How to Make Leaf Skeletons

I wanted to share with you a project from one of my readers who shares with us how to make leaf skeletons. I LOVE this! I have several leafs in various forms displayed in my home and knew I needed to make some of her leaf skeletons to add to my decor. I love how a pattern of leaves can enhance the beauty in your home. So I asked Heather if she would mind sharing her project with you. You can find more great projects from Heather at her blog The Other White House.

I have spent hours and tried various ways of making these. Kailey did these last year in her botany class with our homeschool group. I found her page of tiny skeletons and thought these would make a great addition to fall. I’ll Mod Podge them to something I’m sure, but for now they are in between two panes of glass in a frame on the mantle. Anyway~ this ‘recipe’ is the only one out of a million that have worked!

You need washing soda, not baking soda! Very important! I found it at Harris Teeter and can also be found in some Wal-Marts.

Gather your leaves. Waxy leaves work best like Gardenia, Magnolia, Hydrangea, etc. I grabbed Gardenia and maple leaves, straight off the tree/ plant. Place them in a pot large enough to accomodate the amount you want to skeletonize.

 

Washing soda is a strong base so you may want to wear gloves when handling the leaves.

You will add 3/4 cup of washing soda and 4 cups of water to your pot of leaves. When the water comes to a boil reduce and simmer the suckers. I left mine for an hour and forty five minutes. After 40 minutes it begins to look really ugly..

Keep going, you will need to add more water so your pan doesn’t dry out. I added enough to cover the leaves. The washing soda will crystallize on top.

 

When 1.75 hours are up fill a glass baking dish with cool water. Gently remove your leaves from the pot. I used a blunt spatula. Place leaves in shallow baking dish with cool water and use a small blunt brush to remove the remaining pulp. I pounced on them gently.

I carefully removed them and rinsed with water and added clean water to the pan. With the spatula I removed the leaves to dry on a paper towel.

If you’re still with me, this is what I ended up with…

 I have a maple leaf which turned out not so well. We shall see when it dries. You could add these anywhere, I’m thinking a hurricane, hmm.. These will last depending on how you preserve them. You can spray paint them, coat them with a clear poly and even bleach them. I plan to bleach the next batch.

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Amy Huntley is the owner/author of The Idea Room. A mother of five, who enjoys sharing her love of all things creative in hopes of inspiring other women and families. Connect with her on Google+, or read more of her posts.

Comments

  1. 1
    the thrifty ba says:

    that is VERY cool! who knew?!

  2. 2
    Marie {Make and Takes} says:

    What?!!! That is sooooo amazing. I love this. Who would have thought!

  3. 3
    Carol & Stacy says:
  4. 4

    Wow! Those turned out so pretty.

  5. 5
    seamingly normal says:

    I LOVE this! They're beautiful!

  6. 6

    This is SO COOL. I never would have guessed something so pretty could be so simple.

  7. 7

    Very unique. I had no idea you could do such a thing! I love how you framed them in between glass!

  8. 8

    Amy,

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Heather @ The Other White House

  9. 9
    Infarrantly Creative says:

    Holy heck I love this. I am totally making them. I think I might have all the supplies on hand already.

  10. 10
    Amanda@The Hand Me Down House says:

    SO awesome! I've wanted to make these too — thanks so much for sharing this project and her blog with us!! :)

  11. 11
    GoatNotes says:

    That is so amazing! Thank you for sharing!

  12. 12
    Heather - Dollarstorecrafts.com says:

    This is a completely awesome idea!! Love it – thanks for doing all the hard work to figure it out!

  13. 13
    Clemencia says:

    great tutorial, thanks for sharing this with us :)

  14. 14

    THis is gorgeous!

  15. 15

    Heather, you just saved me SO much money! I was planning on buying these for a big project, and can't thank you enough!
    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

  16. 16

    Wow, those are awesome!

  17. 17
    Kimbo West @ a girl and a glue gun says:

    featured these today on my blog.

    kimboscrafts.blogspot.com

  18. 18

    Has anyone really tried this? i have been cooking leaves and wasting my gas all day trying to make these.

    I used the washing soda, and cooked it for 2 hours.
    i have have is crusty base that foamed and, and added more water the whole time. after 2 hours i tried another sites idea and that didnt work also.

    AND
    "this 'recipe' is the only one out of a million that have worked! " has a different measurements

    which do i use?

    anyone willing to help, thank you :)

    • 19

      This recipe did not work for me at first. HOWEVER, I remembered from biology that sometimes waxy leaves have an outer coating to help keep in moisture, which was further supported by the fact that my leaves filled up with the liquid in which they were being boiled. By removing a section of the leaf’s edge, I found that the leaf had three layers, a top membrane, a bottom membrane, and the middle skeleton and surrounding pulp. Once the top and bottom membrane were scraped off very gently with my fingernail, the pupl could be washed off of the skeleton by softly rubbing it off with my thumb. It was extremely tedious, and easy to mess up, but it got me the skeletons in the end. Hope that helps some.

