used in garlands
- Frangipani (plumria)
Some flowers more easily fall apart than others so if you want to try a flower not mentioned here, check out how well the bloom holds together, once the stem has been removed.
How to make a flower garland
There are various methods of making a garland from fresh flowers. One of the most common, and the easiest to try at home, is to thread the flower heads onto a thick string of cotton using a large needle. Many different medium-sized flower heads work well for this.
- Cut the flower heads off from the stem at the base.
- Use a large needle such as these Hemline Doll Needle. And thread it with thick cotton or string. Make sure your thread is longer than the length of garland you want to produce. If you only have normal cotton use the middle-sized needle and double up the cotton.
- Tie a substantial knot at the end
- Gently thread your flower heads as shown below and pack them close together but do not force them.
- Once your garland is long enough tie the end to the start of your garland.
Depending on the flower you use, each inch of lei requires about 1.25 flowers. If you want your garland to be 40” long, for example, you will need about 50 flowers.
Tip: Remember you will always need extra cotton to tie off the garland at the end, so don’t completely fill your length of cotton with flowers.
Making a flower garland from Thailand
When I was invited to Giggling Squid in Horsham for a Thai Lei workshop with lunch, I didn’t need to think twice. I adore Thai cuisine and I’d previously been to Giggling Squid in Chichester and loved their twist on Thai food. So how could I say no? Here’s how we made Thai Lei using flowers readily available here in the UK.
What you’ll need:
- Cotton or string
- Large needle (with an eye large enough for your chosen cotton or string)
- 75 jasmine flowers
- 5 carnations
- 11 hyacinth flowers
- Spares of each flower type
How to make a traditional Thai garland
The tradition of making phuang malai in Thailand (or Siam as it was then known) dates back over 200 years ago when flower arranging was a skill practised by ladies of the royal court of King Rama V, the son of King Mongkut (the king in a 20th-century musical, The King and I). Today, you’ll see phuang malai hung on holy Buddhist statues, in cars and tuk-tuks to bring good luck and protection, as gifts to monks and important visitors, and hung in shrines. Garlands similar to Hawaiin Lei are worn around the neck of the bride and groom at Thai weddings.
1. Tie a knot at the end of a 10-inch length of cotton. If you are using normal sewing thread, double it up.
2. Thread a carnation with the needle going into the flower head and coming out at the base.
3. Thread 3 hyacinth flowers, again going in through the centre and coming out at the base. This is known as an uba.
4. Make two more ubas but for the third use a longer length of cotton – about 40 inches long.
5. Tie the first two together at the top.
6. Tie the first two uba to the third.
7. Make sure these are securely tied together and trim the shorter threads to leave them hanging from one long thread.
8. Thread a fourth carnation in the same direction.
9. Thread a fifth carnation in the opposite direction (needle goes into the base first).
10. Add two more hyacinth flowers in the same direction as the carnation immediately below them (needle goes into the base first).
11. Start threading the jasmine flowers as shown below. You’ll need about 75 flowers. Be careful not to fill up your entire thread.
12. Once you have threaded all the jasmine flowers tie off the thread where you started adding the jasmine flowers to form a loop.
Above: A Thai Lei with the jasmine flowers tied at the bases rather than threaded.