Like many craft forms, though roots of marbling techniques was not precisely known, although we have evidence that the Japanese were marbling paper some 700 years ago. According to Japanese legend, marbling was a divine gift, bestowed upon an individual to reward scheme for his devotion at the Katsuga Shrine.
Throughout history, marbling techniques have been used extensively to decorate paper, the most popular and perhaps most consistent use being for bookbinding. However in recent years the marbling technique has been developed for use on textiles and today marbling can be employed for patterning everything from furnishing fabrics to accessories. The principle of marbling technique remains the same for both paper and cloth. It entails floating inks on size (a gelatinous substance) and transferring the resulting designs to cloth or paper.
To produce a marbled design, the inks are swirled around using a cocktail stick to form a combed pattern. Many designs have a veined appearance similar to that of real marble, and this is how marbling acquired its name. Finally, the fabric is laid over the patterned ink and lifted off again, bringing a layer of the patterned skin with it.
You can employ a variety of inks for marbling. The classic method involves the use of watercolour paints and size. Carragheen moss, an Irish seaweed, is a typical size and this has been used in the marbling process for centuries. Carragheen moss is available from the most health food stores. Other gelatinous substances include methyl cellulose, liquid starch and food gelatin.
If you are a complete beginner to marbling techniques, it is worth experimenting with oil paints before progressing to watercolour paints. Oil paints are very simple to use – first they are thinned with white spirit and then dropped onto the surface of the water. Many of the conventional marbling techniques are time–consuming and laborious to carry out. And, although all things and water are straight forward to use, they rarely produce satisfactory results when applied to cloth, the main reason being that oil paints stiffen the material and make it feel harsh.
For this reason, you may prefer to experiment with marbling kits before progressing to traditional marbling techniques. These contain everything you will need for marbling cloth, including thickener and marbling inks. The colours are acrylic polymer emulsions and are heat–set. The kit should also contain up pipette which is useful for dropping the colours on the surface of the gel. Marbling kits are available from craft stores and by mail order. When selecting a kit for marbling, bear in mind that the colour intensity will vary between brands, so if you want to achieve a specific result it is worth experimenting with different makes until you find one that you are happy with.
In general the most suitable fabrics for marbling are those with a fine weave and smooth, even texture. Both will encourage the paints, inks or dyes to bond with the cloth. Fine cottons, linens, silks, rayons and polycottons are all suitable. When you have selected your fabric, check that your marbling tray is wide and long enough to accommodate the cloth without folding.