How to Press and Preserve Leaves for Crafts and Home Decor
Pressing leaves is a popular fall activity when leaves change pigment from greens to reds, oranges and yellows. However, it can actually be done year-round. Keep the kids busy by sending them on a mission to collect interesting backyard foliage, help them preserve the leaves and turn them into a fun seasonal or everyday project.
Or, use these methods as a way to bring the outside in to incorporate nature into home decor.
Tips for Finding Perfect Leaves
— Make sure they are free from insects and fungi.
— As gorgeous as they are and as tempting as it may be, do not take leaves from National Parks. It is prohibited.
— Remember that even poison ivy changes color in the fall, so be sure to know what it and other undesirable plants look like before collecting leaves.
— For leaves that are easy to press, look for ones without a lot of moisture content.
Methods for Pressing Leaves Flat
Use a Heavy Book –
This time-tested technique still works. Make sure the leaves are completely dry and be sure to press the leaves between a layer of paper or two (newspaper works well) in order to prevent damage to the book pages. Try to use an old book, just in case.
Iron with Wax Paper –
1. Find a relatively flat leaf that doesn’t have too much water content and place it between two sheets (or a folded sheet) of wax paper.
2. Put a cloth on top of the ironing board and place the leaf in wax paper on top of it. Lay another cloth on top of the wax paper. This prevents wax from melting on either the iron or the ironing board.
3. Turn your iron to high (no steam).
4. Slowly start to gently iron the top cloth while making sure the leaf doesn’t shift inside the wax paper. Press down to make sure that the wax paper completely seals around the leaf.
5. When the wax paper has melted, you’ll notice that the paper will become clearer. Let it cool completely and then cut around the leaf as desired, leaving a small wax paper border in order to keep the leaf sealed.
Tip: A towel might be too thick to use as the top cloth, preventing enough heat from hitting the wax paper.
Grab an Iron –
Heat up an iron to the medium setting but be sure to turn the steam setting off. Place a leaf between two paper towels or thin cloths and press the iron down on the leaf. You’ll likely need to do this for 5-10 minutes, releasing the iron from the leaf every minute or so (monitor heavily and use judgement). Turn the leaf over a few times (you may need to change the paper towels, too) and continue to press until the desired result is acheived.
Buy Professional Help –
Of course, there are gadgets that can press a leaf or flower in just minutes such as soapstone microwave presses that flatten and strip moisture out of flowers and leaves in just minutes. Or, specially-designed wooden frames held together by rivets or spring can perfectly press a flower over days without too much effort.
Methods to Preserve Leaves
Pop Leaves into the Microwave –
This method requires monitoring as leaves can catch fire if left in too long and only works with fresh leaves that are not yet dried out.
1. Arrange leaves on top of two paper towels. Cover them with another paper towel.
2. Microwave for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. The drier the leaves, the less time they will need but be VERY careful. It’s best to microwave them in very short intervals, checking for dryness along the way. Leaves that curl at the end typically need more time while leaves that are scorched have–you guessed it–been cooked too long.
3. Let the leaves air dry for a day or two and then spray them on both sides with acrylic spray that can be found at Michael’s or similar craft stores.
Use Glycerin –
Glycerin can be either bought online or found in a local drugstore, though you’ll want to call to check availability as it is not carried by all. Using this method will actually preserve the leaves for years and some crafters have reported success preserving branches with leaves on them by using this technique.
1. Mix 1 part glycerin to 2 parts of water in a shallow dish like a glass baking dish. You’ll need enough to submerge the leaves.
2. Place the leaves in the baking dish with a weight on top to completely submerge the leaves in the solution.
3. Keep the leaves submerged for 2-6 days. Check them after 2 days and again each day after that until they are soft and pliable.
4. Dry the leaves with a paper towel and they are ready for crafting expertise.
Martha Stewart uses this method when preparing leaves for leaf wreaths.
Use Mod Podge –
If you haven’t heard of the miracle otherwise known as Mod Podge, let us enlighten you. Available since the 1960s, Mod Podge is an all-in-one glue, sealant and finish that is used for decoupage and a ton of other crafts. It’s water-based, easy to clean and found in a number of variations at craft stores or online.
All you need to do is press the leaves first. Brush one side of the pressed leaf with Mod Podge and allow it to dry. Flip over and brush the other side. You’ll have a perfectly preserved leaf. It will have a film on top that can peel away. Some people peel away the film intentionally to have a nice leaf replica that can be colored or pressed on to glass.
Things to do with Pressed or Preserved Leaves
Make a paper plate wreath: Give kids a paper plate and have them cut a hole in the center of it. Glue leaves around the edges of the wreath to cover up the paper plate entirely.
Frame them: Leaves look great framed in shadow boxes or simple wooden frames.
Make leaf prints: Paint one side of the leaf, while making sure there isn’t too much excess paint. Place the painted side (while still wet) on to a piece of construction paper. Put another piece of scrap paper over the leaf and apply pressure. Peel off the scrap paper and gently pull away the leaf, leaving a neat stamp.
Preserve a memory: Did the kids pick you a special bouquet or do you need a keepsake from a special vacation? Press the leaves for a scrapbook.
Make coasters: Craft stores sell coaster kits where leaves and other mementos are sandwiched between two panes of glass.
Use as embellishments: Need a quick birthday card? Whether it’s something the kids or you create, a pressed flower or leaf by you sends more love than Hallmark.
If you press or preserve leaves, what do you do with them? Share your ideas in the comments below…
*Photo credit: leaf on page, Flickr/amy paterson; leaves on book, sxc.hu/luisamigon; display of pressed leaves, Flickr/Sean K.; leaf prints, Flickr/San Jose Library,