  19. 20

    The recipe is converted from teaspoons to cups. It's the same recipe. You can add more soda, as you add more water so your pot doesn't dry out. Also, what type of leaves are you using? I tried maple and they did not work nearly as well as the gardenia leaves. It's hard to see from your comment where the trouble might be. I have made a number of batches and it is time consuming.

    Heather @ The Other White House

  20. 21

    Thanks Heather,
    Have you experimented with bleach alone, or as a followup to remove more?

  21. 22

    The bleach would probably work if you left the leaves alone long enough. The pH is roughly the same as the washing soda. I did try it, but I'm not that patient. The boiling helps to speed everything along. You need to break down the pulp. I did bleach a few in the end, to make them white. You could possibly take a scrubby sponge to the leaves and then try to soak them.

    Again, gardenia and magnolia have worked for me.

    HTH, Heather @ The Other White House

  22. 23

    I've always wondered how to do this, thanks so much for the tutorial.

  23. 24

    I will totally be using this technique for mothers day, she loves all the different leaf shapes and this is so elegant! Great work :) http://www.kate-inspired.blogspot.com

  24. 26

    I love this idea and always wondered how to do it. Any ideas on how to use the finished product other then just framing them?

  25. 27

    These are wonderful! I get really excited seeing your final product because I can only imagine how much something that simple would cost at retail price. Thanks!

  26. 28

    ow..this is just awesome..so gonna give a try to this one.. :)

  27. 29

    Awsome… This will make some great inexpensive christmas presents…. thanks soo much for sharing.

  28. 30

    This has to be the coolest craft that I’ve seen yet. We’re looking for decorating ideas for a wedding and a new home. This could well work for both. I can’t wait to try it out.

  29. 31

    Finding this totally saved me. I was trying to find a way to do this for a big project I’m working on, and this turned out great. How did you get so much of the pulp off the leaves without tearing them? I can’t seem to manage it :)

  30. 32

    This is an amazing trick – I can’t wait to try it!

  31. 33

    Who would ever think to do something so artistic!!!

  32. 34
    Cannabliss says:

    I bet Cannabis leaves would look awesome as skeletons.

  33. 35

    That is such a great tutorial! I wonder if you could use marijuana leaves? I think it would give an awesome effect!

  34. 36

    The skeletonized leaves work great in printmaking. They can be used in collographs (glued down with Golden Medium), inked and printed. They can also be directly rolled with ink, laid on paper and run through a press. If the veins are thick enough you can get a good embossment too.

    • 37
      Beth Kagel says:

      Carol, thanks for the note about printmaking. I LOVE printmaking and this would be a great way to embed an object into my work.

      Have you tried this with montotypes?

      Beth

  35. 38
    Aquamarine Moonshine says:

    Does this work with flowers by chance???

  36. 39

    Hi! I am interested in trying this craft and I think yours turned out so pretty! But I was confused on your final project. How did you get them in the picture frame and on the vase? It’s probably a stupid question but I reread your tutorial and still couldn’t find out how to get them to stick to them. Sorry if you already answered this question before.

  37. 40

    Wow!! LOVE this!!

  38. 41

    Great idea! I’m not surprised that washing powder does such a good job as I also use strong solutions of the same to clean old motorcycle parts via a process known as electrolysis.

  39. 42

    How did you get them to stick to the vase?

  40. 43

    I love this, thanks for sharing!

  41. 45

    Long lived leaves work best. I’ve done this very slowly by just soaking the leaves in water and changing the water every other day… Requires patience, but come out really, really clean, with out any danger. If you walk down Janpath(New Delhi, India) you’ll find several shops selling miniature paintings on the leaves.

  42. 47

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I might try it with some eucalyptus leaves and other Australian natives. Leaves are such beautiful things and this just adds to what we can use them for.

    Liz

  43. 48

    I loved this idea SO much, I ran out and got everything needed, and decided to use magnolia leaves. Well, long story short, my leaves are STILL simmering after 2 !/2 hours and look no different (ok, maybe soggier) than when I started, no pulp even appears to be coming off ! Help ! What am I doing wrong ?????

  44. 50

    you can also pick leaves and put them between two tissue sheets and keep them in a fat book for a month or perhaps less. mine turn out the same as this method!

  45. 51

    Great idea for a post.Thank you!

  46. 52

    I have a question on how to preserve them. Do you just paint the bleach on?

