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How to Make Skeleton Leaves

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Skeleton leaves are used for scrapbooking projects, card making, and kid's leaf projects.

Skeleton leaves are used for scrapbooking projects, card making, and kid's leaf projects.

Skeleton Leaves: Selecting Strong Leaves

Thin, wispy skeleton leaves are often used in card-making projects, scrapbooks, and other paper-related crafts. They also make a wonderful leaf project for kids—children can watch the pulp fall out of the leaves (using the water method) and observe the delicate vascular structure that supports the tree once the skeleton leaf is formed. These leaves are beautiful, lacy, and can be purchased from craft stores. Skeleton leaves are also extremely simple to make.

The first step is to collect leaves you want to skeletonize. The easiest leaves have tougher skeletons—oak and maple leaves are best suited to a beginner. Delicate leaves from smaller shrubs will also work but may tear when using the washing soda/paintbrush method.

Easy Skeleton Leaves: The Water Method

The simplest way to make skeleton leaves is to simply place them in a bucket of water and wait until the pulp falls out of the leaf. This may take 2–3 weeks, but the process is gentle to the leaf and requires no effort.

The water will need to be changed every few days, as the pulp begins to fall out of the leaves. The water will also become rancid quickly, so be sure to replace it with fresh water on a regular basis. It is a wise idea to add some bleach to the water to prevent decay: simply add about 1/4 cup bleach to a shallow bucket of water.

Once all of the pulp is gone, remove the leaf skeletons and allow them to dry. Use them in your favorite crafts.

Fast Skeleton Leaves: The Washing Soda Method

It is possible to make skeleton leaves in about an hour with the use of a Washing Soda solution. Washing soda is sodium carbonate and may be found in the laundry aisle of your favorite grocery store. This is not the same chemical as baking soda, so do not confuse the two.

Collect your favorite leaves and place them to the side. Fill a small saucepan with 2 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of washing soda. Stir to combine. Bring the water to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat source. Place the leaves in the washing soda solution and allow them to steep for approximately 20 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the leaves and use a paintbrush or a toothbrush to gently remove the leaf pulp. Take care not to tear the actual skeleton—this process is painstaking and takes a gentle hand. Once the pulp is removed, set the skeleton aside to dry.

If you want a pure, white leaf skeleton, place it in a solution of bleach and water. Allow it to sit until all traces of green are gone, then dry.

How to Dye Skeleton Leaves

Skeleton leaves may be used when they are bleach-white, but they can also be dyed for use in fall-themed cards, wreaths, or other projects. Basic food coloring is one option for dying the leaf skeletons. Simply submerge the leaves in a solution of food coloring and water and allow the skeletons to soak until they take up the color.

Unsweetened drink powder mixes (such as kool-aid) will also dye leaves - add the powder to some water in a small bowl and dye the skeleton leaves in this mixture. Once the dye has set, simply run the leaves under clear water and allow them to dry.

Skeleton Leaf Project Ideas

  • Skeleton Leaf Poinsettias: Dye skeleton leaves red. Arrange 5 leaves in a circle, with the points facing out. Arrange another five leaves in a circle on top of the first layer, with the top leaves rotated so that they fill the gaps created by the first layer. Glue the leaves together and allow them to dry. Add tiny gold beads to the center of the poinsettias.
  • Skeleton Leaf Wreath: Attach several skeleton leaves to a wire coat hanger to create a wreath. Bend a wire coat hanger into a circle. This project requires many skeleton leaves—amass the leaves and lay them out on the wire circle to ensure there is a sufficient amount to hide the wire. Use a needle and thread, and tie each leaf onto the coat hanger, wrapping the thread around the wire several times between each leaf. The result will be a lacy, beautiful creation to hang on your door. Try using dyed leaves for this project for a fall-themed door hanging.
  • Skeleton Leaf Cards: Use a template to trace a design (such as a heart or star) onto a skeleton leaf, and cut out the design. Place the skeleton leaf shape onto a colorful background using a glue stick—allow the glue to dry, then add a special sentiment to the card. Alternatively, use small, whole skeleton leaves on the card for a more natural look.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I use washing powder to make skeleton leafs?

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Answer: If your washing powder is sodium carbonate (soda ash), then it will work nicely to create skeleton leaves. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is not the same chemical and will not work for this purpose.

Question: Does it matter if the pan/pot is nonstick or not when making skeleton leaves?

Answer: It should not matter if the pot is non-stick, though please take care not to heat a non-stick (teflon-coated) pan to high temperatures. Heated teflon can release carbonyl fluoride, which is toxic. I prefer to use stainless steel pots and pans over teflon coated equipment in general.

