How To Make a Thai Flower Garland
If any of you have ever wanted to know how to make a Thai flower garland, then this post is one for you. I’m sure most readers who have visited Thailand and stopped at traffic lights in a car or bus, have viewed the scene shown in the top photograph.
Thai flower garland sellers patrol the busiest traffic light sections in cities and large towns. When the lights hit red, the garland seller weaves through stationary vehicles touting the garlands to anyone who shows the tiniest hint of interest. But how do you make a Thai flower garland?
The origins and use of flower garlands in Thailand
Thai flower garlands (phuang malai) origins date back over two hundred years to the reign of King Rama V when flower arranging was a skill practised by ladies of the royal court. Today, decorative garlands are still very much a part of Thailand’s culture and fashion in many different shapes and sizes.
Large necklace shaped garlands are given as a welcome to long-forgotten friends and as a symbol of good luck to a bride and groom. And also presented to high-ranking officialdom at public spectacles as a welcome and thank you for their presence at important events.
Another type of flower garland, pictured right, is called a uba. A uba has two chains of decorative flowers with a tail(s) on each end pieced together by a ribbon.
These type of garlands (uba’s) can be seen in temples and shrines draped over Buddha images, framed photographs of revered monks and sacred trees. Thais give them as a blessing of respect, good fortune and karma. They are also hung from a car’s inside mirror or dashboard as a symbol of good luck to ward off accidents.
The garland makers use strongly scented jasmine as a core flower in a colourful mix of marigolds, orchids and roses. A strange-looking non-scented white Thai flower named Dok Ruk (flower of love) is also a valuable part of a uba, because of its ornamental shape and preservative qualities which give the garlands a longer shelf life. The flowers are spaced apart with white polystyrene balls to add a further decorative effect.
How to make a Thai flower garland
The essential tools for making a Thai flower garland are a large needle, cotton thread, ribbon, flowers and polystyrene balls. But don’t worry if dok ruk is not available to you because most flower shops stock other small decorative accessories. You’ll also need a sackful of patience and a spoonful of creative talent too.
The following photographs explain how to make a Thai flower garland and are from different uba designs.
You make the two individual chains of the uba by piercing the needle through flowers onto a cotton thread. The polystyrene balls and dok ruk gap and decorate the flowers, as and when.
Threading jasmine flowers is where your sackful of patience will be needed. This part is time-consuming, but the result is an ear of sweet-smelling corn on the cob.
The process to make the flower chain’s tail is the same. In the picture above, you can see the polystyrene balls and white dok ruk, which in this photo are imitation ones. When complete, the tail and flower chain are tied together.
Finally, you need to create a fancy ribbon to tie the two chains together. To make the uba even more decorative, fold and shape flowers from the ribbon (you can buy them), then clip them to the ends of the fabric itself. To complete your flower garland, tie the ribbon to each flower chain.
Another Phuang malai design is a round-shaped flower bracelet with two tails added. They look beautiful, yet so simple to make. The method of making them is the same, although you do need lots of patience to produce these beautiful works of art. The ones in this photograph will have ribbon added and sold as single items.
Flower Garlands and Sacred Trees
Thai flower garlands are dotted all around Thailand’s Buddhist temples. Sacred trees at temple sites are decorated with them too. In this picture, taken at Kamchanod in Udon Thani, you can see scores of phuang malai in the background and on the tree. Thai flower garlands are big, big business in the Land of Smiles, and now you know how to make one.
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Martyn, Well researched and useful information. In our household need about 8 of these every few days for altars, bedrooms, spirit houses, cars….multiply that with the number of households add some business premises, motorbikes etc. It is a sustainable business and one you can consider when you move here more permanently 🙂 ? I will get you the band aids for the wounds inflicted by the needle (I have tried it and garlands that are blood stained don’t look pretty.)
How – As far as the sustainable business goes then the ball’s already rolling. Wilai has a small flower business and it’s her hands seen in the photos. I’d been planning this post for quite a few months and on my trip to Thailand last month I took lots of pictures of Wilai making garlands. When I got back to the UK I realized most of the photos weren’t that great and I was left with just a handful I could use. Anyhow, I decided to go with what I had. I’m a little disappointed I couldn’t show the garland making in more detail. Nevertheless I think it’s still a useful and interesting post.
Excellent post Martyn! I love to sit and watch the ladies make garlands. A very close friend that lives in Si Sakit has several gardens devoted to flowers which her mother and grandmother use to make garlands. Not only are they beautiful but they always smell so good. Beautiful photos and Wilai makes some beautiful garlands.
Sorry I haven’t been around much lately, my internet has been horrible for the past 2 months or so but I think I got a solution finally…hopefully.
Talen – Welcome back to the Juice. I was wondering what had happened to you. Bad internet… what’s new in Thailand.
The pictures I got for this post didn’t turn out great and don’t really do credit to Wi’s flower garland skills. Although the photo of the two bracelet garlands isn’t too bad.
Wilai puts a lot of time and effort into her flower business but she is slowly but surely making progress with it. She’s starting to get a reasonable bit of income each month and that should grow.
Nice to see you back on the blog circuit and I hope your internet holds out.
Great post Martyn. I love hanging the aromatic garlands around my house. Problem is, my cats LOVE to eat them so the flowers have to be guarded.
I buy mine in the Ari area. I was told years ago that many of the garlands sold on big streets have dangerous pesticides so I’m as careful (as can be, anyway). Plus, I like to show my appreciation to the people nearby who create piles of garlands while I watch. The speed of their skills are impressive.
Catherine – Those are strange pets you have. Their breath must smell sweet.
To make any decent kind of money you have to be quite quick making the garlands. They don’t sell for too much when you consider the amount of work that goes into making them. Fortunately, there’s one big market for garlands in the LOS and I can’t see it changing in the forseeable future. If it does then they can always try canning them, adding a bit of fish and selling them in pet shops…. your cats really are weird.
Martyn. Wishing X’mas arrives fast and enjoy the Olympics.