How to Marble Fabric – A New Obsession

Well, I’m back playing with fabric, but this time it’s marbling. Marbling has never been one of my favorite surface designs until I saw Jo Fitsell demo it on Quilting Arts TV. I taped that show and watched it several times before I purchased her video from Interweave – Marbled Fabric Surface Design Working with Floating Paint, Stencils and More.  If you are at all interested in marbling, her video is wonderful.

While writing this post, in addition to the above video and tv show,  I researched this topic and have listed below just a few of the links to articles on marbling fabric for those who want to dig a little deeper.

Here are some of my new marbled pieces. This may be my new obsession. Jo was my inspiration in that her work focuses on these circles. To me, they give a real organic feel.  I had not seen marbling done like that until I searched the Internet and found a couple other artists who, like Jo, don’t manipulate the paints.  Gretchen and Garrett Dixon have done research on marbling and have some beautiful examples and even have names for the designs. Real eye candy! Marjorie Lee Bevis creates some beautiful fabric called Rainbow Stones.

Some of my finished marbled pieces
Some of my finished marbled pieces

Since I’ve got so much to say about this technique, I’ll be breaking it down into several posts. On this one I’ll show how you can do this (Yes, you can!). This tutorial is a compilation of research from a number of sources including Jo’s video and TV spot.

Here is what you need:

  • plastic pan – I used a storage container
  • carrageenanThis thickens the water so that the paint will sit on top. This can be ordered online. It is expensive but goes a long way. If you have a group, you might go in together on it and share.
  • fluid acrylics – You can probably use other acrylics and just water them down more. I’ve also seen where airbrushing inks can be used. I’ll be experimenting more in the future.
  • containers and pipettes/eye droppers for acrylics
  • alum – can be found in grocery store with spices or ordered online
  • newsprint/newspaper – I’d be hesitant to use newspaper due to the inks. Newsprint can be purchased at your local art store.
  • fabric – I used white muslin and some of my previously dyed material
  • water
  • spoon or something used to mix
  • plastic to cover workspace
  • OPTIONAL: GAC 900 or other fabric painting medium if you plan to use this material in clothing or something you will need to wash. I did not use this since my fabric will be used in wall hangings or projects where I won’t need to wash them.

One thing about this type of play, there is some prep. It’s not something you can decide to do in the morning. But that’s okay with me. It just gave me something to think about and plan for. The day before marbling, the fabric needs to be soaked in alum. The alum helps the paint to adhere to the fabric. Mix 2 tablespoons of alum to two gallons of water and let the fabric soak for 20 minutes or so. Don’t leave it in for a long time since it can break down the fabric fibers.

Fabrics soaking in Alum water
Fabrics soaking in Alum water

Don’t rinse out. Squeeze out the water and hang to dry.

There are a lot of different ways to mix up the carrageenan including mixing up the night before. This is the one that worked for me.  I made it in the morning and it took about two hours to turn clear. This must be mixed up with a blender or it won’t set up.  For this bath I use two tablespoons of  carrageenan per gallon of water. To do this, blend up a tablespoon at a time in a blender of water and pour into container. Then add remaining water and stir.

Waiting for the carragenen water to clear
Waiting for the carragenen water to clear

While it was setting up I prepared the paints and got the workspace all ready.

Worktable ready to marble
Workspace ready to marble

The paint needs to be thinned with water – 1/1 ratio for liquid acrylics. Use the pipette/eye dropper to mix the paints. I used Golden Liquid Acrylics in the following colors: Carbon Black, Titanium White, Titan Buff, Cerulean Blue Deep, Quinacridone Magenta, Yellow Oxide and Chromium Oxide Green. I chose these colors because I liked them and thought they would look good on some of my previously dyed fabrics.

Once the carragenen is clear you are ready. Check out the paints by using a pipette and dropping paint on the carragenen water. If the paint falls to the bottom, more water needs to be added to the paint.

Let’s get start! I was so excited that I didn’t take many process pictures. This is so much fun. Just drop the paint on the top of the surface. It will make circles.

First marbling design
First marbling design

I continued to add more paint. When I was happy with the design I placed the fabric lightly on the top of the paint, smoothing the fabric so that it had contact with the water surface.

Laying the fabric on top of the paint.
Laying the fabric on top of the paint.

Then the fabric was pulled carefully out of the bath and placed on a piece of newsprint.

Picking the fabric up off of the paint.
Pulling the fabric up off of the paint.

This was my first print on white muslin.

My first marbling piece
My first marbling piece waiting to dry

When finished marbling, move each fabric and piece of newsprint to a place where they can dry. After the fabric dries on the newsprint sheet (which took some of my pieces from 24-48 hours), peel it off and then hand wash it in warm water with dish detergent. After it is washed out, hang it again to dry before you iron it and use it in your project.

Here are all of my pieces waiting to dry.

My marbled pieces waiting to dry
My marbled pieces waiting to dry

This is one of my favorites. This ice dyed piece I had stamped over with some of my small wood fabric stamps. In this post you can see the actual piece before marbling. I really didn’t like the ice dyeing so I covered it up with stamps and it still was not my favorite. This did it! And you can still see the stamping through the marbling. Love that layering!

Marbling over the ice dyed fabric with wood fabric stamping
Marbling over the ice dyed fabric with wood fabric stamping

Thanks to Jo Fitsell for her informative video which inspired me to try marbling. Again, if you want to learn from a pro, check out her video here.

Combining this with my ice dyed materials may be my favorite surface design technique so far. I hope this post will encourage you to try marbling. It is so much fun. I’ve got more to share so come on back. If you already marble, I’d love any tips you have.