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How a Traditional Ti Leaf Hula Skirt is Made

The dancer at Paniolo Greens was wearing a traditional green ti leaf skirt.

Ti leaves comes from the cordyline fruticose plant. This is in the Asparagus family, can you believe it?

Ti Plants on Maui in the Makawao Forest Reserve
Photo by Forest and Kim Starr

This is the plant we call cabbage palm. In Hawaii it is called Kī, Lā‘ī. Every Polynesian language has a different name for it.

Ti plants grow up to 13 feet tall. The leaves can be up to 30” long, but are usually 12” to 24” long and 2” to 4” wide, perfect to make a skirt.

Hula Dancer in Ti Skirt

The Hawaiian hula skirt uses about 50 green leaves.

The hula skirt is made from the green ti leaves. Each leaf is individually tied onto a string. In ancient times, the string was actually raffia, which is a string-like weed that grows in the tropics…

Each leaf is picked for length of about the same measurement. They are washed and then layed straight to prepare for the placing on the skirt. Each leaf is then individually tied in a wrapping fashion around the string. It reminded me of tying a man’s tie. Next the tie is pulled tight and moved down the length of the string. Additional leaves are then placed on the string until the string is filled with the ti leaves. After the leaves are all tied on, the skirt is complete. To wear the hula skirt, the string is tied together at the ends.

To keep the hula skirt fresh and green it is wet down with water and then wrapped up in paper. It is then frozen or put in the refrigerator until it is used again. It would dry out if this wasn’t done. Each time the hula skirt is needed, it is just taken out and let thaw or warm up. The skirt will last a very long time using this method. The green color will not fade. If it is left out, the skirt will dry. The color of the skirt will turn a light brown color when left in the sunshine. This can also be done if you wish. After it has dried thoroughly it must have the vein of the leaves taken out. This will be the dry hula skirt, and will have a straw like feel. These are called the grass skirts. I prefer mine to remain green.