Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, April 30, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
The amount of ribbon needed varies greatly depending on lei style.
A regular braided lei like the one Flora Dec designer Carole Mito
holds in her right hand takes 5-1/2 yards of ribbon per color; an
ilima (the top lei around Mito's neck) takes 30 yards, a pikake
(the smaller lei in Mito's left hand) takes 50 yards, and a ginger
(the larger lei in Mito's left hand) takes 75 yards.

Lei Ms.

Carol Mito weaves colorful ribbons
into exquisite leis and teaches the
craft to hundreds scrambling to
learn before graduation season

By Stephanie Kendrick
Assistant Features Editor


SILKY strands of red and blue slide through Carole Mito's fingers as she gets a student started on her lanyard styled lei. A class of about 40 novices and devoted followers sprawls down an aisle of Flora Dec's Nimitz Highway store. Mito assures the class she will make her rounds and help all with the projects they have chosen.

And Mito, Flora Dec's designer, has created 42 different styles of ribbon lei so students have a lot to choose from.

One of her earliest designs uses 30 yards of tangerine-colored ribbon to craft an ilima lei so realistic from a short distance, that even a florist might do a double take.

In fact, at least one local florist is selling the ribbon lei he has learned to make in Mito's class.

Wes Akiyoshi, manager of the Sears Ala Moana flower shop, has been making ribbon lei for about a year and comes to the Flora Dec class every Wednesday night.

His ribbon lei retail for $6.95 to $69.95. The most expensive is a red-and-white ginger lei. The class was his wife Pua's idea. She had seen the lei at Flora Dec and wanted to learn to make them.

Taking his skills one step further, Akiyoshi also designs ribbon lei, taking suggestions from Pua. "She says do it that way and come out nice," he said.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
The smaller the ribbon the harder the lei. Flora Dec designer
Carole Mito starts students with wide ribbon leis. "It's so
discouraging if they can't get it right. Better they start with
something simple," she said.

Nona Meneses, who works for an insurance company, also came to the class at Pua's suggestion.

The three know each other because Wes Akiyoshi and Meneses' husband are on the same softball team.

Nona Meneses has taken a class nearly every week for about six months. The lei she makes are taken to school by her 15-year-old daughter, who gives them to friends.

"I can go home and do this and my family gives me that time to myself," said Meneses.

While many of Mito's students are regulars, novices are always welcome. First timers will need to buy needles, thread and a marker pen for about $5. All of these supplies are reusable. And most first timers spend about $20 on ribbon, said Mito. The classes are free aside from the cost of materials, which must be purchased at Flora Dec.

About 100 students a week take advantage of the classes, and that will go up to as many as 40 a day the closer it gets to graduation, said Mito.

Because demand for classes is so high, Mito has tried to put together written instructions for ribbon lei making, but has found physical demonstration to be critical. "You need hands-on training," she said.

Flora Dec has produced one ribbon lei-making instructional video, for the ilima lei. It comes in a $24.95 kit that includes needle, thread and ribbon. Mito plans to work on pikake and crown flower lei-making videos next.

She also teaches a craft class on cable. "Hey Jude" on 'Olelo went nationwide this week.

Mito began teaching the ribbon lei classes three and a half years ago, at about the time she began working for Flora Dec. Her first three lei were the simple weave, pikake and ilima, which she refers to as "the lei the governor wears."

Mito, who also teaches classes in crafts ranging from collage to corsage; clay molding to money folding, threw her creative juices into ribbon lei design for a purely practical reason. "I needed to use the supplies we have in the store. We don't sell fabric or yarn."

But her timing was good as well. Ribbon lei are gaining in popularity. Mito said she orders more ribbon every year. And people are preparing for graduation earlier, coming in to buy ribbon in January when the Christmas items have barely been cleared from the store.

Other local craft shops have seen a similar increase in interest.

Ruby Gonzales, assistant manager of Ben Franklin in Hawaii Kai, said the store is stocked up on ribbon and ready for graduation. Ben Franklin offers instruction in the traditional braided ribbon lei.

"Graduation is a season, just like Christmas," she said.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
About 100 students a week take advantage of Carol Mito's
ribbon lei-making classes at Flora Dec.

But graduates and their friends and family are not the only ones interested in ribbon lei making.

Sharon Daoang, craft coordinator at the Kailua Ben Franklin, had a visit this week from Chinky Mahoe. The kumu hula stopped in to learn to make ribbon lei for the ipo used by his halau.

Rather than scheduling classes by calendar, Daoang starts them per request. "We do it on a convenience basis to the customer," she said.

In addition to ribbon lei making, she teaches yarn and cellophane lei techniques.

Mito also has had students from hula halau, many of them from Japan. "In Japan the flowers are so hard to get," said Mito. She speaks passable Japanese and would like to produce bilingual instructional tapes in the future.

Many of Mito's students are regulars. And she sees it as her job to keep the class interesting for them. "I have to constantly create," she said.

Her efforts are not lost on the students. "Carol's great. She's a good teacher," said Wes Akiyoshi.

After attending classes for a while, you feel like you've done everything, he said, but then Mito will create something new.

Students also learn from one another. When Meneses first started, she said she would only work on lei the Akiyoshis had made so they could help her. Now, she's starting to get creative on her own. Meneses recently crafted a ginger lei from recycled computer paper.

Everybody has their specialties, said Pua Akiyoshi. And they also have created a community, said Mito. They bring food to share. If one regular is having trouble with a particular lei, she has seen others offer to make it for them.

"It gives them a nice fellowship," she said.

"I like coming to class, it makes the week go by fast," said Pua Akiyoshi. "We can do this at home, but it's better to have the company."

"Its more fun to come to class, talk story," echoed Wes.

The classes

Ben Franklin Stores

Bullet Hawaii Kai, 395-9429
Four-class series 10 a.m. to noon Sundays May 2, 9, 16 and 23. $25 plus cost of materials.

Bullet Kailua, 261-4621
Craft coordinator Sharon Daoang teaches customers on a walk-in basis. It is best to call and check whether she will be available.

Bullet Mapunapuna, 833-3800.
Ribbon lei making demonstration May 15 at 1:30 p.m. No classes, but written instructions are available at the store.

Craft Supply of Honolulu

Bullet Stores on South King and at Pearl Highlands Center.
No classes, but written instructions are available at both stores.

Flora Dec

Bullet Nimitz Highway near Kmart, 537-6194
Free classes 10 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, as well as 5:30 Wednesday evenings. They last about an hour and a half. Materials must be bought at Flora Dec. First timers will need to buy needle, thread and marker pen for $5, all of which are reusable. And most first timers spend about $20 on ribbon.

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