Saturday, June 27, 2015

Skeleton Leaves Tutorial

Skeleton leaves are those leaves that have been eroded away and the only thing left is the skeleton, which I guess is the veins and woody structures in the leaf.

They are so beautiful and lacy and 

It happens in the fall when the leaf is decaying.  I hastened the process.

Washing soda, from the laundry detergent aisle in Walmart, is amazing stuff.  It is actually soda ash and is what dyers use to open the fibers of a piece of fabric to accept the dye more readily.  You get a deeper and more permanent dye job.  And it is cheaper than buying it in the dye places. 

Washing soda is also what you use to make your own detergent.  They say it is better ecologically but I think it is the same stuff as you buy in a Tide or Arm and Hammer box, just with a few less scent molecules.

(I use hydrogen peroxide in my washing machine instead of Oxy-Clean since it is just powdered hydrogen peroxide.  And at 88 cents a bottle at Walmart it is way cheaper.)

But I digress......Back to leaf skeletons.  Where was I?

You get your washing soda and put 4 cups of water in a pot and 3/4 cup of washing soda.  Bring to boiling.  Drop in your leaves.  I have found it works best with leaves that are waxy and stiffer.  I used magnolia and nandina leaves and added some ligustrum leaves as an afterthought.  The ligustrum and nandina leaves didn't work well at all.  Too smooshy.  Also, I used fresh leaves not dry ones.

These are the magnolia leaves. 

I boiled them for about an hour and a half.  There is no set time, you just have to test to see if the cellulose can be scrubbed away.  And watch the pot to make sure it doesn't boil away.  You may need to add more water and if you do, add more washing soda.

It is not toxic, has no toxic fumes and shouldn't damage anything.  It is an ingredient in laundry detergent, soap and dishwasher detergent. 

Yes, you now take a toothbrush.  An old one (or your hubby's if you are ticked at him.)  And you scrub.  I found I could rub pretty hard.  Circles, straight scrubs, back and forth brushing.  And the magnolia leaves were not that delicate and could be scrubbed pretty vigorously.

I would also suggest if you want them flat, to press the leaves in a book first for a week or two or three.  My leaves were pretty flat when I laid the skeletons to dry on a paper towel.  

What you see in this photo is the the texture of the paper towel through the leaf skeleton.

But when they dried they went back to their original shape.  Leaf shape.

I want to use them as a mask for printing.  Future post!


  1. I love this idea and have never seen anything like it. The skeleton leaves would be great to use for creating screens for printing, too. They would also be pretty pressed and used as part of a mixed media composition on paper, too. Can't wait until I have time again to play ...

  2. I have a magnolia that I started from seed... it is a house plant for me. The climate where we will be living will not support life outside. (Superior Wisconsin = no magnolias) But thank you for the tutorial. I'll bet I could use dried oak leaves. They are pretty tough.

  3. I've never heard if this - the leaves must be thick and sturdy to begin with . We don't have much like that around here though so I will watch with great interest from afar . Good tip about the washing soda. I've never heard of that either. You are a wealth of information :-)

  4. I just shared this post with some friends from my Surface Design mini-group ... and I was really wishing you had added the search module to your blog to make it easier to find ... hint, hint, hint. If you need some distraction and want to play with your blog layout, maybe you could consider it ;-)


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