I have noticed Henna (also known as mehndi) a reddish brown dye made from leaves and used to colour the hair and decorate the body, on the hands of women in art depicting Hinduism and on women from India and always wondered how it was done.
Henna is traditionally used for special occasions like weddings and birthdays in India, the Middle East, Pakistan and Africa but also research says it was something that poor people loved to do as they didn’t own jewellery. and could use it to adorn their bodies.
Our special occasion was just celebrating friendship and having a relaxing morning.
A well traveled friend of the family who has been doing henna since she was eleven years old offered to teach me and some friends how to do it.
For some reason some of my friends thought they would have henna done for them, but were surprised and interested to learn they would be doing the henna on themselves.
She gave us each pre-prepared (but you can make it yourself) henna which came in a little pack, called a henna cone. Only one person in the group had done henna before.
You can buy henna kits in Indian supermarkets, where the henna is already in dispensers that remind one of icing bags, only much more colourful. Online henna kits can vary from $9 to $35 depending on what is in them (they may include henna cones, moisturising oil and patterns).
My friend’s kit was purchased in India on by her mum on her travels. She gave us some photocopy instructions which had descriptions of small movements you can do to create your henna designs. Essentially this means patterns are broken down into smaller movements that you can then build together to make a larger design.
These moves had names like wind humps, fooffy, wibble leaves, ziggy zoggy, fishbone, buds, flowers, mummies, sprouts, flowers and paisley. Designs we could choose from were Celtic, African, Indian or our own variation of any of these.
I struggled a little at first with the henna cone, but some people used to icing cakes, or just naturally dexterous, had the hang of it straight away. My daughter was a natural arty wizz.
Eventually I did learn to work the henna cone, with some gentle instruction from my friends who had the hang of it more easily. I didn’t try anything too complicated though as it took my so long just to be able to work the dispenser.
Whilst we were doing the henna we chatted about travel, henna, learning creative things, religion, our countries of birth, (which included South Sudan and Austria). when some of us arrived in Australia and more. My friend said she loved that when you are doing henna you can enjoy the company of others without having to speak their language. She is doing her masters in English as a second language teaching and has done workshops for children ten and above on doing henna.
After we had put our design onto our hands and it had dried for a while, we put some lemon juice onto our design to keep it wet for longer. This help fix the dye as well.
The dye was orange on our hands straight after, and the next day it darkened to be a light brown.
You can also obtain a henna that is white, which potentially shows better on darker skin, or you can use this henna on the palm of the hands. My friend said the dye turns out differently on different days and different shades of skin. It can be unpredictable.
My friend kindly let us take our henna dye dispenser home and some people, like my daughter continued to work on her design until her whole hand back and front, from wrist, to fingers to centre of hand were done. She just loved it. Another participant showed her sister how to do it, and she had a go as well.
She kindly did a little bit of additional henna on to our hands once everyone had done most of the work themselves.
This day was a great bonding exercise for all involved, and a great exercise in self care! We just enjoyed getting to know everyone in the group as much as doing the henna.
In this global world, it is lovely to learn about different ways we can connect people through creative practices. We all gained respect for those amazing henna artists who are able to do these designs so quickly and so well.