Long before the existence of lasers, nature has had its own way of etching or skeletonizing leaves thru the process of decay and hungry insects.
During the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese developed several methods to accelerate this process. [ref http://www.phantomleaves.com/page/page/4079421.htm ]
Today there are several methods listed on the web and I've tried them all with mixed results. There are so many variables involved with the types of leaves, and levels of freshness.
The instructable presented here is the result of a few trial and errors.
Step 1: The Ingredients
We will be using sodium carbonate (not sodium bicarbonate) to loosen/separate the flesh from the leaf veins. which contain a decay-resistant chemical called lignin. Arm & Hammer has a brand called Super Washing Soda, which you can find at your local ACE hardware store.
1/2 Cup Sodium Carbonate, aka Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
2 Cups Water
1 Cup Liquid Bleach for whitening (optional)
1 Metal Pan
Fresh leaves that have a waxy appearance similar to Magnolia leaves
Dried non waxy leaves.
Soft brush or toothbrush
One curious cat if you have one.
SAFETY - Please wear your gloves at all times as sodium carbonate has a pH of 11, meaning it will irritate your skin badly. Also read the Caution label on the Arm & Hammer product in case you splash it in your eyes or swallow it accidently.
Step 2: Bring the Water & Sodium Carbonate Mixture to Boil
Turn your stove top on to High.
Set your pan on the stove top.
Pour in 2 cups of water
Stir in 1/2 cup of sodium carbonate until dissolved
When mixture boils reduce heat to simmer and add leaves.
Step 3: Simmer Between 1 - 3 Hours
You'll need to keep adding water to as it evaporates over the course of the simmering.
I found that 1.5 - 2 hours is about a good time for most leaves to be ready.
You can test for readiness by lifting out a leaf on the back of a big spoon and the flesh should look pulpy and in some cases starting to separate from the veins.
The first image is the usual disaster you will encounter. Some leaves don't lend themselves to this process. Just keep trying different kinds at different simmer times and you'll get the hang of it.
Once you feel comfortable the leaf is ready, transfer it to a clear bowl with a thin layer of water.
Step 4: The Delicate Part
Grab the stem with some tweezers and gently tap the top of the leaf with the toothbrush to loosen the flesh, which you can then gently brush away.
Turn the leaf over and repeat the process.
You have to be very delicate with the brush or else you'll damage the fine veins.
Once your done then carefully lift the leaf in a large spoon and gently rinse with water.
Step 5: Optional Step - Bleach
If you want you can soak the finished leaves in a small bowl of bleach for about 20-30 minutes to whiten them up.
Step 6: Dry
After bleaching, rinse the leaves very carefully under cold water and transfer to some napkins to dry.
Recommend pressing the leaves between two sets of napkins as they dry so they will be flat.
Once they are fully dried you can mount them between framed glass and hang them as art.
Some folks have electroplated them to make earrings.
Look forward to hearing everyones feedback and improvements as there is plenty of room!