marbled patterned paper by Jemma Lewis in swirls of yellow, green and pink on a white background

The Origins of Marbling

Marbling is an ancient decorative technique and a method of aqueous surface design, which can produce patterns similar to marble or other kinds of stone. The patterns are the result of colours floated on a viscous water solution known as size, and then carefully transferred to an absorbent surface, such as paper or fabric. Part of its appeal is that each print is unique.

three rolls of marbled wrapping papers in soft tones of green and brown

Its exact origins are somewhat unclear, it is believed to have originated in China, however, it gained significant popularity in Japan during the Heian period (794-1185 AD) and was later refined and perfected by Japanese artisans.

The term suminagashi translates to "floating ink" in Japanese, which accurately describes the process of marbling. Traditional suminagashi involves floating ink on the surface of water and then carefully manipulating the ink to create patterns. These patterns are then transferred onto paper or fabric by carefully laying the material or paper on top of the ink and then lifting it off, capturing the intricate designs.

Marbling techniques spread from East Asia to the Middle East during the Islamic Golden Age (8th to 14th centuries), where it became particularly popular among artisans in Turkey and Persia. In the Islamic world, marbled paper was often used to decorate book covers, endpapers, and other manuscripts.

Marbling eventually made its way to Europe during the Renaissance, likely through trade routes with the Islamic world. It gained popularity among European artisans, particularly in Italy and France, during the 17th and 18th centuries where they developed their own techniques and styles, often incorporating more vibrant colours and intricate designs.

During the 19th century, marbling became widely practiced in the Western world, particularly in bookbinding and stationery production. Marbled paper was used for book covers, endpapers, and decorative arts. 

Today, marbling continues to be practiced both as a traditional craft and as a contemporary art form. Artisans and artists around the world explore and experiment with various techniques and materials, keeping this ancient decorative art alive and vibrant in the modern era.

close up pf a turkish spot design marbled paper in colours of coral, burgundy and lilac, by Jemma Lewis Marbling

The range of printed marbled paper stocked at Quince & Quill are by Jemma Lewis Marbling, a professional paper marbling studio based in Wiltshire.

After discovering the art of marbling while working for an antiquarian bookbinders, Jemma set up a business crafting artisan papers from home. Jemma’s papers expertly blend heritage methods with contemporary colourways and are widely used by leading bookbinders.  


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