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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. Repeat this procedure each time you start a new design or if you wish to remove colors (the paper will pick up the pigments).

Testing the colors. Using an eyedropper, drop one of the colors onto the carrageenin bath to check flotation and spreadability. The drop should expand into a circle 2 to 3 inches in diameter. If the color goes to the bottom, it's too thick; add more water and wetting solution. If the circle spreads too far, becoming diffuse and shadowy, add more paint.

Dropping the colors. Next, skim the bath with newspaper strips to remove tested colors, then quickly apply colors to cover the entire surface, using any of the following tools: eyedropper, which produces single circles and circles within circles; paintbrush, which makes smaller, less controlled circles; broom-bristle whisk, which creates a splattering of dots.

You can add as many colors as you like, although at the beginning it's wise to limit yourself to two or three.

Creating a pattern. Once you've added the colors, shape them into various patterns with the comb or stylus or both. Techniques for a few basic patterns are illustrated above.

Coloring fabric. If you want part of the fabric to remain free of color,cover this area with masking tape. Referring to step 3 on page 66, gently ease fabric down onto the bath, pushing out any air bubbles; the moment the fabric touches the surface, the pattern jumps from the bath to the cloth. Next, lift the fabric, painted side up, onto the plastic-covered board (step 4), then rinse it off (see below),

Coloring objects. Before you dip items such as tennis shoes or lampshades, experiment with fabric until you feel comfortable with the marbling process. Then study the contours of the object. If you're dyeing a lampshade or sneaker, you can roll it in the bath. To color knee socks or tights, we stretched them tightly over cardboard strips, then dipped all sides (be sure to include edges) into the bath.

Rinsing down and drying. To remove any traces of carrageenin from the fabric or objects, rinse thoroughly with cold water immediately after lifting items from the bath. Don't wring the fabric; air-dry. Then rinse again, with warm water.

Outdoor marbling-for large surfaces

If you'd like to color larger surfaces or color several items with the same pattern (such as a set of place mats), you'll need to use a larger vat. We made a 4-inch-deep one that holds 16 to 18 gallons of the carrageenin solution; its rectangular frame is made of two 72-inchlong 2-by-4s and two 45-inch-long 2-by-4s nailed to a 48- by 72-inch sheet of 3/8-inch plywood.

We lined the tub with a 6-mil polyethylene plastic drop-cloth, secured the plastic with tape and pushpins, then placed the tub on two sawhorses near a clothesline and garden hose. Before adding carrageenin bath, you might want to fill the tub with water to be sure it doesn't leak.

Since colors are sensitive to heat, it's a good idea to work indoors if the temperature is higher than 75[degrees]. If the tub is left alone, cover it to keep the carrageenin free of bugs and leaves. For marbling techniques, simply follow the preceding directions.

Washing instructions

You can wash fabric objects after they're completely dry. Wash them by hand in tepid soapy water. If you prefer, you can use the gentle cycle of a washing machine, Colors will fade a bit over time.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Aug 1, 1988
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