Tag Archives: marbling

‘Craft Britain – Why Making Matters’

IMG_2489It is not always the case that a new non-fiction book is a page turner, but ‘Craft Britain – Why Making Matters’ by Helen Chislett and David Linley is certainly one such. Page after page of beautiful photographs are surrounded by an informative, fascinating and interesting text. To be fair, craft usually photographs well, but these images are exquisite!

In my view, the book starts not on page one, but with the gloriously marbled blue endpapers by Lucy McGrath, acknowledged in the text – reflecting books in the  nineteenth century when most would have had endpapers like this. It gives the book the quality that continues on the following pages.

IMG_2490Lucy McGrath is marbling paper here by flicking – in a controlled way – colour on to a thickened water base. A piece of suitably sized paper is then floated on the top and when lifted off the marbling has been transferred on to the sheet of paper. The beautifully patterned paper is used not simply for endpapers but for books, book marks, Christmas baubles and much else.


IMG_2496From the wonderfully colourful to the monotone, but equally exquisite work of Geoffery Preston MBE. He works in stucco/plaster, moulding by hand the flowers, foliage and flourishes that he designs. This is an overmantel that he’s produced and if you want to see more of his work, save up and go to the bar at the Goring Hotel in London where you’ll be amazed at the sea creatures and his designs that are on the wall leading out to the garden. This craft links to pargetting which is included in the book.


IMG_2494Although all craft is beautiful in my eyes, particularly heritage craft (!), it is often, and perhaps usually, useful as well, and none more so than most objects to do with the making of shoes. Steven Lowe owns and runs Crispians which produces lasts for bespoke shoes; lasts are the wooden former, the shape of a person’s foot, around which shoes are made. He also runs Lastmaker House which trains those who wish to learn the craft. When Steven presented at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Craft a few years ago he explained that the vast majority of those who come on his courses are from abroad; it is a sad situation when this endangered craft cannot recruit those in the UK who could make it viable.


IMG_2495Another craft carried out by only a few people is wheelwrighting. Mike Rowland and Son are featured in the book. The skills are being passed on in that they have trained one apprentice already and now have Sam Phillips, shown here, working in the workshop. Self-employed makers and micro businesses like these find the costs of training almost prohibitive. If just one day a week is set aside for passing on the skills, and it is usually much more, then production goes down by 20% and that’s a craftsperson’s profit, so they can afford to live, not enouigh to pay for an apprentice. Government provision for support for apprenticeships in the UK works well for bankers and hairdressers, but is virtually non-existent for these endangered crafts. This is rather ironic because the crafts are where the whole apprenticeship, journeyman and master system was established!

IMG_2498Many do not realise the craft skills that are involved in scientific glass instrument blowing, but they are definitely right at the centre! A lot of scientific and medical experiments and processes could not take place if they did not have the correct glass equipment to do so. This elegant tower of glass could sit under a spotlight on a shelf in an expensive penthouse suite as an ornament, but it is actually a water jacketed oxygenator made by Terri Adams as part of cardiovascular research. Terri is the University of Oxford’s only scientific glassblower, and this is an endangered craft with fewer than fifty of these craftspeople in the UK.



IMG_2491Nowadays we are used to wallpaper being produced by machine, but this wasn’t always the case. In the past wallpaper was printed from carved wooden blocks, often cherry wood; here Hugh Dunford Wood is carving a pattern in lino bespoke to clients who can choose not only the design but also the colours for the ground and print.

The book is divided into twelve chapters after a foreword by Stephen Bayley and an Introduction. Each chapter is a cornucopia of crafts, with details and photographs of each one. It really is an absolute delight and very highly recommended.

Marbling paper

MarbledPaperCroppedAs with so many other aspects of writing and book binding, it seems that the Chinese and then the Japanese have been marbling paper for centuries before the Europeans. Marbling consists of floating ink or paint on a surface to create a pattern. The colour may be simply dropped on to create random blobs or the ink/paint may be blown or swirled using an implement to create a pattern. A sheet of treated paper is then carefully placed on the paint and the pattern transfers to the paper. In China the pattern on the paper was called ‘drifting, or flowing sand’, and in Japan, a few centuries later, the paper was called ‘floating ink’, which is exactly what it was!


691px-PaperMarbling005France1735The process came to Turkey and here it was called ebru, ‘clouded paper’, which may relate to the specific designs. The Turks used it as a background for writing important documents because each sheet is unique and so the document could not then be forged.




Marbled_edgesIn Europe, marbled paper was used both for book covers as well as for the endpapers (above). The patterned paper ensured that slight damage due to constant or rough handling wasn’t so obvious than if the cover had been plain. Intriguingly, even the edges of the book block was sometimes marbled (right).



360px-Encyclopedie_volume_4-275Each sheet of paper produced by marbling is unique and workshops developed a number of different patterns. The tools and materials needed were, and are, quite simple (see below for easy marbling). A watertight tray is filled with a substance that will hold the ink on the surface. Water will do this, but to control the marbling effectively, something more viscous is better. Irish carrageen moss produces a gel which is ideal. One or more colours of paint is then dropped on to the surface and allowed to spread for a random pattern, or combed or twirled to produce more controlled patterns.



Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 16.48.41Paper which has usually been treated with alum is gently laid on the surface and the pattern on the gel transfers to the paper. The paper is then carefully lifted and washed to remove excess colour. This process is explained in this clip of Jemma Lewis marbling paper for the Folio Society here.


Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 16.54.46Cockerell and Son was probably the best known in the last century for their marbled papers used not only in the books bound and restored in his bindery but also by many other people. This is rather an old film, but it does show just how wonderful the production process is, and the craft skills involved in something that looks so simple.


If you want to make some marbled paper but don’t want to go to a lot of expense, here is a simple process which I have used for children and adults. You will need:

* a large watertight tray such as a baking tray or roasting tin (clean!)

* sheets of photocopying paper (of a size which will fit easily into the tray, you may need to cut the paper in half if it doesn’t go in easily)

* bottles of permanent ink in a small selection of colours (not more than 4 is best, and even one will do)

* a cocktail stick or chopstick or end of a paintbrush or something similar to stir the paint

* ink droppers if you can get hold of them or small spoons to drop the paint into the tray

* lots of old newspapers to cover the table or surface which should be done before you start.

* Cold water

1. Pour the water into the tray until it is about 1–2 cm, half to an inch deep. Allow to water to settle completely.

2. Have the sheets of paper ready, separated into individual sheets beside the tray (be careful not to splash any water or ink on them).

3. Open the ink bottles and select the colours you want to use. If the spoons won’t go into the neck of the bottles, decant some of the liquid into small bowls.

4. Use the ink droppers or spoons to drop ink on to the surface of the water allowing the ink to spread. Try as many colours as you want to but it’s best to limit the colours. Use a chopstick etc to swirl the pattern if you wish.

5. Quickly place a piece of paper on the ink ensuring as far as you can that there are no air bubbles. Lift the paper and the pattern will be on the paper. Place the paper, pattern up, on the newspapers. Quickly place another sheet on top and there should be the pattern again, although fainter. It is unlikely that you will be able to marble a third sheet of paper, but you could try.

6. Allow the paper to dry. It is unlikely to be flat but you can use the paper to cover books and folders, and even to cover pencils and make a set of them (ideal gifts from children!).

7. Tip the water away (be careful as the ink is permanent!) and repeat as often as you wish.