Updated: May 5
Traditional henna (aka mehndi) use goes back many centuries. There were no cones, or readymade Mehndi kits, at the time. There was no commercialization of the product. Henna was simply a tradition and part of a culture. Henna plant leaves were used for their decorative and medicinal purposes.
No pre-made cones?! No easy applicator bottles?! No ready to go powder?!
How in the world was mehndi obtained and applied then????
Cones and powder are inventions of modern times in recent years. And in recent I mean within my lifetime (hmmmm…..did I just date myself)?
Growing up I watched my mother get fresh henna leaves and actually grind them to paste on a grinding stone, as you can see below. Grinding, mixing and applying was a full day task. Usually my aunt and her daughters would come over and we would make a festive day of it. Mehndi days are some of my best memories.
In order to apply mehndi, it needs to come out in or be formed in a string fashion. Without cones how did that happen? It happened with making henna paste a little slimy. No, we did not use slime putty :). Think natural - what is easily available, can be found in nature and has a slimy consistency? Okra of course!! I bet that is the last thing that came to mind. But okra (aka ladyfinger in India) was crushed and mixed with henna paste. Then the paste was pinched between your forefinger and thumb till it formed a string and could be quickly applied to a hand.
Imagine pinching the string and being fast enough to apply it before the string fell off! Yes, it was tedious but somehow lots of fun.
Now imagine doing this as a career- applying for wedding parties and festivals all the time. This is the primary reason the art was dedicated to a certain social class and handed down generations as artisan handcraft. Not everyone wanted to sit for hours and pinch strings (who can blame them?) Let me give you an analogy: have you ever made simple syrup? Testing the syrup requires watching how many strings it forms. Mehndi strings are made and tested in same fashion, except that you need only one string at a time. If pinching wasn’t your thing, the next best method was using a thin stick, such as a matchstick or the back of an incense stick. You would dip the stick the in the paste and lift it to create a string.
Next came another easy use: stencils. Made of thin plastic or rubber, you would first press the stencil down on your palm and then apply mehndi paste on top. Once the mehndi paste dried, you would lift off the stencil to reveal the pattern. Since it is difficult to press the stencil with the curves of your palm, this resulted in a messy henna stain, so this idea did not last long. For as far back as I can remember, after the matchsticks, using cones is most sought after method. No really! It is my belief the simplicity of using cones is what made it popular and appealing to the masses.
HOW TO MAKE CONE: (see video below)
1. Take 8” x 6” or any size mylar sheet, or any waterproof flexible material. Almost any kind like, like the waxy paper bag insert in cereal box will work. (Remember to wash it before use).
2. Place your finger about ¾ of the way down the long side.
3. With other hand pick up the corner of same side and begin rolling inwards to form a cone.
4. Keep rolling all the way to the other long side.
5. Remember to NOT lift your finger from the initial spot. This will give a small to a very tiny hole. For henna application you DO NOT want big hole. Remember the tip of the cone can be snipped to make a larger hole at any time, so start small.
6. Secure end with tape. If you want you may secure the long side with tape as well.
HOW TO MAKE HENNA PASTE:
1. Use body art grade henna powder.
2. Strain henna powder through a fine mesh colander – this is VERY important. You DO NOT want any lumps or impurities in it or else making the cone will be difficult.
3. Put in glass bowl (recommended for easy clean up). Add couple of drops lemon juice (optional).
4. Add water few drops at a time and mix into thick paste (think mash potato consistency).
5. Cover (air tight if you can) and leave for at least 2 hours. I have left mine overnight also.
6. Add more water to make thick cake batter consistency. This needs to be thin enough that it flows a little (but not runny). You will get better at this with practice.
7. Fill the cone, then seal the cone. This may now be kept for couple of weeks in refrigerator or used right away.
8. Test on a sheet of paper. Carefully snip at the point if needed ensuring NOT to cut off too much. You may need to “massage” the cone a bit to get it to flow nice and easy.
9. Start creating!
Follow Steps 1-4 to fill and seal a mehndi filled cone.
Fill with above prepared henna paste and gently press down.
Begin folding at the top opening making to sure to let all air put.
Secure with tape. Keep cone in a zip tight bag when not in use.
Mylar, plastic and wax paper cones have allowed the art to be taken out of the body décor box, and into many other applications like home décor. Ornaments, coasters and much more. If it can be painted on it can be "hennad".
Did you know?
Besides teaching other's how to make henna paste and cones, I sell cones filled with paint for craft projects and practice before you use real henna on your body. Check them out here.