The phantom-like leaves occasionally seen in winter bouquets, prepared by a process known as "skeletonizing," are so mysterious to the unitiated that they may well attract the curious child. The process itself is messy and painstaking, but basically simple. Results are nothing short of exquisite, with only the delicate vein and rib structure remaining. They are like the finest of filigree, wraithlike, almost transparent, and of a hoar-frost delicacy.
This is an old art, having originated several hundred years ago. For a long time it was a carefully guarded secret. Eventually the process was divulged, but it was very hush-hush at first and communicated only in strictest confidence. Finally it grew into a popular art and enjoyed a tremendous vogue in Victorian times, when arrangements were often made under glass domes or behind convex glass in oval frames.
The underlying principle is maceration of the pulpy substance of the leaf so that it can be separated from the fibrous skeleton. Methods vary, but many modern skeletonizers use the following procedure:
Make a solution of one teaspoon of soda to a quart of water. (Strong lye soap is sometimes used instead of soda.) Simmer leaves in the solution over low heat. Two or three hours may be long enough, but occasionally it is necessary to repeat this for two or three days in succession.
When the skin has loosened, remove the leaves. Gently brush them or scrape them carefully with a dull knife to free them of all pulp. If it doesn't all come off, put them back to simmer again. Only the skeleton of the leaves should remain when you are through.
Bleach these skeletons in a solution of two tablespoons
of household bleach to a quart of water. Let them stand in this until they are snowy white. Then remove them, rinse well, and pat dry. They may be pressed flat to dry, or allowed to dry naturally and curl into interesting forms.
Leaves with a rather heavy ribbing and veining give best results and are easiest to handle. Most often used are magnolia, rhododendron, laurel, galax, beech and iris leaves. Old garden books, however, speak of treating the leaves of almost all deciduous trees and shrubs; also evergreens like holly, box and camellia, and vines such as ivy, wisteria, greenbrier and trumpet vine.
Old-time writers also recommend the skeletonizing of certain seed pods, suggesting pods of okra, poppies, thorn apples, mallows, ground cherries, Canterbury bells, hydrangea and others.
WORKING WITH PRESSED FLOWERS
Most children are natural-born flower-pressers. This tendency, if encouraged, can lead to useful and entertaining pastimes. A pressed flower folio, covering the most successful flowers from the child's garden, might not only sharpen his interest in the variety of things he grows, but would also provide an excellent basis for the study of elementary botany.