Henna, also known as mendhi, refers to the powdered leaves of the Lawsonia inermis plant, found in semi-arid and tropical regions of northern Africa and southern Asia. The leaves stain anything porous that comes into contact with them. There are many ways this as been used: as a stain for hair, skin, and even drum heads; there is also evidence of it being used for medicinal purposes, namely against headaches and foot fungus. I am going to focus on the use of henna to stain the skin.
There is much speculation regarding how it was discovered that the leaves of the Lawsonia inermis plant would stain the skin of a human, one theory is that some herder noticed their cow eating something and appearing to be bleeding from the mouth. In checking on the cow, the herder would possibly get the stain on their own hands as well.
Additional theories point out that the stain has a cooling effect, which is certainly desirable in the hot, arid regions where the plant is found naturally.
Although a precise date of when humans started applying henna is unknown, there have been cases of mummies with their hair and fingernails dyed with henna.
By the time Islam had spread across the Persian Empire, it was fashionable for either sex to sport henna-dyed hair, but only the women were expected to have henna-dyed hands. Over time what may have started out as the practical application of the stain across the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet (the areas that stain the darkest) evolved into artistically applied designs on both the hands and feet.
Henna in some cultures is tied to celebratory occasions, such as births, weddings, and holidays. Other cultures used it for regular adornment. The Prophet Muhammad is recorded as stating that a woman’s fingernails should be henna’d so that he could tell whether a hand summoning from a curtain was that of a man or a woman. Henna was a preferred hand decoration in Islamic cultures in part because it was not considered to block the wearer from properly cleaning their hands, unlike something like nail paint, which would create a barrier over the nail.
Henna was something done by women, for women, so there are not many articles about its use from European travelers, as they would not have been granted admittance to the women’s rooms. It is documented that being a henna artist was an acceptable profession for a woman to have.
Desirable henna is that which stains the darkest. The hands and feet, which have the thickest skin, stain darker than other areas of the body.
Note: do not use anything marketed as Black Henna, these products often add chemicals to make the henna darken further and can cause lifelong health problems. Further details can be found on most reputable henna sites that will warn against the use of it. There is no such thing as natural black henna.
Each of the recipes I used I found on Pinterest. In my search I found that modern henna recipes are based around four components:
- Powdered henna. Similar in concept to wines, the amount of dye within any given batch of henna powder is related to the region it was grown, what season it was harvested, and what kind of weather was happening.
- Sucrose. Sugars help the henna to remain on the skin longer as it dries, resulting in darker stains.
- Monoterpene Alcohol. These are referred to in short as monoterps and are used to help release more dye from the henna, resulting in a darker stain. The monoterps used are typically essential oils, so they also add to the aroma of the paste. Care should be taken, as not all monoterps are safe for skin contact.
- Mildly Acidic Liquid. This helps to make the powder into a workable paste. The mildly acidic component allows for greater dye release from the henna, which results in a darker stain.
I wanted to get an idea of what ratios of ingredients, as well as what specific ingredients, would achieve the best overall henna paste. My parameters for this decision were consistency (should be similar to toothpaste), dry time (for practicality purposes), and absorption (more absorption means a darker stain).
Based on the recipes I was finding, I decided to use two variants of henna powder (Rajasthani and Jamila), only granulated sugar, three kinds of monoterps (Eucalyptus, Lavender, and Tea Tree Oils), and three kinds of liquid (Distilled Water, Lemon Juice, and Black Tea). Using each variation resulted in 18 samples of each recipe.
1 tsp henna, 1 tsp sucrose, 1/2 tsp monoterp. 2 tsp liquid
1 tsp henna, 1/5 tsp sucrose, 1/6 tsp monoterp, 1 tsp liquid
1 tsp henna, 3/8 tsp sucrose, 1/4 tsp monoterp, 2 tsp liquid
For each recipe used I converted the units of measurements from the original into teaspoon based units to conform everything to usable units. I then further converted the units so that each recipe was based off using 1 teaspoon of henna while maintaining the ratios of each recipe.
For each recipe I cleaned and prepped 18 plastic containers with lids. Each lid was labeled with a code for the specific ingredients used in that container (R/J for the henna, E/L/T for the monoterp, and W/L/T for the liquid). I cleaned each measuring utensil between ingredients to prevent cross-contamination.
I followed the same pattern for each sample set: measure out henna, add sucrose, followed by monoterps, and lastly the liquid. The black tea was mentioned to be strong, so I brewed it as 3 tea bags in an 8oz mug for 1 minute, using a fresh brew for each recipe.
