Marbleizing Fabric FAQ

Marbling is LOTS of fun. And I'll paraphrase Dharma, the place I order my
supplies from: Marbling is easy in that you can get good results the first
time you try it, and hard in that you get much better with a little
practice. Basically you make a gel in a large flat tray, float paints on
top of the gel, comb the paints into your pattern, lay the fabric on the
pattern, pick it up again, and you're done! The gel is used over and over -
I've made 30-50 different "prints" in a session. It works well with paper
too. There is a lot of trial and error though. I could probably make
several scrap quilts with my "experimental" fabrics. If you're interested,
I recommend Dharma Trading Co for supplies. You can get a catalog by
calling 1-800-542-5227. (I keep a catalog at my desk!) The catalog is fun
to read and has a lot of fabric dyes and paints, plus cotton and silk
yardage and clothing ready to be dyed or painted. ---Patricia

Before you marble the fabric, you pre-treat it by soaking it in an
alum-water solution. The alum binds with the paints in the fibers so the
design becomes permanent. (If you don't use alum, the design will smear &
wash away.) The fabric you have has already been through the washing
machine once, so it's colorfast. Always use paints, not dyes for marbling.
Dyes won't float on the gel - they mix right in, so you'd have a beautiful
gel but nothing on your fabric! I'm still experimenting with color
intensity. The paints from Dharma turn out brighter, but they don't come in
as many colors as I'd like, so I've been using Liquatex paints. Plus the
Liquatex paint goes farther since it must be thinned, therefore it's lots
cheaper. I think I would get brighter colors if I soaked the fabric longer
in a stronger alum solution, but the alum does weaken the fabric somewhat
so I make it as dilute as possible. I don't want the marbled fabric to
disintegrate in a quilt before the other fabrics. The gel can be made from
carrageenan, a seaweed extract, or a man-made substance called....hmmmm
can't remember what it's called, but I don't use it. I've tried both and
the carrageenan works better IMHO. In fact I had terrible results with the
other stuff. One mistake to avoid - Dharma says to "dissolve the
carrageenan powder in water". Do this with a BLENDER. You will stir all day
and all night with a spoon before the stuff dissolves. I fill a blender
with 4 cups of warm tap water, turn it on blend, then slowly add 1
tablespoon of carrageenan powder. Blend for about 30 more seconds, then
pour it into your tray. I make about 1.5 gallons, or about one to two
inches in the bottom of my 18x22" tray. The tray came from a photography
supply place - it's a developing tray, white plastic. An oven roasting pan
or kitty litter box will work fine too, or you can build one out of wood
and line it with heavy plastic. Let your gel rest over night to get all the
bubbles out. The paints are laid on the gel in what's called a "stones"
pattern - basically just drops on the surface. I put my paints in plastic
squeeze bottles - get these at hairdresser's supply places - and shake the
bottles over the tray. The first color you lay will be compressed by the
others into "veins", and the last will be more dominant larger circles. I
use anywhere from three to ten, twelve? colors at a time. You can stop
there, or comb the paints, swirl them around with a toothpick, or whatever.
I made combs out of Fome-Cor board and toothpicks because I had them on
hand. Make your combs the whole width or length of your tray so the whole
thing gets combed at once. I have some with 4", 3", 2", 1", 1/2", 1/4" (you
get the idea) spacing. There are some excellent books on making the
different patterns. There are traditional patterns or you can make up your
own. Marbling is very messy as you might expect. You need a source of
running water nearby to rinse each piece as you complete it to wash off the
excess gel. Everytime you use the gel, skim it with newspaper strips to get
any leftover paint off before you start the next one. Use fabrics with
natural fibers only. I usually use cotton, but silk gives very brilliant
results. (I guess I want to practice some more before I buy silk in
quantity!) Marbling is very forgiving. Quantities and temperatures, etc.
can vary wildly and you will still get good results, just different
results. It is very difficult to duplicate patterns! Your pieces can be as
big or small as you wish, but it is hard to lay a larger piece smoothly on
a tray by yourself. I think it would be fun for kids to do (I don't have
any children :) ). I have not noticed any difference quilting marbled
fabric. One nice thing about it is since you are using your own paints, all
the fabrics you make can coordinate together even while they are different
from each other - no worry about color matching. ---Patricia

