1780's style fan. Silk leaf with sequins on vintage bone sticks. 2006.

While not a formally educated expert, I do know a lot about 18th century fans and I am always doing my best to make my fans as period correct as possible. My present stock of  unused  or recycled "skeletons" or sticks, antique or modern ones, however, is limited, which means that I often have to compromise on the matter. As you surely understand, it is impossible for me to paint a set of modern replacement sticks to look exactly like the sumptously carved and gilded things of ivory or mother of pearl that makes the skeletons of the original fans. Even if I tried, it would turn out to be ridicously expensive, not to mention time consuming.
Most fans are mounted on wooden sticks or, in some cases, antique/vintage bone sticks without telltale modern or Victorian decorations on them.

The leaves

In the 1700's, the leaves were generally made of paper, vellum or silk (and in rarer cases, lace or muslin). For my fans, I use paper or silk.
Paper leaves are relatively easy to make, require no special care during the design and painting process and can be decorated with sequins (glued or sewn on) just like silk leaves. I always use period correct, laid paper for my fan leaves.

Silk leaves are lovely indeed – but they have to be nailed tightly onto a frame and prepared with a special lacquer mix before being painted, and the silk constantly stretches and moves as fabrics do which can ruin it all during the critical folding process.
Silk leaves with embroideries always need a firm backing of gauze or paper to protect the threads.
Original fans almost always have double leaves with an obverse and a reverse side, with a simplified version of the painting on the reverse. Apparently, it was only English fans that had single leaves, and these were often still painted with flowers or monograms on top of the visible sticks on the reverse.
Unfortunately, modern paper is thicker and at the same time more fragile than its 18th century equivalent, so double paper leaves are not always possible to make. Sometimes the reverse can still be decorated on single leaves, as described above.

Detail from a silk fan inspired by an original from 1783.
The sticks

The basic shapes of 18th century fans. (C) Aurora
Basically, most sticks that are not too small or fontange/balloon shaped can be used – if they are discreet enough not to mismatch the leaf. Plain wooden sticks can be painted and decorated with simple designs if desired.
In the 18th century, fans were most often larger than the typical Asian or Spanish fans of today – about 28 cms closed, compared to the usual 22 cms of the latter. Chinese wooden sticks (of the larger type) usually works - especially since chinoiserie designs were all the rage back in the days. As a rule, plain and undecorated sticks are better than anything that looks too Victorian or modern.

I prefer to avoid plastic sticks at all costs, but if they are made to look like tortoiseshell it works in some cases.


1 set of black wooden sticks painted with an authentic chinoiserie design, suitable for anything between the 1770's and the mid-90's.