Types of Sixteenth Century Fans
An Apology -
title of this demo is a misnomer - not intentionally, mind
you, but a misnomer nonetheless. I really meant to stick to
flag fans and palm fans. Honest. But, I started researching
fans... At first, I was dismayed simply because there is just
nothing out there on the Internet pertaining to fans from
the late sixteenth century. I combed the web and my own library.
Eventually, I started running across a few tidbits here, a
few tidbits there. And pictures of various fans from period.
And then I started thinking... and then... I got carried away.
I am sorry. So the title of this demo should be: Three
Types of Fans from the Late Sixteenth Century: Theories, Methods,
and Construction. Impressive, huh! But I settled on the
title above. More to the point.
I had the best time with this demo. I've not had this much
fun in almost a year. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy the demos.
But this one, for some reason, really got me going. It might
have something to do with the Christmas present I made myself
this year (I actually made myself a 36" X 60" cutting
table, complete with cork top... it rocks!). My personal feeling
on why I had such a good time is that this demo combines what
I love most about historical research. More than anything
else, I love to figure out how to do things. Armed with extant
examples and descriptions, I try various things until something
clicks. This demo is a great example of that.
One last thing before I get started... I don't go into how
to make 'duck foot' fans or the regular folding fans as we
know them. There are plenty of sources for the folding fans
and duckfoot fans are described in both portraits and in descriptions.
I had a hard time limiting myself to just three types but
I did it!
Let's Start With an Easy One -
fans are really easy to make. There are two types; fixed and
rotating. I decided to go with the rotating simply because
they seemed like they would be fun to play with. I began by
hunting down a couple of pieces of heavy cardboard, a dowel,
two brass eye bolts, some parchment paper, and a scrap of
Almost all sources that I've seen on flag fans talk about
them being stiffened parchment or cardboard covered with silk
or something similar. I had several heavy cardboard pieces
left over from a book binding project so I decided to cut
two to size and glue them together. This provided me with
a secure foundation to screw the eyebolts into the pieces.
After the pieces were glued, I covered them with the parchment
paper and sized the paper using a commercial craft paint conditioner.
I was really pleased with the result as it made the parchment
both easier to paint on and made the paper look more like
the size had dried, I drew on my designs; my device on one
side and a simple fleur-de-lys on the other. At this point,
the the time consuming part started... the painting. During
parts of the painting, I took a break and worked on the handle
of the fan. I have a drill bit that is exactly the same size
as the dowel I had chosen for the handle. So I drilled out
three wood beads and placed them accordingly on the handle,
saving the top one for last. It was glued on once the painting
was done. After the fan was all put together, I glued on some
gold cord and the lace.
I like the weight of this fan - it swings nicely although
I caution anyone who makes one of these to not swing it too
close to your face...
I would estimate that the total cost of this particular
fan was around two or three dollars. This is an estimate only;
I had everything lying around in the form of scrap for this
one. I'd also estimate that the difficulty level on this would
be around a three on a ten point scale. The only trick was
to get the paper to lay flat while covering the cardboard.
Otherwise, it was all pretty straightforward.
|Flag fan with device.
||Opposite side of flag fan, complete with lace.
Flabellum Phlebotomy -
then there is this one. Technically speaking, it is more complicated
than the third type but strictly speaking, it's easier from
a design point of view. This fan was a tough one to figure
out. I only had one picture of this type of fan; from the
twelfth century. I had several illustrations and a couple
of quotes on it but nothing really concrete to go on.
I started out by creating the fan element. I used parchment
paper again but did not size it. I cut two pieces of standard
paper in half lengthwise and glued them together at the ends
to make one long piece of paper. Then I carefully folded the
paper using three quarter inch increments. One piece of advice
on this; be as concise and careful as you can on this part.
It really shows when you screw up...
After folding the entire length of paper into the fan, I
cut two pieces of heavy cardboard the same size as one fold
and then covered them with the same type of parchment paper.
I then glued them onto the ends of the folded fan. In many
of the quotes I had read, specific mention was mad that the
fan was 'pulled' down to open it. I knew that paper would
not long survive being pulled own and fastened somehow to
the handle so I opted to reinforce the ends with cardboard.
this was done, it was time for me to make the handle and the
base for the fan. After much experimentation (flapping the
fan around to see what would happen) I realized that sideways
stability was not good. I further realized that something
would have to thread through the base of the folds to keep
them in line. So I made a eyebolt of sorts out of some heavy
wire. This helped keep the fan in place when it was opened
up and provided a means to secure it into its base.
Then I turned to the problem of sideways stability... or
lack thereof. I looked through all my sources again and concentrated
on them, looking specifically at the central motif. It appeared
to me that there was a stiff roundel of sorts that sandwiched
the fan and kept it from flapping around. After experimenting
with some cardboard, I decided on a design and cut two of
it out of some craft wood. I engineered it so that the fan
with its eyebolt would attach to the base. Then a pin would
be placed through the eyebolt and attached to the two roundels
which would in turn also attach to the base. I prepped the
handle and the base, as well as drilling out a couple more
wood beads and got ready to put it all together.