Sorry to hear you're having problems. It is possible that you used the
wrong type paints, but then I use acrylics also, so that shouldn't be it.
You should be able to machine wash marbled fabric without any problems.
Hmmmmmm.....the problem is there's so many factors that affect the final
product. Let's see: Did you make your alum solution about 1/4 cup alum per
quart of water? Did the alum dissolve nicely? Did the fabric get thoroughly
soaked with the alum solution? I have had best results when I let my
alum-soaked fabrics air dry on newspapers as opposed to drying them in the
dryer. Some books recommend leaving fabric in the alum for several minutes,
but I've never done that. Oh, did you pre-wash (with detergent) and dry
your fabric to remove any sizing? I have read that pre-washing is essential
and I think I forgot to tell you that in my original notes (sorry). Some
paints need to be heat-set. If that is the case, I would rinse your fabric
after picking it up from the size, let it air-dry, then iron it thoroughly
on the cotton setting. Any of these things strike a chord? Let me know, and
I'll keep pondering the problem. -------Patricia

About fabric marbelling, Kathy said: About 6-8 weeks ago there was some
discussion on hand-marbelling fabrics. I couldn't resist and ordered a
starter kit and couple extra paints from Dharma......The results were not
always what I expected, but I liked everything...... Next, a question(s):
After heatsetting the pieces of fabric, I waited 48 hours, then washed
them, cold water, mild detergent, in the machine. Several of the pieces
faded a bit. I was working from two sets of directions and one said to use
1/2 cup alum/gallon water, one said to use 3/4 cup/gallon. I opted for the
1/2 cup - should I try a stronger solution? One set of directions said let
the printed fabric set for 2 weeks before washing, another said wait 24
hours. I waited 48 hours but some of the small pieces came out of the wash
so fragile that they tore in my hand. Any ideas on where I messed up?
Thankfully, the larger pieces seem fine. My fabric was new, 100% cotton
muslin, quilting weight, unbleached. After I ran out of treated fabric, I
was not ready to quit so I cut up some washed but untreated poly/cotton
blends and printed them. When I rinsed them, the design lightened up alot,
but is still there. I liked the subtleness of these, but I still haven't
washed them. Have any of you tried marbelling "un-alumed" fabrics? After
heat-setting will my designs still wash out?

I have done a bit of marbelling. Most of the directions I use are from
"Marbelling Paper and Fabric" by Carol Taylor. For those of you who have
not yet tried this, and for the purpose of contributing to a marbelling
FAQ, here are the abbreviated directions: 1.First wash and dry fabric to
remove sizing. If you do not do this, neither the mordant nor the paint
will adhere to the fabric. 2.Treat the fabric with mordant (alum):this
compound bonds with the paint to form an insoluble dye that adheres to the
fabric. If you have too little mordant, the paint won't adhere to the
fabric; too much, the paint adheres to the crust of mordant and both slough
off when rinsed. She recommends 1/2 cup per gallon. (I have successfully
used 2 ounces per 6 quarts of hot water. I do not know how that translates
into cups per volume of water.) Soak cotton 30 minutes. Squeeze out excess
solution, and dry in the dryer to prevent streaking that can result from
non-uniform drying. Then press with an iron. We prefer a dry iron, as the
tiny droplets of steam can change the surface of the mordant. 3. Cut the
fabric to the size of your marbelling tub. 4.The "sizing" I have used is a
product called "marblethix"; it is made by the Ceramcoat paint people.
Others use carageenan, a seaweed product. Mix this up ahead of time (6-12
hours for Marblethix). This is the goop you float your paints on. 5. Mix
paints (I use ceramcoat, or Deka fabric paints) with water to thin them.
This way, they will float on the surface of the sizing. I add 2 parts water
to 1 part paint. 6. Now the fun part. Drip paints onto the surface, make
your designs, and lay the fabric, as smoothly as possible, on top of the
design. The more paint on the surface, the darker your color will be. Lift
the fabric off and rinse in cool water. Hang to dry. 7. Allow the fabric to
cure for "two days to a week" (what Taylor says). Then tumble in a hot
dryer 20 minutes or iron on the wrong side for three minutes to set dye.
Now to answer questions: Taylor says that polyesters do not take color
well, some poly/cotton blends are ok. But somewhere else, I read that poly
satins do real well. Who knows? You will have to experiment with fibers. It
would seem that un-mordanted fabric will continue to fade bacause what is
"dying" it is only paint and not the dye that results from the
mordant+paint combination; but I have no direct experience to back this up.
Why some of the pieces became ultra-fragile is a real mystery. Most of ny
marbelled fabrics HAVE faded a bit with washing. My newest experiences tell
me that treating with Retayne might be a good bet to set any unset dye.

