A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Friday, April 22, 2011

May is the Month for Marbling!

Hi Everyone!

For the month of May, we'll be exploring the ancient technique of marbling.  

There are several different mediums that can be used as a base to float the marbling paints.  Historically, water was used to float inks and paints on to marble paper.  For the purposes of this blog, I'll be using the carageenan base.  Using shaving cream has been looked at in our Shibori month, and we'll expand a bit on that as well.  Methocel will also be touched upon.  If you have used a particular medium in the past, please don't feel bound to using carageenan (although water will not work with fabric!).  

Initially I'll present instructions and techniques for the traditional marbling patterns.  Then we'll move on to experimentation with free-form marbling.  

Below are several links for purchasing supplies.  Please explore the possibilities with an eye to what you might like to produce for finished fabric.  Dharma Trading Company has an excellent range of marbling supplies, as well as detailed instructions.  I recommend getting their "Mini Marbling Kit" (currently discounted 15%!)  which will allow you to experiment on a small scale, or the "Marbling Starter Kit".  That's what I'll be using in my early examples next month.  

Pro Chemical & Dye also has marbling supplies here.  They have a "Mini Marbling Kit" as well.

An integral component of marbling is the tray which holds the carageenan base.  This needs to be at least 2" deep in order to properly contain the carageenan, and allows you to move it without risking slopping things over, which can get a bit messy (ask me how I know).  The size of the tray limits the size of fabric which can be painted, as the whole piece of fabric is laid over the top of the floating paints.  Unless you're interested in doing larger pieces of fabric, an aluminum roasting tray such as can be found at grocery or department stores works very well when supported by a cookie sheet or piece of plywood.  Otherwise, any rectangular container that will hold liquids will work.  Many artists fabricate their own trays from wood and plywood, then caulk and paint to seal.  Such a container, unpainted, can also be used just by laying a heavy plastic inside, taped up and over the edges.  Be creative!

There are quite a few publications that have been written for marbling on both fabric and paper.  Many of them can be found for very reasonable prices used on Half.com.   Here's a partial list focusing on marbling of fabric:

Creative Marbling on Fabric by Judy Simmons (1999, Paperback): A Guide to Making One-Of-A-Kind Fabrics

Marbling on Fabric by Anne Chambers (1995, Paperback)

Marbling by Diane Vogel Maurer, Paul Maurer (1994, Paperback): A Complete Guide to Creating Beautiful Patterned Papers and Fabrics

The Silk Painting Workshop by Jane Venables (1999, Paperback): Painting, Marbling and Batik for Beginners

In the meantime, until we get started playing with the paints, below I've listed a few links to some marbling sites for you to take a look at for inspiration.  Enjoy!


YouTube videos:
Traditional Turkish marbling on paper (Ebru)
Project Van Unicef - examples of marbling created by children
Some of Elin Noble's fabrics from ProChem's "Alternative Marbling" workshop.
And if you really get into marbling, you can even marble your fingernails!

Other Sites:
Dean and Linda Moran's site


  1. Okay, now I think you have me hooked. What beautiful fabrics. I don't think I would like doing it with combs, etc., BUT, I can see how I would REALLY like the blobs and the more serendipitous looking pieces. Marbling here I come.

  2. I'm excited to try this, I've looked at the marbling kits a couple of times at Dharma and thought about buying one, now I have an excuse. Are there any certain colors you recommend using together, or should we just order colors we like?

  3. Starting with 3 primary colors means almost limitless color possibilities by mixing. I'd add black and white to those colors for shades and tints. Being a color junkie myself, this is a very constrained palette for me. lol The Jacquard Airbrush colors also include metallics, which I've not yet tried. I think I'm going to order a couple of those just to see..... There's also the choice of transparent versus opaque. Basically, buy the colors that turn you on! lol

    I'd be interested to see the different results between brands, Jacquard versus Dr. Ph.Martin's Spectralite, so I'm hoping someone will decide to use the Spectralite.

    I also have Pebeo Setacolor, but have not tried to use them for marbling yet. hmmmm....

  4. Oh, another thought with regard to colors and patterning is that contrast comes into play when dropping the colors onto the carageenan. The patterns become very defined when using high contrast values next to each other. Separating strong colors with white adds excitement and visual impact. Using closer values will result in more muted or understated patterning.

  5. One of the videos I've seen on youtube shows someone who mixed up a bunch of colors in a cupcake pan and is using all of them for marbling a piece of fabric. What a great idea, I never make cupcakes anymore so I might as well get some use out of my old pans. I already have lots of setacolor paints and some jacquard colors (not the airbrush ones) that I might have to try.

  6. This is the perfect example for me! This is not a technique I would have tried if left to my own devices. But now I will and I'll either learn to love the technique itself or will learn a way to incorporate variations of it in my work. It is a win-win situation that I would not have attempted on my own.

    Question for Kathy: It appears to me that the paint is not the magic but the (can't remember what they call it) gel/substrate/whatever that you float the paint on is important. Therefore instead of buying a kit with lots of paint, I might be better served to buy the thickening stuff to make the floaty bottom and use the paints/inks that I already have. Is that a fair assumption?

  7. With regard to the 'Mini Marbling Kit', it does come with the floaty stuff...in this case it's Methocel which is a bit more difficult to work with than carageenan, but does last longer. The kit also comes with alum for pre-treating fabric, and a bottle of Versatex Dispersant for thinning the paints, and 6 colors (3 primary, black and white). Basically, it has everything needed to start playing on a small scale with the exception of a tray.

    The 'Marbling Starter Kit' has carageenan instead of Methocel for the floating base, alum, and Versatex Dispersant, as well as your choice of 3 Jacquard Airbrush paint colors. These are all, of course, in larger sizes than the mini kit, so will allow you to do more/larger fabric. Another plus is that you can choose your 3 included colors from transparent, opaque or metallics.

    All of that said, there are advantages to simply purchasing the carageenan (floaty stuff), alum, dispersant and paints separately. One is that you can use, as Judith indicated, your own paints. How your paints will perform if they are not the ones listed in my previous post is the question. I have no experience with other lines of paint/ink used in marbling at this point, although I do plan to do some experimenting to see what will happen, especially with the Tsukineko inks.

    Hope this helps. I'm happy to answer lots of questions because there are 'way too many variants to list them all.


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