After all the the ingredients were applied, I used separate stirrers (plastic straws) to mix each sample well. Then the lids were secured and I let them rest for 12 hours. After this each sample was applied to a coinciding location on a piece of white duck cloth and allowed to dry for 12 hours. I used duck cloth as it would permit absorption of the henna into the fibers. After the drying time was up, I removed the henna from the cloth with a butter knife to reveal the final result.
Overall I found that the first recipe was very runny and it did not fully dry within the time of 12 hours. The second recipe was the driest of them and while it fully dried well before the 12 hours were over, the back of the duck cloth shows less absorption into the fibers than the others. The third recipe was the closest to what I was looking for, although it was still rather wetter than desired. This can be further compensated for by altering the ratios of ingredients, particularly increasing the amount of sucrose and/or decreasing the amount of liquid.
The exact sample I decided to move forward with was the Rajasthani-Eucalyptus-Black Tea variant. The Rajasthani was overall thicker than the Jamila, as were the Black Tea samples comparatively, and I preferred the scent of the Eucalyptus over the others, there being no consistent discernible visual difference that I noted.
There are a couple of general ways henna can be applied:
- In lines directly on the skin
- This is what we typically see at festivals and Indian weddings.
- Using resists
- This may or may not have a light base of henna, applied overall and not allowed as much time on the skin.
- Designs are then applied with string, which could be braided to make it wider, or wax.
- The result is that the resist blocks the henna from staining the skin in those areas.
- Modernly this can also be done using painter tape.
I decided to focus on the method of lines applied to the skin. I would like to try the resist work in the future, but the line method seemed like it would test the henna recipe more than just dipping the hand.
I wanted to use a variety of tools, partially to determine what I thought would be the best method to use for the future, as well as to see if I could figure out what they may have used in Period.
Modern henna artists use a variety of tools: cones, bottles, even syringes. For this experiment I decided to test six different tools:
Tool 1: Orange Stick
Orange stick, bought from a craft store. I theorized that they may have used basic sticks to dip in the henna and apply it to the hand.
Tool 2: Paint Brush
Paint brush, also from a craft store. I figured that I knew that paint brushes were available in Period so they may have used them to apply henna.
Tool 3: Plastic Cone
Plastic cone, made of a treat bag cut along the sides, rolled, and taped. Cones made of plastic, specifically mylar, are one of the tools commonly used by professional henna artists today. You can also purchase pre-filled cones in Indian markets.
Tool 4: Zip-Top Bag
Zip-top bag, from my pantry. Similar to the cone idea, the concept is to fill the bag and then trim a small hole in the corner. Another variation would be using a cake frosting bag.
Tool 5: Squeeze Bottle
Squeeze bottle, ordered from the same vendor as my henna powders. This came as a set of two plastic squeeze bottles and several interchangeable tips. This is another of the common tools used by modern professional henna artists.
Tool 6: Oral Syringe
Oral syringe, purchased from a pharmacy. I have not seen this mentioned as a tool used in the USA, but one of my sources observed modern henna artists in Morocco using oral syringes to apply the paste.
As I would not be able to be consistent in the application of henna onto my own person (right vs left hand, as well as different areas of the body being used as a canvas), I decided to apply the henna to card stock. I found a hand blank to be used as a practice form and printed that onto six sheets of tan card stock and then printed a design form done on the same shape of hand onto one sheet of normal white printer paper.
I stacked one sheet of card stock on top of the printer paper copy and placed them over a light box. I then used whichever tool I was on to attempt to trace the designs from the bottom sheet onto the top sheet.
I found that both the stick and the paint brush seemed to remove as much henna as they applied and were quite difficult to get any detail with. The plastic cone and the zip-top bag both seemed to keep wanting to come out the top, it was difficult to apply pressure in the correct location. This could also be due to overfilling with the paste. They did lay down lovely lines of henna though, and I think cake bags may be something I will try in the future as well. The oral syringe seemed to be all or nothing, and I think I purchased one with too big of an opening. I have since found that feed stores have a greater variety of sizes available. The squeeze bottle was my favorite, it seemed very natural to use, and I didn’t have to worry about accidentally ejecting the paste out the top. There was also the added bonus of being able to exchange tips without having to change bags or syringes. I believe the bottle also resulted in the best detail work. And it is the cleanest tool as well, with less chance of accidentally staining the surrounding area
I am still interested in finding more Period information about henna: the recipes used, what else they used it for, what tools they used to apply it, and so force. As for myself though, I think I will mess with the third recipe a bit and see if I can’t get it a bit thicker. I do believe I will be using my squeeze bottles as well, both for ease and cleanliness.
