My mother and I used to marble paper on the weekends when I was younger. To this day, I still feel like I am a mad scientist when I marble, experimenting with new colors and testing new patterns.
Even if you don’t have experience with marbling, it’s a fun project to try with friends. It requires about an hour prep time, but once you’re all set up you’ll be able to marble to your heart’s content. You can get great results on your first try, but the more you play with the paint and pattern-making, the better it gets.
You Will Need:
Alum (to set the paint into the fabric)
Methocel (to thicken the water and create a “size” so the paint floats on the water’s surface)
Household ammonia (helps thicken the “size”)
Large, shallow plastic storage container (your container will serve as a tray and needs to be the size of the fabric you want to print on)
Liquid acrylic paint
Iron and ironing board
Newspaper (or scrap paper)
100% silk or 100% cotton white fabric with a high thread count
Golden GAC 900 (to help the paint adhere to the fabric)
Stage One: Preparation
For your designs to adhere to the fabric, you will need to pretreat using a mordant called alum. Alum has been used for centuries as a natural ingredient when dyeing fabric.
Pretreat the Fabric
Dissolve ¼ cup of alum in a quart of warm tap water. (Note: double this mixture if you are dyeing a large piece of fabric, so the fabric will be fully immersed.)
Soak your fabric for 20 minutes and remove. Wring out the fabric in the sink or tub (do not rinse!) and let it line dry. Once the fabric has dried, iron it out completely, making sure to use the appropriate heat setting.
Prepare the Marbling Size
A marbling size is a suspension mixture which your marbling paint floats upon. I used methocel to create my marbling size, which will thicken the water just enough so the paint will rest on the water’s surface. There are other products on the market that you can use to thicken the water, but I prefer methocel because it’s quick to prepare and the mixture will keep for 3 days at room temperature or a week when stored in the fridge.
To create your size, slowly add 4 tablespoons of methocel per gallon of warm tap water to your bucket. (Note: double this mixture if printing on a large piece of fabric.) Blend the methocel and water with your whisk for about 5 minutes. You’ll feel the mixture start to thicken as you go. While you are whisking, add 1 tablespoon of household ammonia per gallon of water to the bucket.
When the 5 minute mixing frenzy has passed and your mixture is clear, pour it slowly into your tray and let it stand for at least 45 minutes. Rinse the bucket and fill it with cold tap water.
While you are waiting for the size to set, start mixing your paints. You’ll need to add an acrylic polymer (like GAC-900) to every paint you plan to use to ensure that your finished scarf is washable. The ratio should be one part GAC-900 per one part acrylic paint. For this project, consistency matters. You want the paint to be thin enough so that it will float on top of your methocel mixture – if it’s too thick, it will fall to the bottom. Aim to make all your paint mixtures the same consistency as whole milk, adding water if needed.
After the mixture has rested for at least 45 minutes, check to see if there are any bubbles. If there are, hold a sheet of paper that’s the size of your container on both ends and slowly lower it down until the middle touches the surface of the size. Let go of both ends and let it float on top of the size for a few seconds. Carefully peel it off the surface of the size and discard. You can use this technique to clear your size of any remaining floating paint as well.
Now you’re ready to start adding paint to the methocel mixture. To do this, take your paint brush and gently drop your first color on the surface of the mixture. You can place your drops at random or in a pattern to create different effects, but keep in mind that the more paint you put on the water’s surface, the less pastel your print will turn out. Don’t be shy if you have a large container; it’s going to take more paint than you think to cover the size’s surface completely. If you’re using a small container, take care not to add too much paint – if so, you will lose the surface tension of your size and your colors will sink.
Once you’ve added all the color you want, I recommend printing a test run on white paper to see how your paint colors may show on your scarf. Follow the same steps you took to remove the bubbles from the surface of your size, and this time, “pick up the paint” with your paper. If you like the results, you can lightly rinse the paper with water and lay it on a paper towel to dry.
Stage Two: Pattern-Making and Printing
Once you’re happy with the colors and arrangement, the fun really starts: it’s time to make your patterns. Experimentation is key – try any of the techniques below to make a pattern, or create your own!
Turkish Stone: Create different sized spots or “stones” with paint on your size. This is the beginning step to most other marbling patterns, and it’s the one you used above when you tested your paint colors on paper. Try using different tools, like a brush or dropper, to create drops in varying sizes. I like repeatedly tapping the brush with my index finger while moving across the surface to create smaller drops of paint. You can create concentric circles in your stone pattern by adding drops of different colors in the center of previous circles.
Back and Forth: Start with the Turkish stone. Next, draw through the size with an upside-down paint brush in a back and forth snake pattern. Repeat this movement in the opposite direction if desired.
Nonpareil: Create the back and forth pattern. Use your rake or a wide-tooth comb and draw it across your size in the direction opposite your back and forth pattern. Prepare for the psychedelic results!
Once you’ve created your desired pattern (I used back and forth), you’re ready to print on fabric! Holding the fabric on both ends, slowly lower it onto the surface so the center sags down and touches first. Let go, and let it rest for a few seconds. Carefully lift the fabric off the surface and put it straight into your bucket of tap water.
Slush it around in the water and rinse, being careful not to rub the fabric (or you might smear the design!) Gently wring it out and hang to dry.
Once your fabric is completely dry, you can heat-set the paint by ironing. Make sure to complete this step in a well-ventilated room – GAC 900, the fabric paint medium, can release fumes.
Hand-wash your fabric in warm water, air dry, and you’ve got a chic marbled scarf!
All photographs by Romain Laurent.
Clare McGibbon is a Brooklyn-based designer and maker. When she's not working on Etsy's Seller Education Team, she's dreaming up new DIYs. Keep up with her latest creations and inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest.