Marbling is a technique often taught in elementary school, using turpentine or dish detergent to create a swirling, painterly affect that you can’t get with a paint brush. The following recipe, however, calls for chemicals you might not find on store shelves. I found it in a Living magazine and the resulting fabric is elegant and vibrant. Here is Martha Stewart’s “Method of Marbling”:

A trip to Lowes, Michaels, and an online order from yielded this stash of supplies:


What you need:

  • Alum
  • 2 shallow plastic bins (with lids, optional)
  • Medium (paper, leather, or fabric)
  • Plastic bucket
  • Methocel
  • Distilled water
  • Clear ammonia
  • Whisk
  • Craft paints
  • Paper cups
  • Dispersant
  • Coffee stirrers
  • Clothesline or drying rack
  • Paper towels

The paints that have worked the best for me are Martha Stewart all purpose craft paints. Nope, this post has not been brought to you by Martha Stewart Living. Just honestly their (her?) paints really spread well over the solution, more so than straight acrylic or fabric paints. For intricate, tighter swirls – which I demonstrate here – a thicker acrylic paint does work well. However it sinks quickly to the bottom of the solution and so you end up going through the paint quickly.


  1. Prepare Materials: Mix 3 tablespoons alum per quart of hot tap water in a bin; let cool. Soak leather or prewashed fabric in mixture for 20 minutes, or brush onto paper. Let dry flat. (Reserve alum mixture in bin to use over several days.)
  2. Prepare “size,” or base, for paint: In bucket, mix 4 tablespoons Methocel per gallon of warm distilled water. Add 1 tablespoon ammonia per gallon and mix vigorously with whisk.
  3. Pour Methocel mixture into second bin. Let sit until all bubbles dissipate. (This should take several hours; mixture will have a sheer, viscous consistency, slightly thinner than egg whites.)
  4. Squeeze paints into paper cups (mix some, if desired). Thin each with a drop of dispersant and slowly add water until paint has consistency of whole milk.
  5. Marble: With a coffee stirrer, drop paint onto several spots on surface of size; let pigment spread out 2 to 3 inches.First two colors:IMG_4197
  6. Add another color, dropping paint into middle of previous color, if desired.IMG_4198

I flicked more color in to create more intricate swirling:


Some paints will spread out more than others; the more concentrated the color, the more it will stay put.

The following steps I didn’t document with photos (Actually, I have some good action shots of Mona dripping paint from cups into the solution, but since she was wearing nothing but underwear I’m not including those pix):

-Drag stirrer through paint to add swirls and create designs; work over whole bin, or focus on specific areas.

-Then lay fabric or paper face down on size, leave for a few minutes and lift off carefully by holding two corners.

To rinse residue off of the fabric I run it right under cool water in the sink. To rinse it off of paper, I angle it downward on a cooling rack (which I use dedicate to the studio and not for baking) and spray water on it from a squeeze bottle:

Here are my final fabrics hanging out to dry:IMG_3794

This bout of marbling was my first attempt, though I’m just posting it now. I’ve marbled a few times since then, and the results are below:

5 fabrics

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