Making Skeletonised Leaves

I decided I wanted to try making some skeletonised leaves. So I did some Googling and decided to try this approach.

We went out in the evening and gathered some leaves from the local Shrubbery. Totally not suspicious 🙂

I bought some Sodium Hydroxide and a cheap steel pot from ebay. Note: it must not be Aluminium as the Sodium Hydroxide will react with Aluminium!

Although Sodium Hydroxide isn’t a deadly poison, you really don’t want it on your skin or in your eyes, so gloves/goggles are a necessity for safety. Hmm, I should really look into some sort of cheap lab coat as well to protect my clothes for this sorta stuff:

I scaled up the proportions to 1L of (Edinburgh) tap water and 30G of Sodium Hydroxide powder. I put them in the pot, brought it to the boil and added the leaves.

For fun I also tested the pH of the solution with my new pH paper (also from Ebay/China). Its about a 14, so pretty alkaline!

The instructions suggested boiling for about two hours, but it appears to depend on the leaves you choose. I checked on it every 20 minutes or so, and pulled leaves out as they became ready.

To process them, I had the following set up next to the pot:

  • Tray 1: Plain tap water to wash off the Sodium Hydroxide.
  • Tray 2: Some “Ordinary Household Bleach” (aka Sodium Hypochlorite) to bleach any remaining colour out.
  • Tray 3: More plain tap water to wash off the bleach.
  • A sheet of alumunium foil to put the leaves on to dry out.

After all of them were processed, I ended up with this:

The next morning I was able to unpeel the more robust leaves, yielding me these:


  • You need to use robust leaves from trees. I tried some nettle leaves, but they quickly turned to mush. Some of the tree leaves appeared to process fine, but turned out to be way too delicate to remove from the foil after drying: definitely depends on the species. There may be a better way to dry them, will think on it.
  • Only process one species of leaf at a time, otherwise you constantly have to check each one in the pot, which means you’re disturbing them more to check.
  • Make sure to check on the water level! I almost boiled it dry.
  • Its fiddly! During processing, you have to carefully unroll the leaves by hand while wearing gloves to get them flat prior to drying.
  • I tried processing a dried up Oak leaf since theoretically it should be closer to being skeletonised: it didn’t seem to work very well (you can see the unsuccessful result on the aluminium foil photo).

What Next?

They’re definitely more robust than I expected, but they’re still quite delicate. I fancy trying dying them and embedding them into some transparent resin next.

5 thoughts on “Making Skeletonised Leaves

    1. Wow, they do look lovely! But I don’t have ready access to Gingko leaves as far as I know. If I see any I’ll definitely try them.

      They are from a tree, they’re much more likely to stand up to the process.


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