Have been reading the interesting discussion on marbelizing fabric and have
something useful to contribute: The reason your fabrics are getting fragile
is that they have been treated with alum. Alum is very harsh on fibers and
will literally eat away cotton if left on for a month or two. It also
destroys silk and rayon--don't know about polyesters since I never touch
the stuff. When you plan to marbleize fabric, presoak your yardage in alum
the same day you expect to do the marbleizing. Let your pieces rest for
several hours, then gently rinse in cold water to release the alum. Then
you can let the fabrics dry, heat set them with an iron followed by a good
washing/drying in the dryer. The key here is DO NOT LEAVE THE ALUM ON THE
FABRIC ANY LONGER THAN NECESSARY. One other thing that really struck me
about the instructions in the posts was the large quantity of alum. I've
been marbling fabric since the early 80's and use 5 TABLESPOONS PER GALLON.
Using a half cup or more of the stuff is really risking fiber damage. One
of my students experimented marbling WITHOUT alum. She marbeled the fabric,
let it dry completely, ironed it, then washed it. She said it looked great,
but the definition of the marbling lines was fuzzier than the alum-ed
pieces (she actually preferred the fuzzy effect). So you *can* marble
fabric without alum, only expect different results. You can also use things
like acrylic paints to marble fabric for more intense colors. -------Judy

This weekend I marbelled some fine textured polyester grey fabric. The
results were striking. Very subtle, but very crisp designs. I'd love to try
silk, but I think I'll wait till I'm more confident.

>>Mary Beth (can't remember her last name - begins with a B - of the red
>>coats&clark thread fame) suggested that the fabric weakness was due to not 
>>rinsing well enough. That makes sense since one of the pieces tore in an area 
>>that turned a little yellowish during the heatsetting (I used an iron). I'll 
>>bet the fabric speed-rotted under the heat. So when I marbelled the next 
>>batch I rinsed obsessively and had no problem.

Some paints need to be heat-set. If that is the case, I would rinse your
fabric after picking it up from the size, let it air-dry, then iron it
thoroughly on the cotton setting. Most of the paints I've used for marbling
need to be heat set. The recommendations are to allow the fabric to dry on
newspapers over night. Iron on the worng side at the hottest temperature
the fabric can take. Let the fabric sit for two weeks, iron again and then
wash to remove the alum before it eats the fabric. I didn't follow these
rules exactly the last time I marbled- and my favorite piece faded a lot
when I washed it. I've had good results when I have followed the
directions. Corrie and I held a workshop in my kitchen before Chrsitmas for
members of our guild. We decided to try it again, during the summer when we
could work outside with a hose for water and not have to worry about
painting my freshly laid tile floor:) I've only ever used the carageenan,
but Corrie has used the methyl cellulose as well. We couldn't decide if the
behavior differences of the paints from her batch and my batch were due to
paint differences, or due to the size (the stuff you float the paints on)

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