Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Adventures in fan making

If you're looking to buy a Victorian fan there are 3462354146518941648416445814347683468734 available, but if you're trying to find one for an 18th century costume, there are like none anywhere.  You might be able to find a real antique, but even those are slim pickins.

So why not just substitute a Victorian fan? Well to start, there's a big difference between the two. If you don't really care, have at it. There's a million to choose from at every price point. But if you really want to look the part, here are a few differences to point out between Georgian/Rococo and Victorian:

- 18th century fans are much larger than those of the 19th century
- Through most of the 1700's, except a brief bit mid-century, fans don't open to a full half circle, while most Victorian fans do
- 18th century fans are not usually made of lace.
- 18th century fans do not have the "U" shaped bracket at the bottom, or anything hanging from them (i.e. tassel, ribbon). This bracket came around in the 19th century when chatelaines started showing up in evening wear - you could hang your fan from it.

For comparison, 19th century examples:

And from the 18th century:

There are also some Victorian reproductions of Rococo fans. Very interesting...

1909, eBay. Oooh look it's Georgiana on the left!
1890's, eBay
If you're still looking to buy, stay away from lace, tassels, plastic, and any overly victorian-looking motifs. Do try to find a find a fan made with natural materials. Chinese fans and brise fans make good substitutes. Brise fans were available in the 18th century, just larger than the ones available today. Just remove the fish line holding it together and replace with thread or ribbon. Chinese fans work because they evoke the chinoiserie style that was very popular in the 1700's. Spanish fans are lovely, but most often have themes that are very victorian looking, like frilly, floral scenes. Classical/mythological and pastoral scenes are what to look for.

So what to do if none of this works for you? Make one!

A while ago I ordered a whole selection of fans to try monkeying with. They're all a little small, but I'm no woodworker, so until I can find longer (and fancier) fan staves (the sticks) I'm working with what I've got. I chose the fan with the cherryblossom design because of the interesting cutout work. Just to note, the black fan actually looks pretty good. If you cut of the bracket at the bottom, it's pretty ready to go - only problem is it's made of plastic, but the sequins are very good for the 18th century look. I don't know where I got the brise fan, unfortunately.

To start, I peeled off the fabric, which was a kind of nylon so it came off very easy. The sticks are actually really flimsy, so I wouldn't 100% recommend it to others. If I did this again I would most likely go with the all white fan above, which I got from Jas. Townsend

After I took off the fabric, I flattened it out and traced it onto white paper, then I scanned this into my photoshop. It was bigger than 8.5x11 so I cut it in half, scanned one side, and then copied, pasted, and horizontally flipped half to create the whole fan pattern in the computer. I took a clip art of a picture frame and copy/pasted eliptical selections from three Fragonard paintings into it, then placed the three on the blank fan and used the paint bucket and paint brush to fill in the background. I chose a light yellow.  For the back I used a Gainsborough landscape.

From left: Stolen Kiss, The Bolt and Interrupted Sleep. All by Fragonard.
River Landscape, Gainsborough 1768-1770

To print, I printed half sections of front and back and assembled them with glue stick. Around the edges I used a mixture of bright gold and antique gold acrylic paint to create a border. I also dotted a scalloped motif, with the same mix of paint, on the front half. 

I took the fan staves apart and painted each one with white acrylic. I added a gold vine motif on the outside staves. When they dried I put them back together and secured the paper to the outermost staves first. Then I spaced the inner staves appropriately and used scotch spray glue to spray them all at once and then sandwich the paper closed over the sticks. The only problems I found here were, first, the acrylic kind of sticks to itself, even when dry, so the staves were hard to manipulate. Next time I would used a different kind of paint, like maybe Testors enamel. Second, the pattern I traced somehow ended up about 1/4" larger than it should have been (maybe in the print process), so it overshoots the sticks at the top of the fan. Other than it, it was a fairly good project, if a little tedious (so many fan parts!). I wanted to add little gold sequins to it, but the ones I have are very quality spangles I use for goldwork embroidery, and I thought maybe I should wait and make a proper silk fan for those. This one is paper after all.

So here it is:

Shown with wig by Antoinette's Atelier (decorated by moi)
and Hangisi shoes from Monolo Blahnik

** A note about the shoes. I bought these Manolos a couple years back (they were in Sex and the City), but if you're not in the market for real ones, when I was looking for the link to Saks to post above, I came across a knock off version you can totally buy for costuming. If nothing else, I'm almost tempted to buy them just to rip off the rhinestone buckles and reuse them. Just a thought... And P.S. If you do get the real ones, take care how you step. The rhinestone settings totally tear up the satin on the other shoe when you walk. I took them back to Manolo Blahnik and they basically told me, ya other people complained too but they can't do anything about it so tough. Kind of a bummer :( but hey, they're beautiful! 

Update! 9-11-12: A reader has informed me that a few of the above fans exampled are from Boston Museum of Fine Arts, from "Unfolding Beauty: The Art of the Fan". Thank you!


  1. Hey, that was great! So much information, and FYI: The wonderful Fan Museum in Greenwich, England! Check it out!

  2. Btw, there *were* 18th century lace fans:

    I recognise 3 of the ones from the above article as being from the Ester Oldham fan collection in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They're reproduced from "Unfolding Beauty: The Art of the Fan".

  3. Btw, there *were* 18th century lace fans:

    I recognise 3 of the ones from the above article as being from the Ester Oldham fan collection in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They're reproduced from "Unfolding Beauty: The Art of the Fan".

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  5. I know this entry is from more than 2 years ago but I tried to make my own fan like you did here, but unfortunately when I tried to fold it after putting it onto the sticks it did not fold evenly. I am going to have to rip the paper off and start over. How do we glue it to the sticks in an even spaced distance so that it folds correctly? Do we need to measure and make a sort of math calculation based on the number of sticks and the width of the paper and make marks at each point?

    1. Oh gosh yes! Mine does this too :( It doesn't go together properly. Perhaps a more mathematical approach would fix it, but I think the problem was more the bulk of the paper...