The making of fans, traditionally with wooden sticks (montures) and painted paper leaves.
|Historic area of significance
|The City of London
|Area currently practised
|Origin in the UK
|Current no. of professionals (main income)
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees
See other information for details of the Worshipful Company of Fanmakers heritage craft project
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Fans are believed to date from around 3000BC, and were found in both Europe and the Far East. The earliest fans were fixed rather than folding. It is believed that the folding fan was developed in Japan and spread west to China. The first European folding fans were inspired by those brought back from the Far East and were reserved for royalty and the nobility. A fan consists of two parts: the monture (sticks and guards) and the leaf (the paper). Montures at this time were made from luxury materials such as ivory, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell, often carved and pierced and ornamented with silver, gold and precious stones. The leaves were painted by craftsmen (Fan Museum).
At the start of the seventeenth century, the fixed fan was still the norm in Europe, but by the end of the century folding fans had taken over. By the start of the eighteenth century folding fans were made throughout Europe and also imported from the Far East. At this time, the printed fan was also developed – these were much cheaper to make, and fans suddenly became accessible to a much wider audience. In the nineteenth century, brisé fans and printed fans dominated the cheaper end of the market, while the high end market was dominated by extremely lavish fans. The early twentieth century was dominated by advertising fans and feather fans for high society (Fan Museum).
Today, the fan is no longer a vital accessory, but commemorative fans are still produced for special occasions. See the Fan Museum website for a detailed history of the fan.
Types of fan:
Folding fan: consisting of a pleated leaf, usually paper, fixed to sticks.
Brisé fan: consisting of the sticks only with no leaf, often joined at the top by a ribbon.
Cockade fan: opens all the way round like a lollipop.
Fontage fan: a folding fan used for advertising.
Historically the labour to make a fan was divided into stick assemblers, paper folders and fan painters.
- stick making
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Changing tastes: Fans are no longer the must-have accessories they once were, and so there is very little demand.
Market issues: Fans are no longer the must-have accessories they once were, and so there is very little demand and it is very difficult to make a living from fan making.
Funding issues: The Fan Museum in Greenwich plays a vital role in supporting the craft of fan making but receives no funding from government, and struggles to cover the costs of materials for the fan making workshops it runs.
Training issues: The Fan Museum in Greenwich runs monthly fan making workshops (six participants per class) but materials and tools are limited.
The Fan Museum – based in Greenwich, runs monthly beginners’ workshops.
- Fan Circle International
Craftspeople currently known
- Caroline Allington – highly skilled teacher of fan making, leading workshops both
at The Fan Museum and outreach for over 25 years.
- Stuart Johnson – makes and sells fan sticks and fans, and works with lace makers.
- Victoria Ajoku – makes fans under the name ‘Fan The Glory With Tori’’. Victoria continues to apply for funding for equipment to enable the delivery of workshops using materials other than paper and to grow its team of makers and volunteers.
- Lorraine Taylor Kent – amateur maker and conservator of fans
- Kate Colin – is currently undergoing training in fan making with funding from the
HCA’s Endangered Craft Fund
Others of note:
- Sarah Baile – The Fan Museum’s conservator but not a maker of original fans.
- Charles Summers – a professional artist/fan painter rather than a fan maker. Has
painted fan leaves for Royalty and worked on numerous commissions for The Fan
- John Brooker, a skilled fan stick maker, relocated to the USA in 2018.
The Heritage Craft Project by the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers
After two and a half years of research the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers have formed a partnership between UAL/Chelsea College of Art and West Dean College. UAL have set-up two modules on fans and fan making, over a four month period ,as part of their year 2 design degree students curriculum.
Chelsea Art College – In 2021 48 students completed a three month project “Re-thinking the fan” in which they studied the folding fan. The Worshipful Company of fan Makers selected the best ten student designs and students were sent down to West Dean for a one week residential course. This will be repeated for a further three years.
West Dean – In order to generate interest in the subject West Dean ran a series of one day fan making courses. There was great interest and all four one day courses were over subscribed, with 24 mature students studying the subject. West Dean organised and ran the one week’s residential course for the ten Chelsea students. The course involved specialist lecturers and tutors, ranging from paper folding engineers ,woodworkers to jewellers. One of the students has gone on to the RCA and intends to continue with her fan making studies.
The project will run for ten years and, in that time, the hope is to produce 2-3 fan makers who can make a living from the subject.
The Worshipful Company of Fanmakers have introduced a new bursary with UAL/Chelsea College of Art called the “Fan Makers Insite Bursary”. This is awarded to a new student who wishes to study the BA Hons Product Design course, It is an award of £15k spread over three years. The first recipient is currently studying product design at St Martins School of Art.
The Worshipful Company can now also be found on Instagram