Question: Name some trees which leaves I can use to make skeleton leaves?

Answer: Trees with thin leaves are better specimens for the creation of skeleton leaves than trees with thick leaves. Maple trees and birch trees make fine examples. Avoid the use of trees with thicker or waxy leaves, such as oak or magnolia trees.

Question: Can this be made such that it's edible?

Answer: Skeleton leaves are used in craft projects, such as card making, and should not be eaten.


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 04, 2019:

Hi, Carol - the ingredient you need is "washing soda," not "washing powder." Washing soda is sodium carbonate (this is not the same thing as baking powder, which is sodium bicarbonate). Washing soda is typically located in the laundry aisle, but you may need to ask someone to locate it at your local grocery as they may place it in a different location.

Carol Douglass on September 28, 2019:

Can someone define "washing powder" more precisely, please? Are all dry, granulated laundry soaps "washing powder?" I have never seen soda ash for sale in a laundry/washing soap shelf. Thanks!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 06, 2018:

I will translate your comment for other readers, Safiq, which is "How does it happen?" Skeleton leaves occur in nature when the flesh of the leaf dissolves in a wet environment, leaving only the tougher "skeleton" behind. Using hot water and washing soda, you can speed up the process to make your own skeleton leaves for crafts.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 04, 2018:

What type of leaves are you trying to skeletonize, Athena? It can take quite a bit of rubbing to remove the leaf flesh from the leaves (I use a toothbrush and typically choose maple leaves, which have a skeleton that can withstand the scrubbing). You can also try soaking your leaves longer in the washing soda solution or increasing the concentration of the washing soda. Let me know if you still have problems!

Athena on August 03, 2018:

I was so excited to try this method out as I love the look of skeleton leaves, but for some reason it is not working for me can you give me a little bit more pointers I've already tried like 3 times lol

Indah on December 21, 2017:

do you have a reference source ?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 06, 2017:

Thank you, Kristen! I often use my craft ideas for educational units with my children.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on November 12, 2015:

Leah, that's so cool! You're so clever with your crafty hub ideas.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 12, 2015:

It is a fun activity, Kristen, and can be used for craft activities or for educational purposes (my kids were fascinated to see the "skeleton" of the leaf)!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on November 07, 2015:

Leah, this is pretty cool and awesome to do. I love it! I would keep it in mind to do it sometime. Thanks for sharing this awesome hub!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 18, 2015:

Skeleton leaves are great for many different art projects! They look fantastic on cards!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on August 15, 2015:

Leah, this is an awesome idea with useful tips to make it better. I think it's also cool. Voted up!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 12, 2014:

Hi Maikel,

When using the sodium carbonate (washing soda), put them in the pan and cook them for only about 20-30 minutes. The leaves will still be green - you will need to use a paintbrush or toothbrush to gently scrub the leaf pulp away from the leaf "skeleton."

Maikel on February 11, 2014:

I've baught sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) in the pure form and did 20 gr into 500 ml. I've cooked it and put the leaves into the pan..

Its been 3 days know and the only change is that all my leaves are black/dark brown..?

Someone know what I did wrong?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 03, 2013:

They are great for decorations and for making cards, Sarah! I hope you give them a try!

sarah on September 03, 2013:

this is interesting, would be good for decoration

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 07, 2013:

Your link is fine, sparkleyfinger! I love craft ideas, especially if they are related to science in any way (I do a lot of science related crafts with my kids)! Skeleton leaves are fun to make.

Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on May 07, 2013:

Hi There, Just to let you know, I have linked one of my hubs to this one, as it was relevant to the hub. I will be publishing later today, and if you don't want the link there, let me know and I'll remove it :) Great hub, hence why I'm linking to it :)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 18, 2013:

You need washing soda, which can be found in the laundry detergent aisle of a grocery store or a department store. A toothbrush is the best tool for removing the leaf pulp, though a stiff paintbrush may also work. Any type of bleach will work at the end of the process - the bleach will not remove the leaf pulp. The bleach only whitens the leaf skeleton.

Diptanudd on January 18, 2013:

I tried it several times but i m not getting any result plz help me .what type of bleach should i use

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 18, 2013:

Hi Diptanudd - the water method can take a LONG time to work, depending on the relative acidity level of your local water supply. If you want skeleton leaves in a reasonable amount of time, I really suggest using the washing soda method. It always works in a hurry!

Diptanudd on January 18, 2013:

i tried ts of time but its not working plz suggest me

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 05, 2012:

Thanks, Sarumathi. I have tried using several tools to remove the leaf pulp, and the toothbrushes seem to work the best. I hope you find it fairly easy to do!

