How to skeletonize leaves?

How To Make a Leaf Skeleton

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You can make skeleton leaves during the spring, summer, or fall.

By removing a leave’s tissue, you’ll leave behind a beautiful “skeleton” of veins!

(Adult supervision recommended.)

What You Need:

  • Leaves: choose fresh, large, green leaves. In this project, we used leaves from a Maple tree, a grape vine, a Buckeye tree, and a Lilac bush. Only the maple tree leaves worked well; the others were not firm enough to withstand the process without tearing. The smaller and softer the leaf, the less likely it is to work well in this experiment.
  • Sodium carbonate (washing soda) You can order the needed small amount here, or buy it in large quantity at the grocery store in the laundry aisle.
  • Metal pot (not aluminum)
  • Forceps or tweezers
  • Paintbrush or extra soft bristle toothbrush
  • Rubber gloves
  • Bleach
  • Shallow dish
  • Cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Coated paper plates

What You Do:

Before you begin: An adult should supervise all activities involving the stove or oven!

1. Put a half liter (a little more than 2 cups) of water into the pot.

2. Add 4 ¼ teaspoons of sodium carbonate to the water (or weigh out 20 g with a balance.

3. Place the pot on a stove burner and stir to dissolve the sodium carbonate in the water.

4. Heat the mixture on the stove until it just starts boiling.

5. Add the leaves to the mixture in the pot and turn the heat down to simmer.

6. Let the leaves simmer in the mixture for about 30 minutes.

7. Take the pot off the burner and turn the burner off.

8. Put an inch of cool water in a shallow dish and have it next to the pot of leaves.

8. Use the forceps to carefully remove the leaves from the pot and transfer them to a shallow dish.

9. Put on the rubber gloves and use your finger to very gently swirl the leaves in the fresh water. The sodium carbonate can irritate the eyes and skin, so wear the rubber gloves when immersing your fingers in the mixture, and don’t touch your eyes.

10. Use the forceps to pick up one leaf and transfer it to a coated paper plate. Carefully spread out the leaf so no parts are folded over or underneath.

11. Use the soft toothbrush to carefully brush the green parts of the leaf. Start where the stem attaches, and use short, gentle brush strokes to brush the green leaf tissue toward the ends and outer edges of the leaf.

12. It is helpful to occasionally pour the green gel off the paper plate. You can rinse the paper plate if you are careful not to disturb the leaf. Keep brushing until you have brushed away as much of the leaf tissue as possible. Be gentle and patient!

13. Fill a cup with bleach.

14. Use the forceps to gently transfer the leaf from the shallow dish to the cup of bleach.

15. Let the leaf rest in the bleach for 20 minutes.

16. Use the forceps to remove the leaf from the bleach and let it air dry on a clean paper plate while you work on more leaves.

What Happened:

The part of the leaf you can see now is a complex pattern of hollow veins making up the leaf’s skeleton.

A leaf’s veining system provides food and water to the rest of its cells.

Since the leaf is no longer getting the nutrients it needs from the ground through the stem of the plant or tree trunk, its tissue will break down easily.

All that remains is the delicate system of veins that make a lacy pattern!

Try framing your leaf skeleton, or using it to decorate a homemade card.

Enlarge the image to see the leaf’s vein structure.

(Press these two keys on your keyboard together: Ctrl +).

More Leaf Activities:

  • Leaf Chromatography
  • Leaves Under a Microscope
  • How to Preserve Leaves

Skeleton leaves are so beautiful, delicate and lacy. They are great for many paper craft projects such as making greeting cards and scrapbooks. They are also wonderful crafts for kids to work on. When I was a child, I used to make bookmarks with skeleton leaves. I took the fresh leaves, pressed them in a thick book and waited for them to dry. It usually took at least three weeks or more for the pulp to completely dry out. Here is a faster and easier way to make beautiful skeleton leaves. You can use any kind of leaf you like, but maple and oak leaves are good for beginners. You may also dye the skeleton leaves for a colorful effect. Delicate skeleton leaves make wonderful accents to your favors. You can use them for gift wrapping, cards, bookmarks, crafts and decoration. Let’s get started!

Here are the supplies you may need:

  • Leaves (preferably waxy leaves);
  • Washing soda;
  • Water;
  • Brush;
  • Food dye;
  • Paper towel;
  • Gloves.


1. Gather the leaves you want to skeletonize and place them in a pot.

2. Pour 3/4 cup of washing soda and 4 cups of water in the pot.

3. Stir to combine the washing soda and water to make the solution.

4. Bring the water to a boil.

5. Allow the pot to simmer until the leaves are softened. Depending on the thickness of the leaves, this process may take 1 hour or longer.

6. Remove the leaves from the pot, rinse them in clean water and place them on the paper towel. Wear your gloves and use a brush to gently rub away the leaf pulp. Be careful not to tear the actual skeleton.

