Marbling Fabric


Blow the dust from the endpapers of an old book and you'll see paper marbling in one of its most familiar forms. With fabric, however, marbleized color has unlimited contemporary applications: it can enliven neckties, sneakers, binder covers-even knee socks-in a succession of patterns as unique as thumbprints. Although the two-day preparation is best done by an adult, the marbling process itself is easy enough for a four-year-old. Quite simply, you float pigments on a liquid carrageenin bath, coax them into the design of your choice, then place alum-treated fabric on the surface, transferring the colors to the cloth. The bath can be used for two weeks, so you have ample time to test marbling's infinite techniques and patterns.

Here, we describe the marbling process using a 17- by 21 -inch photography tray; other materials to buy or assemble are listed on page 68. Ambitious marblers can work larger-scale; see page 71 for advice on using a 48- by 72-inch vat.

A day ahead, prepare bath and assemble alum solution and tools

Carrageenin bath (or size). To allow time for the bath to settle, start the day before you plan to do your marbling. First, pour 4 cups of soft tap water into a blender; turn blender on low, adding 1-1/2 teaspoons of the carrageenin; blend for 1-1/2 minutes, then pour the mixture into the photography tray. Repeat seven times. Bath should be about 1-1/2 inches deep.

Since dust and heat interfere with the carrageenin's effectiveness, keep the tray covered with plastic-covered cardboard until you're ready to start. Also, make sure the bath stays roughly at room temperature (it should not drop below 55[degrees]).

Alum solution (or mordant). Prewash fabric, let it dry overnight, then immerse it in a solution of 4 cups water and 3 tablespoons alum. For items that are difficult to dip (lampshades, sneakers, paper), sponge thoroughly with the alum mixture (color will not adhere to untreated fabric). Let fabrics and objects air-dry.

Marbling tools. Use your imagination; many household objects can produce interesting effects. The simplest tool is the stylus, which can be a knitting needle, skewer, or sharpened chopstick or dowel. A more complex tool is the comb. A teasing comb is inexpensive to buy, and its pointed handle can double as a stylus; or use a regular comb with every other tooth removed. To create a more sophisticated tool, cut a length of 3-inch-wide cardboard to a little less than the width of the vat, then affix toothpicks or straight pins to it at regular intervals with masking tape; pins that are sold in paper rolls are excellent for this purpose.

The workspace. Since marbling can be mess the kitchen or garden is the best place for it, When you're ready to start, cover your work surface with plastic (drycleaning bags work well), then set the tray and marbling materials on top, the garbage bag below, as pictured above.

Marbling acrylics. Just before you work, squeeze about 1 inch of each color of acrylic paint front its tube into a plastic glass; mix with I tablespoon water. Add 2 or 3 drops of the photographic wetting solution (this will cause the colors to expand over the size and prevent them from sinking to the bottom) and mix again; paint mixtures should have the consistency of milk.

Marbling: where the fun begins

When you're ready to start, skim the surface of the bath with newspaper or paper towels to reduce surface tension. …

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