  47. 53

    What an incredible idea! Love it!

  48. 54

    What a great idea. It’s winter now but I will try next summer.

  49. 55

    I want to know about the bleach too! Anyone tried this with pool chemicals? I had put washing soda (soda ash) in my above ground large kiddo pool so it didn’t get funky. I don’t have the pool and am stuck with a ton of pool chemicals. I had read online I could use soda ash instead of pool shock. Just wondering.
    Also be really really careful when pouring the washing soda. It’s sodium carbonate. It’s used to open the fibers of celluloids and is very caustic. Wear glasses and cover your face with a mask or cloth. Never pour around children or pets and clean up all powder with water. You don’t want this stuff floating around your house, let alone your kitchen. you can also get 1lb of soda ash for less than $3 at the art material supplier dickblick.com. I have some I bought there for tie-dye with my students.
    Thanks for the awesome project idea! I’ve always wanted to know how these are made!

  50. 56

    I’d say this is a science project that has gone very right. thank you for sharing.

  51. 57
    Many Paths says:

    Michael Sage airbushes leaves white and jewel tones and mounts them in shadow boxes. Visit phantomleaves.com for inspiration.

  52. 58

    That is AWESOME! I had no idea it was possible to make your own leaf skeletons, thank you so much for sharing. This will be a fantastic project with my son and afterwards we can craft with our new leaves :)

    Nikki
    Eveningsong Ink

  53. 59
    Crystal Stogner says:

    Got to try this. Thank you so much for sharing.

  54. 60

    If you can’t find washing soda you can use PHup. It is for pools and goes on sale really cheap at the end of the season. I use it for fiber reactive dying. I am going to have a go at this in the summer when I can cook it outside.

  55. 61

    That’s excellent, thanks a lot. I have two bags of washing soda for degumming silk, now I just have to wait a few months for the leaves to grow :)

  56. 62

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  57. 63
  58. 64

    This is superb, thanks for the tutorials

  59. 65

    i love this!!!!!

  60. 66

    Your directions were spot on –What a very delicate looking leaf. Absolutely a perfect end result .. WOW I must try this ..Cher

  61. 67

    I’ve never heard of this. What a fantastic idea.

  62. 68

    So clever! Love it.

  63. 69

    Those are really pretty. That is a great idea. Thanks for a wonderful tutorial.

    : 0 ) Theresa

  64. 70

    The leaves are gorgeous and the directions were great.

  65. 71

    This is pretty darned cool and I like the idea of just leaving them pressed and framed between two pieces of glass. Simple and elegant.

    Did the simmering leaves make your house smell weird? ;)

  66. 72
    Jessika Crandall says:

    This is awesome. And beautiful. Thanks!!

  67. 73
    Beth Kagel says:

    Okay, I’m a newbie. What is washing soda and where does one buy this stuff?

    • 74

      Hello,

      I’ve tried your tutorial with washing soda… I’ve bought mine in the supermarket ‘Soda cristals’, Natrium Carbonate

      I’ve boiled water with this washing soda and I’ve put my leaves in it (i used English Ivy leaves)
      After an hour boiling at a lower heat, my water looks brown-green and my leaves are much darker… but the ‘flesh’ doesn’t come off.

      What am I doing wrong?

      Thank you in advance!

      Greetings,

      Felke

  68. 75

    WOW! You have our attention!

  69. 76

    This is amazing! would this work with any kind of leaves? Im planning to use them on maple and banana leaves.

  70. 77

    Hi.. Any alternatives for washing soda? I cannot find these in Mauritius :( or if someone could send me some… lol

  71. 78

    Wao! Thank you so much! Atlast I know how they get these! :)

  72. 79

    I just love it, thanks!!!

  73. 80

    This seems brilliantly simple. I’ll have to do it this fall.

  74. 81

    Hi : ) I’m going to try this way. From a YouTube video (that only partially worked) it said to add 3 TBLSP of the Washing soda to 2 cups water.. Boil 20 mins and wah-la ….. that was soo bogus !!! I was all over the place looked for Washing Soda. First place I checked was Wal-mart.. they were out, then went to K-mart almost 5 bucks a box ( for 3 tblsp?) so I passed, checked grocery stores , they too were a tad on the pricey side when it said I only needed 3 tblsp. FINALLY went back to wal-mart and they had some in stock so I grabbed a box as shown above in the process steps. But back to the first way, I then proceeded to do the 3 tblsp to 2 cups water. and boiled and simmered and nothing.SO I thought maybe i Had too many leaves so tried doing one at a time ..STILL NOTHING…..I then put them in a dish pan ( 97Cents at wal-mart) covered the leaves with water, added a little bleach as it stated to do so the water wouldn’t go rancid and they have been sitting in my kitchen and on the porch back and forth for over a week now…..I still can’t get the leaves to skeletonize ( is that a word?) I used Fruitless mulberry leaves. I will say that 3 of them have turned snow white but that’s as far as they are going. I have tried to gently brush them thru the week and nothing comes off .. The green of the leaves aremottled however Seems they are tearing just sitting in the bleach water (which I have changed out, adding fresh water and bleach) Hope the above works because I have big plans for these ( BEFORE Xmas !!) : ) BTW Thank you for sharing your process. Wish me luck !

