The art of mehndi (or mehandi) has been a long-standing tradition stemming from many ancient cultures dating back as far as about 5,000 years, but is most known today for its history in subcontinent. Today, it is still used in religious and ritualistic ceremonies in pakistan, but has also gained appreciation in other countries as a beautiful art to be appreciated at any time.

Henna powder itself is green in color, but the stain it leaves behind is usually an orange-red color. There are many suppliers now that offer henna in a variety of colors but these are not recommended. Pure henna has had little to no incident of allergic reaction. Today, henna has been done in many forms including more contemporary designs. Some contemplating a permanent tattoo might apply henna first to see if they like the look before making a permanent decision. Some just enjoy having a temporary design they know will wash off in a few weeks. Whatever your reasons might be for being interested in henna, you are delving into a beautiful form of art rich in culture.

My Henna Paste Recipe

Sift out enough henna to make about 1-1 and 1/4 cups dry, sifted henna powder. Take 2 packets of instant coffee singles (the ones that look like tea bags) and boil hard in about 1 and 1/2 cups of water until it boils down to about 3/4 of a cup of dark liquid. Mix just enough coffee into the powder to create a thick paste. The hot liquid will make the powder ball up a little, so be sure to mix it until it is well blended and smooth. Add about 2 tablespoons lemon juice; fresh is best. Add about 5 drops of Eucalyptus Oil. Add about 5 drops of Clove Oil. This should make a thin paste, but you don't want it runny. If it is too runny, add a little more sifted henna powder. If its too thick, add a little more coffee, or plain water. Allow to settle and cool for about 2 hours.

Make Your Own Cones!

Henna paste can be applied several different ways. Some use a toothpick and carefully place the design on bit by bit. Some use little squeeze bottles and apply it in smooth lines. The pre-mixed paste comes in tubes and is squeezed out easily. If you make your own henna paste at home, the choice is yours as to what you are the most comfortable with. I, personally, prefer cones. Cones can also be purchased pre-made, but they are very simple to make at home and also inexpensive. Cones are less messy, and they are disposable afterward so they require no cleanup. Here is a very simple way to make your own cones at home:

What You Will Need:

· Small freezer bags - one will make 2 cones

· Scissors

· Scotch tape

· Twist ties

Step One: Cut the freezer bag into squares

The size you make the cones is up to you, but you don't want it too big or it will be hard to handle. It also depends on the size of the freezer bags you start with. I usually cut the bags into 6" squares. Use a straight edge to make sure your corners are 90 degrees, as this will help in the actual folding of the cone.

Step Two: Make a funnel shape out of the square

This is not as easy as it sounds. The plastic is very slippery and you will want to wrap the square around itself in such a way that it completely overlaps (leaving no open spaces for the paste to squeeze out). At the same time, you need to leave a small hole at the bottom of the funnel, just large enough to allow the paste to squeeze out without difficulty. This might take some practice and becoming comfortable with the consistency of your henna paste and what size hole is required to get an even flow.

Step Three: Taping the cone

After you get the funnel exactly how you want it, you will need to tape along the side edges where the plastic overlaps. Be careful not to move the plastic when you do this, or you will have to start over again. It's good if you already have a few small pieces of tape ready instead of trying to get it from the dispenser at this time. Tape all the way from the bottom to the top of the funnel.

Step Four: Filling the cone

Now you will want to put your prepared henna paste in the cone. Using a small spoon* seems to be the best way to do this. Carefully place a spoonful of henna paste into the cone, and press your finger lightly against it (from the outside) as you remove the spoon. Repeat until the cone is about half full. Filling too much can cause the cone to be hard to handle and burst due to excessive squeezing. *Note: Never use anything metal with your henna paste - use plastic or glass.

Step Five: Closing the cone

One who is experienced in using the cones (or even in using decorating bags) can usually just twist the end of the cone and apply the paste. This can become quite messy for one that is not used to it, though, because not applying the right amount of pressure and squeezing the proper way can cause the henna to come spilling out the top. The best thing to use in this case would be a twist tie. First, twist the bag itself in the direction of the overlapping fold. Then secure it with a twist tie, and you're ready to go.
And that's it! It takes a little practice, but making your own henna paste and your own cones is less expensive, and creates beautiful henna art without a lot of world.

Creating Your Designs:

Creating your own henna pattern is really very simple as long as you have an imagination. It doesn't require a lot of artistic skills, just creativity. Most traditional henna patterns are based on very simple shapes - circles, triangles and lines are the most basic. These shapes can be combined to create a very intricate pattern and a very beautiful henna design.

henna is used purely as an art form and not a ritual, there are no guidelines. There are no meanings behind the shapes or patterns and there are no "rules" as to what you can or cannot do. Just have fun! I usually like to choose one shape to be the "dominant" in a theme and expand on it from there. To the right is an example of a quick sketch I did using a heart as the basic theme. As you can see, it is a very simple pattern, but also very detailed. This design can be done on the outside or the palm of the hand, or it could even be used in part anywhere else on the body. The idea is to get it clear in your mind how you want it to look, and the best way to do this is to get it on paper first. Henna stains very quickly, and it's very difficult to "erase" mistakes, but that doesn't mean they can't be fixed! Once you get your design on paper, you have two options. You can do the design freehand and use your drawing as a guide for comparison, or you can trace the design using a sheet of carbon paper and transfer the pattern to the skin. This can cause difficulty, though, because unless you created the pattern specifically for the person you are going to henna, the pattern may not "fit" properly, causing you undue frustration.

Again, keep in mind that this is just a guide and you can always deviate from the original, if necessary, to tailor it to your customer. It's the freedom that goes along with henna art that makes it so enjoyable and so diverse from one artist to the next. Find your own style and you'll be creating your own patterns like a pro in no time!

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