Updated: Mar 22
Intro to Henna
Are you ready for a journey into the elaborate world of henna?
Whether you're a seasoned mehndi fan or henna curious, there's something truly magical about this ancient art form.
As someone who grew up surrounded by the smells of fresh henna and the sights of intricate designs adorning my family's hands, I've got a soft spot for all things henna.
And let me tell you, there's more to this craft than meets the eye. From the history and cultural significance to the surprising ingredients used in traditional henna paste, I'm excited to take you on a wild ride through the world of henna.
So buckle up, grab a cup of chai, and let's get started!
Traditional henna (also known as mehndi) has existed for centuries before we had pre-made cones or ready-to-go powder.
Back then, henna was a tradition and part of the culture. People used the leaves of the henna plant for decorative and medicinal purposes.
Can you believe it? No pre-made cones, no easy applicator bottles, and no ready-to-go powder!
So, how did they get that beautiful henna art on their skin? Well, let me tell you, it was quite the process!
Mixing Henna Paste
Growing up, I watched my mom and aunt grind fresh henna leaves to a paste on a grinding stone, which took up the whole day. It was a festive occasion, and we always had a great time! Mixing and applying the henna was a full-day task, but it was totally worth it.
Mehndi days are some of my best memories.
Nowadays, we've got cones and powder that make the process a lot easier, but it's always good to remember where we came from. And by "we," I mean me because, let's face it, cones and powder were still pretty new when I was a kid.
But you know what they say, sometimes the old ways are the best ways.
And that's why I love incorporating henna designs into my work, using the same techniques and traditions that have been around for centuries. Sometimes I even like to return to my roots and grind my own paste, just like my mom did.
It's a beautiful way to connect with my heritage and keep those memories alive.
Applying Henna Paste
No pre-made cones? No easy applicator bottles? No ready-to-go powder?
Ah, the good old days of applying mehndi!
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 readily 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
The end result was always worth it - beautifully intricate and detailed designs that would last for weeks. It was a labor of love and a true expression of our culture and traditions.
Can you imagine doing this all day, every day, for a living - applying mehndi for weddings, parties, and festivals?
It's no wonder this art was primarily reserved for a certain social class and handed down through generations as an artisan handcraft. Very few people had the patience or interest to sit for hours and pinch strings (who can blame them?).
If you weren't a fan of the whole pinch-and-pull thing, the next best option was to use a thin stick - like a matchstick or the back of an incense stick. You'd dip the stick in the paste and lift it to create a string. Easy, right?
Well, let's say it takes some serious skill to make those intricate mehndi designs come to life.
What About Henna Stencils?
Okay, so after the matchsticks, people tried using stencils to apply henna. It sounded easy enough - just press the stencil on your palm and slather on some henna paste. But let's be real, our palms aren't flat like a sheet of paper, so it ended up being a hot mess.
Needless to say, that idea only stuck around for a short time.
But then, cones came along and changed the game. I mean, who doesn't love a good cone? Am I right?
It's simple and easy, and it makes applying henna a breeze. No wonder it became the go-to method for pretty much everyone.
So, let’s jump into the “How-To” part so that you can get busy creating beautiful henna art for yourself!
How To Make Henna Cones: (see video below)
1. Take 8” x 6” or any size mylar sheet or waterproof flexible material. Almost any kind like, like the waxy paper bag inserted in a cereal box, make sure to wash it before use).
2. Place your finger about ¾ of the way down the long side.
3. With the other hand, pick up the corner of the side and begin rolling inwards to form a cone.
4. Keep rolling to the other long side.
5. Remember NOT to lift your finger from the initial spot. You DO NOT want a big hole. Remember, the tip of the cone can mehndi-filled make a larger hole at any time, so above-prepared
6. Secure the 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.
Mash 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 a glass bowl (recommended for easy clean up). Add a couple of drops of lemon juice (optional).
4. Add water, a few drops at a time, and mix into a thick paste (think mashed potato consistency).
5. Cover (in an airtight container if possible) and leave for at least 2 hours. I have left mine overnight also.
6. Add more water to make thick cake batter consistency. This must be thin enough to flow a little (but it's not runny). Again, you will get better at this with practice.
7. Fill the cone, then seal the cone. This may now be kept for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator or used immediately.
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 make it flow nice and easy.
9. Start creating!
Follow Steps 1-4 to fill and seal a mehndi-filled cone.
Fill with the above-prepared henna paste and gently press down.
Begin folding at the top opening, making sure to let all air put in.
Secure with tape. Keep the 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 "henna-ed."
If you’d like to learn more about creating henna designs or pyrography, click here to check out our in-person workshops.
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Want To Get Your Henna On & Popping Without DIY Cones & Paste? You're in luck!
Besides teaching others 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.