We have linked up with AirBnB Experiences, to offer a range of heritage crafts experiences from tassel making to building your own cart wheel. The Experience workshops will be led by craftspeople from the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, and guests will be able to learn about these crafts and the skills that are required. The following workshops will be the first to be hosted:
Hadi Moussa, AirBnB General Manager for Northern Europe said:
We’re delighted to work together with the HCA and enable craftspeople to offer these unique workshops through our platform, connecting travellers and locals to authentic historical crafts. We’ve seen a growing appetite for Arts & Crafts Experiences on our site, with an increase of 180% in bookings to this category of Experiences in 2018, making it a powerful platform to raise awareness about teh crafts in danger of dying out.
There’s so many craft-based skills which take years to properly hone and develop that are in danger of dying out. We must not let this happen. Shooting with Greg, JoJo and Lucy I got a unique insight into their work and why we should fight to keep crafts like these alive. Rankin
The Carpenters’ Company, 1 Throgmorton Avenue, London EC2N 2JJ
9 May 2018
Craftspeople from the Heritage Crafts Association and QEST demonstrated an array of skills with opportunities for visitors to join in at the Carpenters’ Company on 9 May 2018. Demonstrators included 2017 HCA Maker of the Year fore-edge painter Martin Frost and 2017 Cockpit / The Arts Society Award winner paper marbler Lucy McGrath (pictured), both Red List critically endangered crafts.
At 3pm furniture maker and designer John Makepeace OBE gave a talk on how he made the Master’s Chair for the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, followed by a champagne reception that provided a further opportunity to interact with these exceptionally talented makers.
The application of an aqueous surface design onto paper or other items, which can produce patterns similar to smooth marble or other kinds of stone. This entry refers to the making of extremely complex repeatable patterns which require very high levels of skill.
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income)
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
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. The process was thought to be first developed in China and Japan, before travelling to Central Asia, India, Iran and Turkey, before reaching Europe in the seventeenth century. Now there is evidence to suggest it actually developed independently in Persia and didn’t necessarily come through from Japan.
In Europe, marbled paper was used both for book covers as well as for the endpapers. The patterned paper ensured that slight damage due to constant or rough handling wasn’t so obvious than if the cover had been plain.
Marbling became popular as a handicraft in the nineteenth century after the publication of the The Art of Marbling by Charles Woolnough in 1853. A second book in 1893 by Josef Halfer was also popular and included a section on marbling book edges, a practice that was used a great deal on ledgers. The idea was that if a section of the ledger was removed or pages added or altered, the marbling would be interrupted or damaged, thus showing visually the evidence of tampering.
Each sheet of paper produced by marbling is unique and workshops developed a number of different patterns.
The tools and materials used for paper marbling are relatively simple. 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. Paper 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 (Lovett, 2015). See here for an explanation of the process by Jemma Lewis for the Folio Society.
The paint type chosen for marbling can have a big effect on technique and the finished product. Water-based marbling can look quite different to oil based marbling, and some effects cannot be achieved with some paint or ink types. The most common are water-colour/gouache, acrylic, or oil paint.
Marbling of book edges – Commonly seen on large format ledgers which were handmade in 18-19th centuries. They are still made but not with hand-marbled edges but transfer printed. Some of the older, time served apprentice bookbinders are teaching these specialist marbling techniques.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Rise of digital printing
Fewer traditional bookbinders
No big marbling houses left to train apprentices
Costs of raw materials, specifically the Carragheen moss
Marbling from developing countries (India, Malaysia etc) entering UK market at lower prices (fairly recent development)
Interest has been/is still increasing due to social media (visual nature of craft helps here) and publicity (Red List), but ultimately if marbling can’t find a more sustainable niche than book-related arts, it may wane again. Especially as digital printed reproductions and cheaper alternatives enter the market in response to interest.
Perceived value, or lack of education (around the craft at the higher levels, i.e. the time and skills it takes to produce certain patterns, those practitioners such as myself creating their own paints and pigments in traditional ways instead of buying ready-made inks, etc. It is still seen as something that is done at primary school, often with oil based inks on water, which does not resemble ‘traditional’ marbling at all.
Lower quality and/or other arts promoted as ‘marbling’ when it is in fact not, eg. acrylic paint pouring.
Brexit – I this has now become much harder due to customs and shipping fees.
Chris Rowlatt has retired in the past three years.
Businesses employing two or more makers:
Marshall and Fuller
Cockerell and Son were well-known for their marbled papers, but their studio closed in 2012.
There now seem to be more workshops available on marbling than in the 1980s. In those days practitioners were very secretive about their methods so you had to teach yourself. There is not one set recipe for marbling so different practitioners will use different methods.
Nevins, Iris, (1985) Traditional Marbling (Alembic Press), practical guide
Maurer, Diane Vogel, and Maurer, Paul, (1991) Marbling (J B Fairfax), practical guide