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by Lia Blanchard

Every autumn I watch a ton of beautiful leaves from my maple tree flutter to the ground. It looks like a ton, anyway, and I am sure my sons would say it’s at least two tons. I don’t get overly frustrated at the mess they make because they’re so pretty! Well, at first they are. Here in the Pacific Northwest though, they turn into a pile of slime pretty quickly, and then the fascination ends.

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, and at least a dozen friends and family about to descend upon my home, I’ve been looking at those leaves and wondering how I might bring some of their loveliness indoors for us all to enjoy.

Autumn leaves

Choose wisely

First and foremost, one must choose leaves that are flat and without bumps or spots. Any unusual surface matter may be the beginnings of bacterial or fungal growth that you don’t want to bring inside your home.

While you don’t want leaves that are already so dry as to be crunchy, depending upon your preservation method, you may want leaves that are either not dry at all – indeed, preferably still on the tree – or perhaps have just begun to dry out.

If you need to dry out your leaves a bit before working with them, try microwaving them in paper towels or silica gel. Take care to microwave in 30-second intervals, lest the leaves dry too quickly and scorch or catch on fire.

To soften leaves that are slightly overdry, try soaking them in diluted fabric softener or applying a thin coat of petroleum jelly.

Methods

There are various methods by which to preserve your leaves. Some are messier than others, and some last longer than others, but all are free or relatively inexpensive and simple to do.

Dry press. Choose relatively dry leaves and lay them out between several pages of newspaper. Press them by laying the sheets inside a book, or on a flat surface with weight atop them. Leave them alone for 2-3 weeks, checking after a week to be sure that they are not rotting or growing mold. This is the simplest method of preservation, costing nothing and giving you leaves that you can use all season.

Wax paper. Choose leaves that are flat and of even density, then lay them between sheets of wax paper.  Using an iron set on low, iron the sheets evenly with one rag or towel beneath them (to protect your ironing surface from melted wax) and above them (to protect your iron). Take care not to shift the leaves within the wax paper. When the wax has melted evenly and then cooled, cut the leaves out, leaving a small edge to retain the seal. With care, these leaves will be preserved for many seasons.

Glycerin. Soak leaves in a glycerin solution (1 part glycerin to 2 parts water) for 4-6 days, then dry. Leaves will be soft and supple.

Spray. Dried leaves can be sprayed with acrylic or clear spray paint.

Now what?

Your beautifully preserved leaves can be used in a myriad of crafts and decorations. From simple wall hangings and centerpieces to more elaborate furniture decorating, all you need is your mind’s eye – and maybe a glue gun. Lots of ideas can be found online, like this article from Better Homes and Gardens.

For the whole family

The best part about collecting and preserving autumn’s beauty is that everyone in the family can participate. Even the youngest children are part of the process, by choosing which leaves they like best. Older children can help with the preservation, and everyone – young and old, family, friends, and unexpected Thanksgiving guests alike – will definitely enjoy the result.

Tell us your autumn leaf stories!