Source: Cesare Vecellio's costume woodcuts in Clothing of the Renaissance World. Thames and Hudson, London, 2008.
Date: 1590
Medium & Technique: For this particular fan I decided on wood for the handle, varnished in a walnut stain; woven hat straw which I interwove in a simple basket weave for the flag; and decorative upholstery nails for capping the top and bottom of the handle.
Dimensions: Dimensions for these appear to vary, with some having shorter handles, as in the above image, and some have longer handles. The fan itself usually appears to make up one-third to one-fourth the finished length of the whole.

Materials I used:

Pine dowel, cut to 60.5cm (23.5 inches) in length.
British Paints Stain and Varnish, Walnut
Tacks: 1.6mm long
Upholstery hammer-head nails in 'Florentine Bronze'
Woven hat straw, cut into strips in the required length
Cotton thread in a colour matching the straw.

A Venetian Ventuolo or Weathervane Fan
(Usually referred to as a Flag Fan)

"...and in their hands they carry very beautiful woven fans..."

[Cesare Vecellio, 1590, trans M. Rosenthal, Clothing of the Renaissance World.
 Thames and Hudson, London, 2008]

This was made with the aim of testing out the method of construction/attachment of the flag. Since I have so far discovered no accounts of how they were put together, it was a matter of trial and error (and there was a doozy of an error!) With that in mind I decided to make a utilitarian, everyday kind of fan, instead of an ornate and highly decorative one. Having made it, I was surprised by how much the polished wood of the handle and textured but glossy woven straw of the flag pleased me.

For this particular style of fan, Vecellio mentions gold and silver being used for the handles, and cloth-of-gold and silk for the flag. There are many more mentions of fans without any description as to what they were made from. For other styles of fans, feathers and straw decorated with tremoli (spangles) "of gold or silk" are mentioned for the air-moving part, whilst ebony is also mentioned for a handle. Other sources mention the use of paper or parchment for the making of the flag.

Quite some time before I first started on the fan, however, I had found an image online of an extant fan. Upon contacting the museum I was put in touch with the curator who informed me the flag was made from woven straw: a very fine straw, and very finely woven. It was this fan that was to be the inspiration for my fan, although it was only some years later that I chanced upon the hat straw on eBay.

I actually began on the weaving of the flag about two or three years before I finished it, so the three images I have of the weaving process aren't very good, as they were taken on a low quality digital camera. The unfinished flag lay in a box somewhere for all that time as one of those UFOs we all seem to accumulate, but once I had decided to finish it it took me only a few days to complete it. It would have been even less, but I had to let the varnish for the handle dry for several hours between coats, and also had to deal with the doozy of an error.

This photo shows the beginning of the weaving process. The lengths of straw were sewn together along one edge, then woven together in a simple basket-weave.

A close-up of the first rows of weaving the straw. The strips of straw were sewn together only along one edge to begin with, using doubled cotton thread in a brown matching the straw.

This is what it looked like when it was almost all done. When I was satisfied with the number of rows I trimmed the strips of straw to length and stitched the lengths of straw together along the remaining three edges.


Once the flag was finished I made the handle by cutting a length of pine dowel 60.5cm (23.5 inches) long. It was darkened to a walnut finish using three coats of British Paints Stain and Varnish (Satin). I then neatened the cut ends of the handle by nailing in upholstery hammer head nails in 'Florentine Bronze'.

To steady the dowel for the application of the flag, I secured the ends using two clamps and a bit of scrap calico to make sure the handle didn't get marked by the clamps.

To attach the flag I used 1.6mm long tacks. This photo was taken during the first attempt to nail the flag to the handle. Unfortunately, I got carried away and tried to nail the end of every single length of straw - the handle split on the back. I didn't discover this until I'd nailed them all in and turned it over. I was very irritated with myself for not having thought of the possibility of this occurring, to say the least. But I had more dowel, so on to attempt number two.

I had to remove the flag from the handle to be able to re-use it on a new handle, but removing those tacks to get it off was going to be impossible. So I took another length of straw and stitched it to the back of the flag, close to the handle. This was to secure what would become the cut ends of the flag. I then cut the flag away from the handle. This made the flag only slightly smaller, and it ended up a slightly better, more rectangular shape, so I was content.

The end result of attempt number two - success! Only five tacks were used - one at the top, middle and bottom of the flag, then one in between those. I also took care to choose tacks with a slighter smaller head/thickness/length than the others, as well as making sure to attach the flag a little down from the top end of the handle to avoid the shaft of the hammer head nail in the top of the handle, which is quite long.

The last step was to neaten it by adding lengths of straw along each edge on both sides of the fan: the three loose edges on the back of the fan, and all four edges on the front. I briefly considered sewing them down, but in the end thought better of it as I didn't think I could sew it down inconspicuously enough. I decided to do it instead by using hot glue, mitring the ends for a neat finish. This photo is of the last piece about to be glued in place on the front of the fan.

Voila! One finished flag fan. Reinforcing the edges by adding extra lengths of straw not only provides a nice neat finish, it also adds a little extra rigidity which creates a very nice breeze indeed.

The finished flag fan, with my scissors for scale.

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2001 - 2015 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.