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Eastern European:

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Ancillary Arts
- Fans
- Pouch Hinges, Part 1
- Pouch Hinges, Part 2

Demonstrations>Ancillary Arts>Three Types of Sixteenth Century Fans

An Apology -

The 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 -

Flag 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 lace.

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 real parchment.

Once 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 -

And 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.

Once 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 -

Every 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 dollars.

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.

Cheating 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 wood.

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.

Once 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.

Fan handle, ready to be 'gilded'.
Gilded fan handle, drilled, with feathers being inserted.
The finished product.

A 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? Good questions.

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, I suspect.

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.

Happy Accesorizing!

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