Marbling on Fabric and Paper

Think of marbling as a printing process. Paints or inks are suspended on the surface of a prepared solution of size. Size, is a jelly-like mixture of a thickener such as Manutex RS or Methyl Cellulose (CMC powder) and water. The marbling medium (size) is poured into a shallow tray and the colours are dripped onto the surface. As the colours sit on the surface of the size, they can be dragged around and manipulated into patterns with a stick or comb or with the addition of further colours with a dropper. Fabric or paper is carefully lowered onto the surface of the size, allowing the paints to make contact with the material. The fabric or paper is lifted off to reveal the patterning.


Marbling On Fabric

When you choose fabric, always check the surface texture. Fabrics, natural or synthetics, with a smooth surface and tight weave provide the best prints. If you plan to use the marbled fabric in quilts, choose tightly woven cotton with a high thread count, such as Prima cotton. If you’re using your marbled fabric in garments, choose any tightly woven fabric with a smooth surface including satin, polyester, polyester blends, chintz, percale, batiste, rayon, and particularly silk which provides outstanding results. For subtle prints, choose organza, organdie, and chiffon, or tightly woven gauze fabrics. Avoid fabrics with uneven surface texture or a coarse, loose weave. Napped fabrics, such as velveteen and corduroy, marble poorly.

To get started with marbling, you may want to go through your collection and cut an 20 x 20cm square from each fabric. Be sure to include your experiments in a notebook.

Marbling is also a great technique for patterning items such as ribbon, canvas bags and trainers, silk scarves, T-shirts, handkerchiefs, socks, satin balls for Christmas trees, wood and paper boxes, wooden buttons and picture frames.

Method for Preparing Fabric with Alum

Deka Marble and other marbling paints (including fabric paints) are permanent on fabric once heat set with an iron. For other types of paints the fabric should be pre-treated with Alum to help make a permanent bond with the surface fibres and paint:

  • Fill a bucket with 5 litres of warm water and add approx. 3 tablespoons of alum to each litre of water. Stir thoroughly till the alum is dissolved.
  • Place the fabric in the alum bath. The fabric should move freely and soak for 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Thinner fabrics need less time than thicker ones.
  • Remove the fabric from the bucket, gently squeezing the excess solution into the bucket.
  • Hang the fabric on a line to drip-dry carefully so that no part touches itself (where fabric touches itself, the alum is concentrated and can cause a weak or pale print). Do not use a clothes dryer.
  • After the fabric has dried, use a dry iron to remove wrinkles. Be careful; steam and water drops will remove alum and create a blotchy print!
  • To prepare paper with Alum; either paint the surface of the paper with a large brush or apply with a spray bottle. Try to ensure the paper is covered evenly and lay it flat to dry.

Marbling On Paper, Wood and other surfaces

Marbled Paper

deka-marble-on-paper-notebookThe marbling process is also very effective on paper. The marbled paper can be used to good effect to cover books, wrap presents and decorate cards, lampshades and photo frames.

This example (right) shows marbling on the surface of a handmade Lokta paper.

Any surface needs to be porous or textured to allow the marbling paint to grab and adhere. By their nature, fabric and paper meet this criteria, while some surfaces, such as varnished wood and smooth board, will need to be rubbed down with sandpaper.

How to Marble

marbled-silk-scarf-deka-marbleThe random patterns created from marbling can be very decorative. This scarf was marbled using Deka Marble paints (now discontinued by Deka). The choice of colours has created subtle patterning. You can make a statement by choosing contrasting colours, or select just one colour to compliment the base colour of the item you have chosen to decorate.

Deka Marble is an intermixable water based paint giving brilliant intense colours and formulated specifically for the marbling process. The paint is light fast and wash fast up 60°C and suitable for use on all natural fabrics, especially cotton, silk, satin and paper. Test on synthetic and blended fabrics before your main project. Although alum will help with the bond, it is not necessary to treat your fabric when using this product. The acrylic base will adhere the paint to the surface once the marbled fabric is ironed on the reverse.

Method for Marbling with Deka Marble

  • Use 2 heaped teaspoons of Manutex RS to 1 litre of water or Deka Marble Medium.
  • Stir the mixture well and leave to stand for 2 hours until it has thickened into a gel. The solution will keep for up to 24 hours.
  • Pour into a flat, plastic container so that it is 2-3cm deep.
  • Drop colours onto the surface where they will begin to spread. Move the paint around with either a comb or a stick until you are happy with the pattern.
  • Carefully lay the wrinkle free paper or fabric onto the surface of the size and leave it to rest for 10 seconds.
  • Lift off, rinse gently under cold water, squeeze out and hang up to dry. To fix the paints onto fabric, allow to dry and iron on the reverse with a hot iron for 3 minutes.

To use the size again, the surface can be cleaned by laying sheets of paper kitchen towel onto the remaining paint so that it is blotted up. Any marbling paint that has sunk below the surface will not affect future prints.

More Tips for Marbling

  1. Iron fabrics and paper to remove creases. This will ensure that the marbled pattern will transfer unbroken.
  2. The patterning from marbled wooden, clay or stone can be made more durable by applying a couple of coats of clear varnish.
  3. Blow the Marble paints around on the surface with a straw or lower it below the surface and blow bubbles.
  4. If you wish to extend the colour range, Jacquard Lumiere and Neopaque paints can also be used for marbling, as can any acrylic based colour. The consistency of the paint may need altering with a small amount of water so that it will float on the marbling size. You may need to dilute acrylic paint by as much as 1:1 with water.

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