Treasures of the Library

Paper Marbling at the Library 

The Library of Parliament creates beautiful decorative papers in the marbling studio of its preservation laboratory. Using the process of acrylic marbling, the studio produces the official designs of the Senate, House of Commons and Library of Parliament. About 100 papers are produced each year for special projects such as signature books.

Marbling for these official papers is an exacting process. Even the slightest difference in paint consistency, colour mixing, order of colour application, amount of each colour and viscosity of the bath can dramatically change how the papers turn out.

The studio begins by filling a shallow pan with distilled water thickened with carrageenan – an extract from a seaweed. Different colours of acrylic paints are carefully prepared and diluted to the appropriate consistency. These colours are applied to the surface of the carrageenan bath using various tools, such as droppers and whisks made of broom straw. The floating droplets of colour are directed into complex patterns using styluses, combs, and rakes.

While the bath is prepared, large sheets of paper are treated on one side with a fixative, in this case an alum mordant. This coating makes the paints adhere better. These treated papers are gently laid on the surface of what is now the marbling bath. The pattern transfers almost immediately, and then the papers are lifted out, hung to dry and pressed flat for use.

The origins of paper marbling are unclear. Many countries claim to have created this process, including China and countries in the Middle East. Suminagashi, a marbling technique attributed to the Japanese, goes back as far as the 12th century. A few hundred years later, this art form emerged in Turkey as Ebrû and eventually spread to Western Europe by the 1600s.

Details

  • The Senate paper uses a vibrant mix of reds, greens and cream to create a pattern called Antique or Zebra.
  • The House of Commons paper, in greens, blues and browns, needs custom-made combs for a narrow pattern called Nonpareil.
  • The Library of Parliament paper is a traditional Stone pattern in blues, browns and cream
Marbling process

Making a Getgel pattern: A dropper is used to float droplets of acrylic paint onto the carrageenan bath.

Marbling Process

Making a Getgel pattern: The droplets of colour are directed into patterns using a rake.

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Making a Getgel pattern: This sheet shows how the colours have been transferred to its surface.