I will likely try at least one resist method in the future, possibly at a henna party.
- 66Onur. There Are Many Henna Recipes. This One Is Easy, with Only Our o … | Body Art. https://www.bodyart.ohadog.com/there-are-many-henna-recipes-this-one-is-easy-with-only-our-o/. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
- HOW TO MIX NATURAL HENNA PASTE by Henna CKG. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpFQOXAYJGo&feature=share. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
- “The Chemistry of Henna for Body Art, for Artists.” Henna Muse, 30 Jan. 2017, https://www.hennamuse.com/the-chemistry-of-henna-for-body-art/.
- The Henna Page – The Most Complete Henna Information Resource! http://www.hennapage.com/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- The Most Super Simple Henna Recipe (Organic). YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvPvMMdAK9M. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
- Henna Stories – Telling Stories through the Art of Henna Designs. https://www.hennastories.org/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- Eshkol HaKofer. http://eshkolhakofer.blogspot.com/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
Henna in the SCA
- Eshkol HaKofer. http://eshkolhakofer.blogspot.com/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- “Hadith | Islam.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hadith. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- Henna by Sienna – Home. http://www.hennabysienna.com/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- “History and Uses of Henna.” About Islam, 17 Oct. 2017, https://aboutislam.net/science/nature/history-uses-henna/.
- Khamsah-i Niẓāmī. 1500, https://www.wdl.org/en/item/19530/.
- “Painted by Muhammadi of Herat | Portrait of a Lady Holding a Flower | The Met.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/451323. Accessed 1 Feb. 2020.
- Shahnameh. 1600, https://www.wdl.org/en/item/11856/.
- Sunnat of Henna Dye – ZIKR. http://www.zikr.co.uk/content/view/71/112/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- The Book of Kings. 1560, https://www.wdl.org/en/item/8966/.
The Persian Dynasty I most prefer to pull from is that of the Sassanid Empire, from 224 to 651 AD, the last before Islam swept the land. They were in near constant war with the Byzantine Empire over the prices of goods traveling the Silk Road, namely silk. They were also trying to breath life back into their Persian heritage, as opposed to the traditions brought when Alexander the Great conquered the armies of King Darius III in 331 BC.
As this dynasty is on the older side, it is difficult to know what stitches they may have used, or if they decorated clothes and/or linens with embroidery at all. Cloth from that era rarely survives to be uncovered.
As that is the case, and I am still getting my feet wet in regards to research, I decided to broaden my parameters for this project to Persia in general.
Although I was willing to work within a broader sense of Persia, I did seek out some art work of the Sassanid Empire to emulate. I found a silver bowl that had the design of a musician riding a winged beast. The given title was Flutist on Fantastic Beast. I called my piece Bard on Griffin, as I would end up basing the colors of the beast on those of the Principality of the Summits, the rider’s clothes are colored based on the Barony of Terra Pomaria, and the rider’s hat bears the hues of the Kingdom of An Tir.
The base of the work is yellow dupioni silk, cut into a piece large enough to house the image, but small enough to manage the fabric with ease.
I downloaded the image on my computer and uploaded it onto Microsoft Paint. I used Paint to re-establish the circle border that was incomplete in the original image. I also used it to add circles along the outside of the image, but I opted not to include those in the finished piece.
When I was happy with the image I printed it out onto a sheet of Stitch ‘n’ Tear, a material tat could go through the printer, be ironed on to the fabric base, and dissolve with water when I was finished.
I used all DMC cotton embroidery floss for the colors. When I started I was not positive what colors I would want to use with what portion, and I have a large bank of color choices in DMC floss.
All of the stitches were chosen from a list found in the files of the FaceBook Group: SCA Persian Clothiers, as compiled by THL Ghadah Falak Noor bint Safia Abdu-llah. They were presented as stitches as found on extant Persian clothing and items.
I chose stitches based on the portion of the image to be worked: texture desired, how easy to fill the space with, how the directionality would work. I also varied how many threads were used based on how I wanted the final product to work, giving it a more dimensional look.
Another factor in choice of stitch was how familiar I was to it. I leaned towards stitches I had not used as often, if at all. That is not to say that all of the stitches were new to me, but where the image did not necessarily lean towards a specific effect I tried to use those I had not had cause to yet.