7. Soak the skeletonized leaves in fresh water, remove and let it dry. Dye the leaves with food coloring and allow it to dry completely.

8. Continue to dye the leaves in various colors. If you want a white skeleton leaf, you can soak the leaf in a solution of 50 ml of bleach and 1 cup of water until it turns white. Then remove it from the solution, rinse with water and let it dry completely.

Suggestion: Different leaves require different combination of soda and water. You might have to experiment a few times to get the best result for the leaves that you have. Some people ask if they can use baking soda. I think it will also work, but again, you need to do your experiment and you know how to do it. Have fun!

You may also like this beautiful botanical prints wall art.

Making Skeleton Leaves

Skeleton leaves (or ghost leaves) absolutely are real tree leaves. A special treatment removes the fleshy parts, preserving only the rib structure, and hence transforming the leaves into beautiful, delicate looking skeleton leaves. Here we describe the methods our supplier uses to make our skeleton leaves; we also illustrate with actual photographs from our supplier. As you’ll no doubt notice from these photographs, making skeleton leaves is very much a cottage industry. The leaves supplied by Skeleton Leaf – Just The Leaves are all grown and processed in Thailand.

Step 1 Harvesting the Leaves

Our supplier collects leaves fresh from the tree. (If you are making your own skeleton leaves, depending on the type, you may also need press them. Place them between two flat surfaces, add weights to the upper surface and leave for several weeks in a dry, undisturbed place.)

Step 2 Placing the Leaves in Solution

Our supplier then places the leaves in a gentle solution which slowly dissolves away the flesh of the leaves. The solution probably contains washing soda (sodium carbonate) though different manufacturers (including ours) have their own carefully guarded secret recipes. (We recommend you use washing soda and wear rubber gloves.)

Add Fresh Leaves to a Special Solution

Step 3 Leave to Soak

The leaves must be left to soak for several days during which time the flesh turns to pulp. Some manufacturers may also heat the leaves to speed up the process. (If you are making your own skeleton leaves, there is no hard and fast rule for the soaking time. You will need to check on your leaves periodically to see how they are progressing and judge for yourself when the fleshy parts have dissolved enough.)

The Leaves After a Few Days of Soaking

Step 4 Rinsing the Leaves

The supplier then removes the leaves from the solution and rinses them in cold water. (If you are preparing your own skeleton leaves, with some types of leaf you may need to gently assist removal of the pulp with a brush.)

Afterwards the leaves are put out in the strong Thai sun to dry out. The leaves are now “skeleton leaves”. These are the leaves which we sell as Natural Un-dyed.

The Leaves After Soaking, Rinsing and Drying

Step 5 Dyeing the Leaves

After sorting the leaves by size, they are now ready to dye. As you can see below, our supplier prepares the dyes in large pots. (You can dye your homemade leaves too. You could also dye “Natural Un-dyed” leaves after purchasing from Skeleton Leaf – Just The Leaves.)

Mix the Dyes in Large Containers

Looking rather like feather dusters, the dyed leaves hanging to dry in the hot Thai sun.

Hang the Dyed Leaves Out to Dry in the Sun

The final colour of the leaves depends on many factors including the dye used, the length of time the leaves are exposed to the dye and the speed at which they dry out in the sun.

The leaves are now “dyed skeleton leaves”, which we sell in a variety of different colours.

The leaves can also be spray painted to create metallic finishes as well as Ivory. We will cover these in a later article.

Create Your Own DIY Skeleton Leaves In 5 Easy Steps

As the year draws to a close and the days become grayer, shorter, and colder, you have to start looking for ways to spend time indoors instead of outside. Arts and crafts and DIY projects are a great way to make the most of your free afternoons, especially during the fall and winter months which offer plenty of natural crafting materials. With all the autumn foliage littering the parks and streets, it would be crazy not to take advantage of the plentiful opportunities they present, so go ahead and get raking!

You’ll need:

  • leaves of your choice
  • soda ash
  • bleach
  • découpage glue

Here’s how:

1. Boil water in a pot, add the soda ash, add the leaves to the pot, and cook for 3 hours.

2. Drain the water, place the leaves in a sieve, and rinse them under running water.

3. Cook the leaves for another 20 minutes in a mixture of water and bleach.

4. Drain the water again and catch the leaves in a sieve. Carefully rub the top layer of each leaf under cold water.

5. Finally, brush the leaves with découpage glue and let dry.

Now you can use the nearly transparent foliage to make various kinds of jewelry and decorative pieces. For example, use the leaves as a pendant for a necklace, place them in a picture frame, or incorporate them in a homemade wind chime, as seen in the video. Let your creativity flow!

If you’re looking for more DIY crafts featuring leaves, check out this tutorial for a floral light box.

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