Feb 22

Paper Marbling: A Colorful Art

by: Jill Deiss

Filed under: marbling, bookbinding


Above: A sample of marbled paper made using a marbling comb

The urge to decorate our spaces and possessions is a characteristic long-established in the human world. One method for doing so utilizes marbling, the centuries-old art of applying colorful patterns to such surfaces as paper, leather, wood, and cloth. Marbled patterns are generated through the manipulation of pigments floating on a viscous solution in a “marbling vat” or “marbling tray.” These patterns are made using various implements of which “combs” are the most common, although patterns are also created using wooden skewers, droplets from a paintbrush, and even a single cat whisker (acquired through peaceful means, of course).


Marbling tray, marbling combs, marbled paper, and Spencer our cat whisker source

By the late 1600s, marbled paper was coming into regular use in the craft of bookbinding, employed largely for endsheeting (the first pages you see when opening a book). On books as early as the 1700s it is common not only to see the endsheeting of marbled paper but also occasionally to find that the edges of the text pages themselves bear a marbled pattern. During the 19th century, edge marbling was frequently applied, and marbling was often seen on the covers of books—whether the covers are made entirely from a marbled material or a pairing of marbled paper with another material.

Today the art of marbling is still alive and well and nowhere more so than in the United States, where numerous people around the country marble for fun and profit. In addition to a full roster of bookbinding courses, our School for Bookbinding Arts teaches a series of marbling courses every year where many attend and learn the art of marbling. (For class information click here)

At this year’s Washington Antiquarian Book Fair we are proud to feature one of our binders, Susan McCabe, who will be demonstrating that art of marbling on Saturday morning, March 5th. Come watch as Susan brings forth marbled magic from her marbling tub for all to see and enjoy.


A rounded-spine clamshell box utilizing marbled paper on the covers, leather on the spine and corners, and gray cloth on the box trays

Jill is a long-time friend and exhibitor of the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair.

More about Jill can be found at her website and on Facebook.





Styles may change, details may come and go, but the broad demands of aesthetic judgment are permanent. - Roger Scruton