- Back Stitch
- Edging of rider’s skin
- Rider’s pants
- Griffin’s tail end
- Chain Stitch
- Griffin’s body
- Griffin’s mane
- Griffin’s tail length
- Darning Stitch
- Rider’s hair
- Double Running Stitch
- Griffin’s saddle
- Griffin’s legs
- Rider’s flute
- Rider’s scarf/belt
- Raised Work
- Griffin’s knees
- Satin Stitch
- Rider’s hat
- Rider’s skin
- Rider’s shoe
- Griffin’s horns
- Griffin’s face
- Griffin’s eye
- Griffin’s tongue
- Griffin’s talons
- Split Stitch
- Griffin’s wings
- Stem Stitch
- Edging of plants
Originally I had planned to make the piece into a pillow, but then decided on a pouch cover. The image was rather large for a belt pouch, so it further evolved into a shoulder bag. I increased the size of a pattern I had for a belt pouch, then added straps.
There were several lessons learned with this piece. The first of these is that I should like to try tracing the image onto the fabric, instead of using the soluble paper. Because I started with the bottom of the image, due to not knowing what colors to use on the middle yet, and then further starting the griffin before the rider, I ran into several cases of bunching because the paper was not staying adhered to the fabric.
The next thing I would change would be my process: I realize now that I was taking the parameters of the stitches, but applying them in a more modern approach. I overall have no problem with this, but I should like to try to be more deliberate with a future process.
Along those lines, I shall also seek to use silk threads on either a linen, silk, or wool base, to further emulate more time-appropriate methods.
- 14th C Perisan Kamis. https://medieval.webcon.net.au/extant_perisan_kamis_14thc.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- “Bag | The Met.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/448233. Accessed 1 Feb. 2020.
- Carr, Author: Cristina Balloffet. “The Materials and Techniques of English Embroidery of the Late Tudor and Stuart Eras | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/mtee/hd_mtee.htm. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- Digest, Persia. “Kerman Women Art of Embroidery (Photos).” En, 22 June 2018, http://persiadigest.com/en/news/6167.
- “Embroidery.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/art/embroidery. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- “Embroidery on Late Medieval Clothing and Accessories.” La Cotte Simple, https://cottesimple.com/articles/medieval-embroidery-on-clothing/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- Recreating 16th and 17th Century Clothing: The Renaissance Tailor. http://www.renaissancetailor.com/demos_bigfive.htm. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- Sardar, Author: Marika. “Indian Textiles: Trade and Production | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/intx/hd_intx.htm. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg: Sasanian Metalwork. https://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/museums/shm/shmsasanian.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- Stitches – Historical Needlework Resources. https://medieval.webcon.net.au/technique_stitches.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- The British Library MS Viewer. http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=or_2265_f157v. Accessed 1 Feb. 2020.
- “The History of Embroidery.” Artisia | Textile Studio, https://www.artisia.co.uk/blog/2018/11/22/the-history-of-embroidery. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- The History of Embroidery. https://www.folklorecompany.com/en/embroidery/the-history-of-embroidery/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- The History of Embroidery | | Curious History. 11 Jan. 2019, https://www.curioushistory.com/the-history-of-embroidery/.
- “The History of Embroidery – Part 1.” Needlework Tips and Techniques, https://www.needlework-tips-and-techniques.com/history-of-embroidery.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- The Project Gutenberg EBook of Embroidery and Tapestry Weaving, by Grace Christie. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20386/20386-h/20386-h.htm#CHAPTER_IV. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- “V&A · An A-to-Z of Opus Anglicanum.” Victoria and Albert Museum, https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/a-z-opus-anglicanum. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- Watt, Author: Melinda. “Textile Production in Europe: Embroidery, 1600–1800 | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/txt_e/hd_txt_e.htm. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- Willem. Brief History of Hand Embroidery. https://trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/techniques/embroidery/general-embroidery/brief-history-of-hand-embroidery. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
- www.fibre2fashion.com. History Of Embroidery, Handicraft Of Decorating Fabric, Embroidered Clothing, Fibre2fashion. http://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/4135/history-of-embroidery. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
Music on the Hammer Dulcimer
The precursor to the modern hammer dulcimer is likely the Hungarian cimbalom, which was inspired by the Persian santur (also referred to as a santoor, santour, or santouri). The santur is also the ancestor of the Chinese yangqin.
What these four instruments have in common is that they consist of a trapezoidal box, with strings running across the long side of the face, supported by bridges. The strings are group on the bridges as courses, ranging from 2 to 5 strings per course on each bridge. The strings are struck by small hammers to create notes.