And Then I Changed My Mind -
once in a while, I will change direction midstream. Mostly
because I find something else that works much better than
what I was originally going to use. Thus is the case of this
particular change. I was wandering down the vast and heavenly
aisles of Home Depot one day, drooling over some wood flooring,
when I came to a display of wood motifs. Victorian reproductions
and Rococo designs... stuff like that. There, right in front
of me, were a number of motifs that I instantly realized would
work really well on a fan handle, either to cover a seam or
as an additional embellishment. I brought my treasure home,
threw out the roundels I had cut out, and decided to use the
roundels from Home Depot instead. I like them much better.
So I scrapped the roundels I had made, drilled the new ones
out and glued the pin to one of them. I put the wood parts
of the handle together and glued the fan eyebolt to the base.
A word about this base is in order here. The shape is very
specific. It has to be tapered so that the fan can open up.
I originally had it simply square but the cardboard ends of
the fan hit it and it prevented them from opening the fan
completely. Tapering it allowed for the fan to open almost
all the way.
After all the wood pieces were glued together but BEFORE
the roundels and the fan were glued in place, I painted the
base, handle and roundels. After they dried, I put everything
together with glue and clamped it down to dry.
I would estimate the cost of this particular fan to be right
around five dollars but that is mainly due to the cost of
the roundels. A package of two at Home Depot ran around four
|Putting everything together with glue...
||Clamping in place.
|The fan open, with the addition of tassel ties and a
bit of gold accent.
||The fan closed and tied together at the top.
is Fun! -
Remember that trip to Home Depot I was talking about earlier?
I found some other wood accents there as well. And I thought
to myself, "why not use these?" instead of carving
it all out myself? The large accents looked suspiciously like
what I wanted to do anyway... so I decided to cheat. Eventually,
I would like to carve out a fan by hand but that will be for
later. Incidentally, it is my theory that many of the fans
we see in portraits that look to be gold are really gilded
To start, I glued the two larger accents together and clamped
them to get a tight bond. Once they were dry, I drew out a
handle on a piece of scrap wood and laid it all together to
test fit and to see where I wanted to put the other accents.
I had a good idea as to what the top and bottom of the handle
needed to look like, it was time to cut it out and shape it
so that it fit in the hand a bit better. I carved it down
using a carving knife. I know what you're thinking: must have
took hours. Not really. I think it actually took me a single
hour to cut it out and shape it as well as sand it smooth.
If you're intimidated by this type of handle, a similar handle
and base to the folding fan above could also be constructed
but I would advise a slightly bigger dowel for the handle
part if you go this route.
After the shaping was all done and the handle sanded smooth,
it was time to glue it all together. I decided, based on the
weight of the accents, to pin the handle to them with a piece
of dowel. Once this was done, I cut the smaller accents in
half, one half to be used to sandwich the pinned handle and
accents together. This would also serve to cover up that seam
and neaten it up a bit. Everything was glued into place and
then clamps were applied to make the bond good and tight.
|Head of fan with pin and handle...
||Fan parts, glued and clamped.
After the glue had dried, it was time to paint or 'gild'
the fan. As you can see below, this part was pretty straightforward.
After the fan was painted, I drilled five small holes in each
scallop to make a place to insert the feathers; two slightly
in front and three in the rear.
Word About A Source -
I may have mentioned The Valois Tapestries in earlier demos.
It's a really great book if you're trying to research a late
sixteenth century persona. It's got pictures of the tapestries
which show the various types of dress of the Valois family.
One picture in particular shows Louise de Lorraine with...
a fan. This picture can be seen to the right.
The remarkable thing about Louise's fan is that it is fairly
large and looks like it is wood. It's hard to tell without
actually seeing the tapestries in person and even then, it
might be hard to tell if the tapestry maker meant for the
tan threads to simulate gold or not. Either way, I was struck
by how closely the wood accents I had found at Home Depot
matched Louise's fan.
All in all, this particular fan was the most expensive to
make. The feathers cost around three dollars (two bags...
I almost ran out so I would advise three). The wood accents
cost four dollars each. All total, I'd estimate that this
fan cost around twelve dollars in materials. Additionally,
I think that I would do the handle differently next time,
using dowel instead of carving it out. It's a bit clunky.
It does work nicely however.
Last but Not Least -
Which fan works best? Which fan is period for your persona?
The flag fan, surprisingly enough, worked the best for creating
a breeze, followed closely by the folding fan. The feather
fan came in last. This could be fixed by adding more feathers,
As far as persona is concerned, any one of these three were
used in Italy in the late sixteenth century. The picture to
the right shows that the feather fan, at least, was used in
France during this time period. Several portraits of Queen
Elizabeth also show similar feather fans.
How ever you look at it, a fan was a decedent clothing accessory.
Only the very wealthy could afford them. The three fans above
show what can be done with minimal materials. Adding pearls
or other semiprecious stones or even cast metal pieces would
make these fans even more decedent.