  75. 82
    Sherry Fralic says:

    Found this on pinterest…very cool!

  76. 83

    Beautiful … but nothing for me that has not one gr of patience in me. Would love one of those on my bedside table.

  77. 84

    Thank goodness I am not the only one that struck out with this DIY project. I picked hydrangea leaves as suggested and put some maple leaves in just for good measure. Nothing happened except I now have a dedicated DIY pot.

    I pitched the lot and tried again. This time the only thing that happened was the pin oak leaf was transparent, but I had to put it in bleach to get things moving. This is after 2-3 hours in that solution too.

    I have to ask why the emphasis on keeping the leaves at the bottom of the pot? Basic physics proves that is an impossible feat.

    Also, I have no idea what kind of instrument one could use to burnish the pulpy parts. I tried 3 different stiff brushes and none of them worked. I wanted to make them myself for a piece I am working on to sell on etsy. However this seems to have been inspired by Martha Stewart’s cruel cruel staff managers. I’ll either try putting the leaves between paper in one of my many fat books, or buy them gilded at hobby lobby.

    This really tried my patience. Can you tell?

  78. 85

    Love this idea! Perfect little project with autumn around the corner. Love ideas that let me preserve parts of my favorite season. Thank you!! :)

  79. 86

    Just letting you know that I linked to this post in a unit study I wrote about autumn leaves: http://www.zujava.com/leaf-study

  80. 87

    Well over a month later and the same leaves I started back at the beginning of August ( See my Aug 14th post here) are still in the dishpan, white as snow from soaking them in bleach for over a month and still nothing. They’re all totally dried now too and still nothing comes off of the leaves. I have tried small paint brushes, sponge, small narrow house painting brushes, nothing brushes off to leave a skeleton GRRRRR

    It would really help if someone would monitor these posts and reply . All I’m seeing are a ton of links back to this page but no answers to questions asked.. : (

  81. 88
    Cheri Welty says:

    I’m simmering leaves now. I chose to do this outside for fear of toxic fumes. Any worries about this?

  82. 89

    Awesome work! It is tender and unique!
    This defenitely can give so many ideas how to create more new beautiful things.

  83. 90

    Super cool! Can’t wait to give it a go!

  84. 91

    The look very pretty indeed.

  85. 92

    bravo very good practice.

  86. 93

    Hello there! Do you know if they make any plugins to safeguard against
    hackers? I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard
    on. Any suggestions?

  87. 94

    Ohhh I love youu!!! I am so trying this!

  88. 95
    Michelle says:

    I am trying this now with a huge elephant ear leaf. So far upon putting it into the pot some of the leaf flesh + veins in between the huge stem like veins came right on out.. I hope it all doesn’t do that.

  89. 96

    Hey there! I just wish to give you a big thumbs up for your excellent info you have right here on this post.

    I’ll be returning to your blog for more soon.

  90. 97
    Nancy Reynolds says:

    I don’t know where you’re located when you skeletonized magnolia leaves, but Arkansas magnolias must be made of stronger stuff than yours. I have boiled the darned things for over 7 hours and they are not skeletons yet! After all the strong testimonials I thought it would be a breeze, but it hasn’t turned out that way. And, yes, I used Arm and Hammer Superwash. I was going to demonstrate ways to use them at a craft program next month, but scratch that!!!

  91. 98

    Great DIY post! Love that it is so simple. I can so do this tonight! Thank you so much for sharing!

  92. 99

    Has anyone tried to do this with Prickly Pear cactus leaves? I really want to get the skeleton from the leaf of the Prickly Pear but don’t know how… :(

  93. 100

    This is so pretty, gosh I wish I was crafty, so much that I could do. I still have a bunch of things that I would love to do. I can live in hope I suppose.

  94. 101

    Helpful information. Lucky me I discovered your site
    by chance, and I’m surprised why this accident did not happened in advance!
    I bookmarked it.

  95. 102

    No way! I was just looking at buying some for my kids nature table. More fun to make our own! Thank you!

  96. 103

    This is such an awesome idea. I can’t wait to try it! Thanks for providing the steps.

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