The hammer dulcimer and the cimbalom have the bridges of a section connected together, whereas the santur and the yangqin have each bridge separate from each other. The tuning range is dependent on the size of the instrument and the tuning traditions of the music it was built to play.
This medley was first performed at the Baronial Bardic Championship for Terra Pomaria, 2018. The only portion that I originally knew was the Black Nag. This by itself was not long enough to fulfill the length requirement of the competition, so I added songs in the same key which I found in the Pennsic Pile 46. The version of Black Nag in the Pennsic Pile was actually in a different key than what I had learned, so I combined those together as well. The three songs, Black Nag, Nonesuch, and Jenny Pluck Pears, are all attributed to the work of John Playford, so I refer to this as my Playford Medley.
The Death of Loegaire Buadach
Thus far I have only had the pleasure of attending the An Tir/West War once, in 2018. In the months leading up to the event, I heard about a Bardic Challenge, in the form of taking a story and presenting it however you would like. The story given was the Death of Loegaire Buadach, from the Irish Ulster Cycle.
My presentation consisted of a telling of the tale, punctuated by lines of Black Nag from my hammer dulcimer.
Nine Man’s Morris
My son won the Terra Pomaria Baronial Youth Championship in 2018, and he did great honor to the Barony in his tenure. For the Baronial Bardic Championship 2019, held at the same event as would choose the next Youth Champion, I tried my hand at an original composition. The event was Bar Gemels, which strives for the feel of a gaming tavern, so I themed and named the piece after my son’s favorite Period game: Nine Man’s Morris.
Rast Nakis Beste
For the Principality of the Summits Bardic Championship 2020 I endeavored to learn a Period piece of music written by a Persian composer. A fellow Middle Eastern enthusiast, Her Ladyship Khanzara of Samarqand, was kind enough to recommend the Rast Nakis Beste, by Abdulkadir Meragi, which she had already transcribed for hammer dulcimer.
I would like to work with some woodworkers to create mezrab, the style of hammer used for a santur, which would allow me to play the instrument in a more traditional manner: with the instrument on the floor and myself sitting on the floor.
There may also be a possibility of purchasing an actual santur, which would be amazing!
- Drummond, Aaron, and Jadwiga Krzyzanowska, eds. Pennsic Pile. Pennsic War XLVI and KWDMS XII., n.d.
Death of Loegaire Buadach
- Celtic Literature Collective. “The Death of Lóegaire Buadach,” n.d. http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/loegaire.html?fbclid=IwAR14TdUB9vHchf3WQeEzMworsFWkcpmPRuvuLyvtt2cQPb3yj-RCwvlLS00.
Nine Man’s Morris
- Original composition by Monica Streight, 2019
Rast Nakis Beste
- AJANS, HOSS. AN IMMORTAL CLASSIC MUSICIAN: ABDULKADIR MERAGI | Raillife Magazine. http://www.raillife.com.tr/en/an-immortal-classic-musician-abdulkadir-meragi/. Accessed 12 Feb. 2020.
- Blum, Stephen. “Abd Al-Qādir al-Marāghī.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, Dec. 2007. referenceworks.brillonline.com, https://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-3/abd-al-qadir-al-maraghi-SIM_0241?lang=en.
- “Grand Master of Turkish Classical Music Abd Al-Qadir Maraghi.” DailySabah, https://www.dailysabah.com/portrait/2017/03/25/grand-master-of-turkish-classical-music-abd-al-qadir-maraghi. Accessed 14 Feb. 2020.
- Turkish Music Portal. http://www.turkishmusicportal.org/en. Accessed 14 Feb. 2020.
Of the People
What we know as belly dancing has its origins in unbridled movement. It is thought that before it became stylized, women moved their bodies to the music in their private places, away from the prying eyes of men. This allowed them to dance with more freedom than they otherwise might. There are also thoughts that some moves were developed to prepare the female body for labor.
There is a pride and beauty that comes with creating and performing your own choreography. I have had the honor of that pride only once. All of my further performances have only been partially choreographed. My personal favorite performances have been at haflas. Having the space to move as I desired, among and apart from my fellow dancers, putting the beats and melodies of the musicians into fluid movement, I could understand how some cultures believe in the transcendent power of dance.
Currently I am taking belly dance classes, as well as doing physical training to increase my endurance. This has been my greatest limit in the past and I am determined to overcome this.
- Gray, Dr. Laurel Victoria. “A Brief Introduction to Iranian Dance.” Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray Central Asian, Persian, Turkic, Arabian and Silk Road Dance, Culture, and History (blog), n.d. http://www.laurelvictoriagray.com/persian-dance.html.