Skeletonising leaves

This was another favorite pastime with the Victorians. William Thomson wrote at length about how to do this in a late 1800s edition of his ‘The Gardener’ publication, which he ends by saying:

“This is the simple outline of the process, and if executed by the hands of the gentler sex, for whom it would prove a very fitting employment, a fair amount of success might well be looked for. It is evident that much nice discrimination in the selection of the right leaves is required, and a very light and careful manipulation is also essential; and in the case of failures no small amount of patience is needed to carry the operator through to ultimate success.”.

If you feel that you have the requisite carefulness, patience and hands of the gentler sex, then this is how Constance Spry – who I have no doubt was brimming with all of those – would tell you to proceed.  Be sure to use strong leaves which are in good condition as anything fragile won’t stand up to the treatment.  Magnolia leaves are heavily recommended.

1. Boil the leaves gently in water for half an hour. The water needs to have a teaspoon of washing soda (soda crystals) added to it for each litre of water you are using.

2. Take off the heat and leave to cool in the water.

3. Remove the leaves from the liquid and spread them carefully onto paper. then use the back of a nice to scrape the green off the leaves, but you do have to be careful to neither tear nor split the leaf.

4. Put the leaves in a very weak solution of bleach and water for an hour and then rinse in cold water.

5. Carefully wipe them dry and press on blotting paper to get any remaining moisture out.

The skeletons can then be used just as you would the pressed flowers.


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  1. Interesting but do I use green or dry leaves?

    • Hi Alan – thanks for your comment.

      You need to use fresh leaves before they become aged and brittle. Magnolia grandiflora leaves are generally considered the most suited to skeletonising. And our old friend William Thomson also recommends trying ivy, rose, holly, poplar, willow, elm, horse-chestnut and oak.

      If you decide to go for it, I’d love it if you could let me know what leaves you use and how it goes.

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