Preserving Fall Leaves with Glycerin – the Good, the Bad, and the Crumbly


 These were the colors I hoped to preserve to be scattered across our Thanksgiving table.
These were the colors I hoped to preserve to be scattered across our Thanksgiving table.

Years ago, I read about preserving fall leaves in a book on Victorian pastimes. Although it intrigued me at the time, I never actually got around to trying it. The kids and I would sometimes collect leaves and press them between wax paper with a warm iron, but the results were far from elegant. Fast forward to this year when I decided real local autumn leaves would be the perfect accent for our Thanksgiving table.

I found directions (by googling, of course) on the Home Science Tools website. They suggested three ways to preserve leaves. One was my old method of ironing them between wax paper, but second-grade-science-project is not quite the look we are going for with our holiday centerpiece. Another method involved using the microwave one leaf at a time and stopping frequently to ensure nothing caught fire.  Umm, no thanks. The third method, and the one I tried, entailed soaking the leaves in a solution of one part glycerin and two parts water for 2-6 days.

First, the good news: I have enough leaves that, in my judgement anyway, are good enough to grace the center of our Thanksgiving table.  Also in the positive column, Rick and I had a good time walking around our neighborhood collecting the most colorful leaves we could find.

 The colors are a little more muted than I hoped, but I think they look pretty anyway.
The colors are a little more muted than I hoped, but I think they look pretty anyway.

Now for the not-so-good news: It was a pretty time-consuming project for the results we achieved. Only about half of the leaves were usable. The others either faded to a muddy color or somehow got crumbly at the edges (in spite of being submerged in the solution for three days.)

 Natural colors…
Natural colors…
 Vs. craft store silks.
Vs. craft store silks.

Would I try this craft again? I’m not sure. I do still have half a bottle of glycerin left (It was $14 and showed up at my door two days after I ordered it – thanks, Amazon:)  My lackluster results could be due to user error. Maybe I tried to treat too many leaves at once or maybe they needed to soak longer. Has anyone else ever tried preserving leaves in this way? Or do you have a better method? Please share your secrets in the comments section if you do!

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