You've made a gorgeous silk (or silk-ish) 18th century gown and are all set to head off to a fabulous Halloween party, or re-enactment ball, or whatever, but you need a fan (it's going to be hot). Put down that plastic and lace covered modern monstrosity and get out some simple stuff from the craft store to make an easy fan that looks perfect with your fancy dress.
Simple wood and paper fan - plain wood with white paper is easiest
White paint (acrylic/enamel/etc.)
White glue or tacky glue
Metallic Gold marker or paint
Other color markers/paint - blue, green, rose are good
Stencils or a very steady hand
18th century style color images - printouts from a color printer are fine.
Some things you can use are: artwork, portraits, fashion plates, ballooning prints, etc.
Step 1: Let's Look at Some Reference Fans
First let's look at some antique fans.
In the Western world (let's generalize as Europe, eastern Russia, the colonized Americas) in the 18th century, fans were fairly ubiquitous fashion accessories. They ranged from very expensive ivory and silk masterpieces to cheap wood and printed paper souvenirs. They were fairly large, probably 10 to 12 inches long, and at least in the later part of the century (let's say about 1750-1800) had some general characteristics: 3 image cartouches; curlicues and floral decorations; and sticks with some space in between.
The images above are antique fans and they fit this mode. The Met Museum, De Young museum, and the V&A museum all have excellent hand fan collections and easily searchable online collections.
Step 2: Collect Images for Your Fan
For this example we are making an 18th century style ballooning fan. Hot Air balloon ascents were big novelties in the 1780s and 1790s and there were fans produced as souvenirs.
A google image search found some prints of hot air balloon ascents. I copied some over to a word processing, but you can use any image or word program you'd like, and scaled them to fit on one page. Other ideas for fans are: 18th century portraits, fashion plates, landscapes, historical figures, animals. You can also make a totally modern fan in this style and use whatever you want.
Step 3: Cut and Arrange on the Fan
The idea behind this construction method is to make it easy. Since the fan sticks are already connected to the paper leaf we are going to leave it like that and just squish the fan flat to decorate. The folds are already there and will fold back up.
Spread out your fan leaf to its full extent and either tape with some easily removable tape (blue masking tape), or pin into a backing material, a cork board or ironing table would work.
Print your color images and cut to size. Fans from this era typically have one larger central image and two smaller ones on either side. Move things around until you like where they are.
Step 4: Glue Your Images to the Fan
Get out your white glue (or glue stick) and permanently affix the images to the fan leaf. Allow the glue to dry before decorating your fan.
Step 5: Decorate Your Fan and Refold
Use paint or markers to decorate your fan.
Almost all the fans from this era have a border around the images. Many also have a gold painted line at the top and bottom of the fan leaf.
You might also want to add other painted or drawn decorations. I like using stencils for these since I have trouble getting lines straight. My favorite are the adhesive removable ones from Martha Stewart.
You could also use stamps for decorating and you can add sequins. Many fancy 18th century fans had sequins along the painted lines for extra bling.
You can also paint the fan sticks for a more finished and historical look. A white or ivory color with gold decorations is especially nice.
Allow your paint to dry completely before un-taping/unpinning your fan.
Once your fan is dry, fold it carefully along the original folds. You can then wrap a couple of rubber bands around the folded fan and leave it overnight. This will help set your images into the fan folds.