Fabric Marbling: Wool Edition

I used to teach Pre-K, and one of my go-to activities for those rainy day afternoons was marbled shaving cream paper printing. Kids love it, and it always works. Now while I loved the results, the ensuing calm of my classroom, and the easy clean up, I never really considered the possibilities of this kind of printing beyond what I did with the kids. Enter Vickie Clontz, who has taken the simplicity of using shaving cream to hold color patterns to a whole new level by dyeing beautiful pieces of vibrant wool. Vickie often uses her dyed whole for various applique applications, but the possibilities are endless. Fabric marbling in the form of swirling ink around is just as satisfying for adults as it is for kids, so get patterning. I can’t wait to see the dyed wool you create with Vickie’s technique!

Vickie uses some dyed wool to create a bespoke book cover


The ancient art of marbling dates back as far as twelfth-century Japan, where it was originally called suminagashi, or “ink floating.” Throughout the years, marbling has evolved as artists experimented with various media to express different creative visions. Perhaps you have tried marbling on paper or cotton fabric, but did you know that you can also marble on felted wool? Wool produces a soft and dreamy quality, different than traditional marbling mediums. I like using felted wool because it has the advantage of being compatible with raw-edge techniques, as the edges of the wool will not fray.

Wool is a very forgiving fabric, making it the perfect choice for simple and more advanced projects. As I experimented, I discovered that different types of wool fabric act unpredictably with Tsukineko inks, so always test a sample before doing the final design. Using shaving cream makes this a fun and easy technique. After marbling, the ink needs to be heat-set and then thoroughly rinsed. Always do a test run, especially with ribbons and embellishments.

Fabric marbling is a serendipitous craft—you cannot plan exactly what the finished outcome will be. I am such a planner, and love to create a roadmap for my projects and designs. But I’ve learned to approach this art with an open mind. Sometimes even using the inked shaving cream a second time can yield exciting results. Have extra wool on hand for those little unexpected blessings.

Materials

  • Light-colored wool fabric (I used 100% Australian Virgin Wool by Valdani.)
  • Tsukineko® inks in red, blue, yellow, and black
  • Ink droppers
  • Small paintbrush
  • Small containers or painter’s palette for mixing ink
  • Shaving cream
  • Shallow disposable aluminum tray slightly larger than the fabric pieces
  • Squeegee (available in the wallpaper section of the hardware store)
  • Marbling tools such as a skewer, plastic fork, or wide-tooth comb
  • Iron and pressing cloths
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic tablecloth or newspaper

Directions

Felt the wool

  1. If starting with wool fabric, felt it by machine-washing in hot soapy water, rinsing in cold water, then drying in a dryer using high heat.
  2. Cut fabric into sections that will lay flat in the aluminum tray.

Prepare the shaving cream

  1. Protect your work surface with a plastic covering or newspaper. Gloves are recommended as the ink may stain your fingers.

    Spray shaving cream into an aluminum tray | Process photos courtesy of the artist

  2. Spray shaving cream into the aluminum tray, and smooth with the squeegee.

Marble the shaving cream

Use droppers to add ink to the shaving cream

  1. Use droppers to add drops of ink randomly or in a pattern to the surface of the shaving cream. I prefer to use analogous colors on the color wheel, such as blue/green or red/purple; you can mix colors in a small container, adding a touch of black to tone them down if desired.
    NOTE: You can use black to marble, but it can be a bit overpowering.
  2. Use a tool to make a marbling pattern.
    NOTE: My favorite tool is a pointed skewer, but try other things too—the end of a paintbrush, a plastic fork, etc.
  3. Starting at 1 end of the tray, insert the tool into the shaving cream and pull the tool through the dots of ink to make a pattern.
    Linear—Pull the skewer through each dot of ink in a linear fashion from one side, down and up the other side. This will create a heart or leaf-shaped effect.
    Grid—Starting with a linear pattern, pull from the other side in a crosshatch pattern through the lines you just created.
    Swirl—Start in 1 corner and move the skewer around the dots in a spiral or swirly effect. Do this until you have filled the tray with swirly designs.

Add even more visual texture by going over lines and dots several times. Keep in mind that if you have added a lot of different colors, especially complementary colors like blue and orange, you run the risk of getting a muddy hue as the colors will start to mix together when they cross and combine.

Print the wool

  1. Carefully place the felted wool on top of the marbled shaving cream.
  2. Gently press the wool fabric into the shaving cream so the surface is touching everywhere; I like to go over the entire piece several times to be sure all parts of the wool are in contact with the ink.
  3. Let the wool sit for 3–5 minutes.

Set the ink

  1. Starting at 1 corner, carefully peel the wool from the shaving cream and lay it next to the tray with the shaving cream side up.

    Reveal the marbled design on the wool

  2. Staring at 1 end, use the squeegee to remove the shaving cream from the wool—the beautiful marbled design will be revealed.
  3. Let the fabric dry.
  4. Iron the wool for at least 3 minutes to heat set the ink. Use a pressing cloth on both sides of the fabric to protect the iron and ironing surface, as the ink color will transfer.
  5. Rinse lightly in cold water, and let dry again.


Vickie Clontz is an award-winning designer, teacher, author, and fiber artist specializing in wool and all things wool-related. Vickie loves creating unique designs and finds inspiration in natre and the countryside. Vickie’s designs have been published in numerous magazines and publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her first book, Crafty Critters, was released in 2016.

One of the things I love most about this technique is that with the minimal supplies needed you can play and experiment for hours. Now that you’ve got some wool all marbled up, check out this video for some ideas of what to do with it! And check out these cute posies for a quick wool project. Subscribe to Quilting Arts Magazine for more great ideas like these!

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