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Give It a Whirl: Marbling Methods and Home-Decor Projects

  • Photos by Ryan Liebe

Try something free and loose, colorful and creative. One simple process brings personality to many corners of your home.

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Marbling is the opposite of paint-by-numbers. The process is artistic and painterly and colorful -- but the true joy is in the reveal, and in seeing how swirls of color in a tray of liquid translate to a piece of paper or fabric. "You have to embrace the surprise," says crafts editor Silke Stoddard, who developed the projects below.

To be sure, masters of this craft -- which flourished thanks to European papermakers and bookbinders in the 18th and 19th centuries -- can precisely re-create patterns, but that often entails specialized equipment such as combs, feathers, and rakes. The designs here were made with literally nothing more than a coffee stirrer. "I wanted to simplify marbling, and take it out of that fussy old-world place, and make it modern and playful and organic," Silke says. Indeed, while this technique has often been used to dye eggs and luxurious silks, many of these crafts employ coarser materials, like linen and cuts of raw leather, for an approachable, rustic appeal.

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Pattern Play

Pattern Play

Search no more for that elusive throw pillow that perfectly adheres to your living-room color scheme. Instead, marble a piece of natural linen with paints of your preferred palette and sew it into a pillowcase.

Home furnishing linen (#HF0026 and #HF0028), Gray Line Linen. Silk-and-rayon panne velvet, in assorted colors, B&J Fabrics.

The Big Picture

The Big Picture

The size of your project is limited by the surface area of the bin you marble in. But you can create a larger-scale piece of fabric to use as a wall hanging, as shown here, or to upholster a dining chair by scanning a marbled piece of paper, enlarging it, uploading it to Spoonflower.com, and having the company print it for you. (You can also purchase the fabric print shown here by the yard.)

Work Pattern

Work Pattern

Marbling has long been a popular motif for stationery. The leather blotter and fabric-covered notebooks here are a nod to that. This is a new, fresh take, using bright colors in lieu of the usual jewel tones. To make, cut marbled fabric and fusible web (such as HeatnBond) to fit the cover, then iron on.

Recycled-paper notebook, Muji. Economy Single shoulder leather (#99606-01), Tandy Leather Factory.

Make the Most of It

Make the Most of It

After you've marbled a larger piece, use the remaining paint in the margins of the bin to decorate cardboard coasters. Then waterproof them with decoupage finish.

Round coasters, 4", Ladybugpress.etsy.com. Durable decoupage finish, by Martha Stewart Crafts, in Matte, Plaid.

The Method of Marbling

Make your own marbling magic: This simplified process creates patterns that are looping, organic, and pretty. Use it for paper, leather, or fabric projects.

  • With a coffee stirrer, drop paint onto several spots on surface of size; let pigment spread out 2 to 3 inches.
    With a coffee stirrer, drop paint onto several spots on surface of size; let pigment spread out 2 to 3 inches.
  • Add another color, dropping paint inside previous color, if desired. Continue layering more colors.
    Add another color, dropping paint inside previous color, if desired. Continue layering more colors.
  • Some paints will spread out more than others; the more concentrated the color, the more it will stay put.
    Some paints will spread out more than others; the more concentrated the color, the more it will stay put.
  • Drag stirrer through paint to add swirls and create designs; work over whole bin, or focus on specific areas.
    Drag stirrer through paint to add swirls and create designs; work over whole bin, or focus on specific areas.
  • Gently lay medium flat onto size, and pat to remove air bubbles.
    Gently lay medium flat onto size, and pat to remove air bubbles.
  • Let sit until fully saturated.
    Let sit until fully saturated.
  • Pick up medium by two corners. Gently and evenly pull up.
    Pick up medium by two corners. Gently and evenly pull up.
  • Rinse thoroughly under running water until soapy film is gone. Hang to dry.
    Rinse thoroughly under running water until soapy film is gone. Hang to dry.

See our how-to for all the details you'll need to get started. No matter which project you choose, be open to artistic happenstance. As Silke says, "you never know what you're going to get" -- other than something striking, patterned, and entirely your own.

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