If any of you have ever wanted to know how to make a Thai flower garland then this post is definitely one for you. I’m sure most readers who have visited Thailand and have 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, and 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
The origins of Thai flower garlands (phuang malai) date back over two hundred years, to the reign of King Rama V, when flower arranging was a skill practiced by ladies of the royal court. Today, decorative garlands are still very much a part of Thailand’s culture, and fashioned in many different shapes and sizes.
Large necklace shaped garlands are given as a welcome to long-forgotten friends, and are also a symbol of good luck to a bride and groom at a traditional Thai wedding. They are also presented to high-ranking officialdom at public spectacles, as a welcome and thank you for their presence at an important event.
These type of garlands (uba’s) can be seen in temples and shrines, draped over Buddha images, framed photographs of revered monks and recently deceased relatives. They are given 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.
Thai garlands are heavily scented by their use of jasmine as a core flower, and a beautiful, colourful mix of fragrant flowers like 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. Small white polystyrene balls are used to space the flowers and add a further decorative effect.
How to make a Thai flower garland
Your basic 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, are used to decorate and gap the flowers, as and when.
Threading the jasmine flowers is where your sackful of patience is needed. This part is time-consuming, but the result is a flowery sweet-smelling corn on the cob effect.
The process to make the flower chain’s tail is exactly the same, and 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 is tied to the end of the flower chain.
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 ribbon (you can buy them), then clip them to the ends of the ribbon itself. To complete your flower garland, tie the ribbon to each flower chain.
Phuang malai are also made bracelet style, again with at least two tails and these really are beautifully created, yet simple to make flower adornments. The method in making them is the same, although you may need two sacks of patience to produce these lovely works of art. The ones in this photograph will have ribbon added and are sold individually.
Thailand’s Buddhist temples are dotted all around with Thai flower garlands, and sacred trees at the 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 really are big, big business in the Land of Smiles, and now you know how to make one.
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