Sarumathi on November 05, 2012:

I checked many pages regarding this . Nothing was as clear and as simple as yours.thank u...

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 23, 2012:

Definitely give it a try, Esmeowl12! It takes a little practice to get the pulp out without tearing the skeleton, but the end result is really cool! A toothbrush is the best tool when using the washing soda method.

Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on October 23, 2012:

What a cool idea. I have a leaf art craft business but have never thought or heard of this project. I may have to give it a try. Thanks for a very interesting hub.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 19, 2012:

They are really fun to make, PaisleeGal! I recommend the washing soda method, as it is the quickest way to make them. They will stay green until you bleach them, as the chlorophyll will stain the "skeleton." My kids love them!

Pat Materna from Memphis, Tennessee, USA on October 19, 2012:

Well, I've done crafting for years and have never heard of skeleton leaves. They are beautiful and so simple to do. Will have to give this a try. Voted up.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 01, 2012:

Good luck, Chloe! The washing soda and toothbrush method is the best - it takes some practice but the leaves will come out beautifully. Bleach will help make the leaves nice and white when you have removed all of the pulp, as the chlorophyll will stain the "skeleton."

CHLOE on October 01, 2012:

GOOD JOB.... amazing so much.... ih ope if we wiil dolike this my leaf will be perfect.... :))

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 14, 2012:

Thank you, Marie-Eve! I like doing this project with my children, as they have a lot of fun looking at the "skeleton" of the leaves.

Les Créateliers on September 13, 2012:

Awesome! I posted your tutorial on my website, here's the link:



Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 28, 2012:

Thanks, Letitia - I am going to make a few cards with them next - I need to make a bigger patch for the poinsettias and the wreath, but the cards only take a few leaves. I'll post some pictures when I get them done.

LetitiaFT from Paris via California on May 28, 2012:

This is neat. I'd be interested in seeing some of your projects using them.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 27, 2012:

Thanks, Moonlake - they're pretty easy to make. The washing soda method is definitely the fastest (and probably the best) method! They are really neat - once they dry, they are light and airy - they have a really neat feel!

moonlake from America on May 27, 2012:

Very nice. I had pinned some skelton leaves on Pinterest that I had found on the internet. I thought they were so neat. Enjoyed your hub.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 27, 2012:

Angela, it is quite fun! Great for card-making projects or any other paper crafts. The leaves may wrinkle as they dry, so if you want to keep them flat, dry them under a few heavy books to press them.

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on May 27, 2012:

I can't wait to try this!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 26, 2012:

Fennelseed - it is fairly easy to do! We are transitioning from spring to summer, so my leaves were younger ones. Fall leaves work just as well, though! I don't let the kids work with the ones that are coated in the washing soda solution, but once they're rinsed they're fine for kids to touch. They are fun to use in crafts!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 26, 2012:

teaches12345 - they sell these at craft stores (and online), but they're fairly simple to make at home - especially if you only need a few! The rubbing process (with a toothbrush) can be a bit tedious for large quantities of leaves, so it might be easier to buy them for huge projects.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 26, 2012:

Randomcreative - I hadn't done it in years, either. They were fun to make with the kids!

Annie Fenn from Australia on May 26, 2012:

Oh wow, I didn't know this was possible, I have picked up leaves naturally skeletonised before. I will definatley be trying this and as we are in the last days of Autumn here in Australia, I am heading out shortly to gather a selection of fallen leaves. Thank you so much for this information. My votes to you, leahlefler, and sharing!!!

Dianna Mendez on May 26, 2012:

They look so pretty and I can see how they would add interest to a scrapbook content. Looks simple enough to do and with little cost as the material can be found just outside the home.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 26, 2012:

Great job with this simple tutorial! I haven't made these in years.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 25, 2012:

Phoebe, the skeleton leaves are pretty cool to look at and feel. They make beautiful crafts, too - you can make small oval ones and decorate cards with them.

Phoebe Pike on May 25, 2012:

This seems like a really cool project. I think I might have to try it.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 25, 2012:

They are used a lot in crafts, though I made them to show my boys the vascular structure of the leaves from our yard. We'll try painting through them with watercolors to make an impression - I wouldn't let kids near the washing soda, but they do enjoy watching the process and examining the leaves once they're done!

Jason Menayan from San Francisco on May 25, 2012:

This is really cool. I'm not sure I knew what these even were, or that you could make them so easily at home. Sounds like a great project for budding botanists or science students. :)