The history of marble print can be traced back to marble paper, which developed in Europe during the 17th Century. However, the origin of marble paper can be further traced back to the Japanese suminagashi technique of paper marbling that was imported into China, after which it was introduced into Europe by Venetian merchants travelling along the Silk Road. By the 19th Century, marbling was being used in the binding of books for European royalty.
The technique of marble printing, which is distinct from the technique employed in producing marbled paper, was developed during the first half of the 20th Century by Franz Kuhr, a craftsman from the former West Germany. This traditional technique has since continued to be improved and enhanced over the decades by different craftsmen.
The process of marble printing involves first creating a semi-solid piece of coloured starch that is similar in texture to clay. Different coloured starches are then combined, like mosaic, to create the final pattern, which is then transferred onto fabric. Each pattern is unique and requires extensive experience and outstanding skill on the part of the craftsman. Unfortunately, however, the complexity of the process and the delicate handling required when working the material has resulted in marble printing becoming a victim of mass production and rationalization, and there are very few craftsmen in the world today with the necessary skills to create this beautiful product.
A craftsman from Kyoto introduced marble printing into Japan in 1963, and went on to establish Nihon-Geisen Co Ltd (renamed as Marble Print Inc) in 1967. At one stage, the popularity of marble print fabric expanded from the suburbs of Kyoto to reach even South Korea. Today, however, the founder of Marble Print Inc is the only company practicing this craft in Japan.
1.All-purpose starch (a liquid starch used in auto screen printing or hand printing) is heated so that the moisture evaporates to a stage where the mixture is clay-like in texture (and with the hardness of cheese or caramel). At this stage, semi-solid starch in primary colours such as red, blue, yellow or black is prepared.
2.The specified colour is created. To create the colour purple, for example, red and blue semi-solid starch is blended in a rolling machine, and the colours repeatedly passed through the machine so that they are completely blended to result in the prescribed shade of purple.
3.The pattern is created. Although it isn’t easy to explain this process in a few words, as an example, when creating a black and white suminagashi pattern, black starch and white starch is passed through the rolling machine as described in step 2, and the pattern is created before the two colours are completely blended together. The tools and equipment that are used to create the pattern include knives, a mincing machine, and metallic mesh, and the production process is similar to the process of creating meals in a restaurant kitchen. The final pattern is created by utilizing this equipment and by combining different designs as one would when working with clay.
5.Bandages are removed the following day, and the surface sheared to achieve a smooth finish.
6.This is then placed on the printing machine (roller-printing machine) and the fabric printed. This is then followed by the processes of colour formation, soaping, arrangement and treatment, as is carried out in auto screen printing and hand printing.