my friends, lara and tammy, have a tradition of making handmade gifts for the holidays. they get together as many evenings as they can manage, starting in late october, through most of december. they've made soap, marbled paper, glass mosaics, sand-dollar ornaments, painted tiles...you name it, they've probably tried it. last year i was lucky enough to be invited to participate. i made a few gifts with stained glass, but the best part was hanging out, working, talking, sharing ideas and cheering each other on. they both have large families, and long lists of people to give too. a stressful chore becomes a time for bonding with friends.
this year we decided to try an idea for some beautiful humming bird feeders that shawna invented. we also wanted to attempt marbling on fabric, to make sets of cloth napkins. it took most of a day just to gather the materials and get set up. we couldn't find carrageenan at any of the craft stores or specialty food shops, and we thought agar agar might work just as well, since they are both powdered seaweed, and are both coagulating agents. we found out the hard way that they are not interchangeable. the agar agar we found had sugar in it, and is used to make a jell-o like dessert.
you cannot float paint on top of hardened jell-o, and make marbled prints from it. we tried. can't be done. by the end of the night, we were referring to it as agarfuckingagar. luckily, on day two, carl checked at pygmalion's art supplies, and found some carrageenan and another marbling medium called methocel. they also had special marbling paints in an inexpensive set.
this stuff worked much better. we got a nice bath, of high viscosity liquid, that floated paint beautifully. we took over the entire workshop/art studio/former garage a.k.a. the space, or as we have been calling it this week, the methlab. we strung lines of string, for hanging the cloth, all across the room.
we cluttered our work table with the homemade tray/bath (made from cardboard lined with plastic), paints of all colors and weights, squirt bottles, distilled water, combs, rakes (boards with nails in them), skewers, and stacks of news paper. we had a huge rinse bucket on the floor and a couple of ironing boards set up (there are many steps for getting the fabric ready for printing, and heat setting afterwards. you end up ironing each napkin at least twice).
another complication: the fabric needs to be treated with alum before you print on it, but alum is corrosive, so only have about 2 days to work with your fabric before you need to rinse the alum out. since we had already processed all of the napkins in alum, and dried them. and ironed them, we wanted to get them all printed in that two-day window.
one of the rules i learned in architecture school is that most things take 6 times longer to make than you think they will. that rule holds true for marbling fabric. however, once we got the bath right, and marbled our first piece, we let out a whoop and a shout, and ooohed and ahhhed over the resulting napkin, printed with the intricate pattern. it truly was magical. when you drop the paint on the surface, then you get to swirl it around into trippy patterns, and it is almost impossible to mess it up. i'd been inspired by julie at craftknife, to incorporate cosmo into my projects more than i do. this was the perfect opportunity. he loved twirling the paint around, and rinsing out the cloth. he made some of my favorite designs.
was it worth the effort? i am not sure. i'm happy to have tried it, but i doubt i'll do it again. 3 days of paint, jelly goo and ironing are enough for me. you'll have to ask tammy and lara how they feel about it, and, how many names they got to cross off their lists. and, i will say, despite all the discouraging set backs, we had a great time together, and isn't that what the holiday spirit is all about?
check out the video.