How They’re Made

Lei hulu is made with a clear heart and a calm mind. In Hawaii, when one engages in a creative pursuit, particularly of a cultural nature, it must be with tranquil thoughts and a purity of spirit. To do otherwise taints the work with the negative essence of the internalized problems from the maker.

Preparation and Fabrication:

Preparation of the feathers is the most laborious aspect of the process. With all feather leis, the feathers are trimmed to a certain length depending on the style of lei before they are made. Feather placement, spacing between lines, the math of laying out a pattern are essential to a properly sewn lei. Feathers are then knotted with an “invisible stitch” onto a cord or sewn to a backing one feather at a time. Natural color feathers and dyed feathers are used. It takes thousands of feathers and as much as 80 to 100 hours to complete one lei.

Styles of Lei Hulu, Ancient & Modern:

Ancient lei are known as Wili Poepoe and Lei Kamoe. Contemporary lei are referred to as Humu Papa. The cut of the feather used in both ancient and modern leis is diverse and accounts for many “looks” and many names for each style.

Ancient Styles of Lei Hulu:

Wili Poepoe & Lei Kamoe-                                                                                                  Both styles are worn traditionally around the head or neck but may also be worn as hatbands.

Wili Poepoe-                                                                                                                             A round lei in which each feather is knotted onto a cord with thread. The feathers are attached down the length of the lei in a tight spiral. The result is a round fluffy lei similar to a floral lei. Wili Poepoe is the first lei one learns to make and master.

Lei Kamoe-                                                                                                                           The kamoe is also a round lei but the feathers are placed flat onto the cord and attached as the poepoe lei. The kamoe is a flat and smooth lei.

Contemporary Styles of Lei Hulu:

The contemporary lei is known as Humu Papa.                                                                   No one knows for sure when the first lei humu papa was made but it is a good guess that it was sometime after the missionaries arrived in the islands, because they brought the steel sewing needle which is the essential tool for the humu papa.

Humu Papa-                                                                                                                             A flat lei where feathers are sewn individually to a backing of felt and most typically used as a hatband. They are sewn in a crescent shape across the width of the band. Feather rows are “stepped down” by 1/8 or 1/16 of an inch down the length of the band. Lei design and color vary as widely as the artist’s imagination.

Lei Pikake-                                                                                                                                A lei in the humu papa style made with peacock feathers

Lei Kolohala-                                                                                                                             A lei in the humu papa style made with pheasant feathers

Lei ‘Okole’oi’oi (marigold) & Lei Loki Lani (rose bud)-                                                          Two modern leis that imitate flower lei                                                                                 Typical feather “flowers” are pikaki, marigold, and rose bud. A popular lei in Hawaii is the Maunaloa made from orchid petals, this too may be made of feathers.

Pelt Lei-                                                                                                                                     A contemporary lei in which pieces of the bird’s pelt are cut and sewn to a backing creating a design of color and form with a very natural look. Pheasant pelts are typically used for this lei.