How to look after antique fans

Our tips on looking after antique fans and how to re-ribbon one

How to fix an antique fan

Fans may not be the status symbols or essential fashion accessories they once were, but they remain visually appealing and historically fascinating. An antique fan should be stored folded and wrapped in acid-free paper – fans left open for long periods of time may become structurally distorted and won’t close properly. If you do choose to display fans open, keep them behind glass to safeguard from dust. Rotate your collection and don’t leave a fan exposed to light for too long.

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Repairing a damaged fan can be complex, so seek expert advice before you embark on restoration. Whatever the age or quality, the usual rules apply: keep repairs to a minimum and only undertake restoration using reversible methods. Glue for paper repairs should be water-soluble and starch-based with no additives. Above all, never use Sellotape – it leaves a glue deposit that is impossible to remove. Re-ribboning is a relatively straightforward repair that can give a new lease of life to a dilapidated fan.

decorative fan, fan, antique dealer, antique store, antique shop, Liulicheng Street, Beijing, Beijing Municipality, China, Asia
Robert Fried / Alamy Stock Photo

To re-ribbon a fan, you will need:

  • Selvedge-free ribbon of similar width, colour and type to the original
  • White PVA, water-soluble fabric glue, available from a specialist supplier
  • Stiff paper
  • Sharp scissors
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How to fix an antique fan:

  1. Make the end of the ribbon rigid by glueing a small piece of stiff paper over it. Leave it to dry.
  2. Cut the stiffened end into a sharp point, to help with threading through the holes.
  3. For fans with three holes in each stick, start at the right-hand side, leaving the guard stick loose. Thread down through the first hole, up through the second and down through the third.
  4. Glue the ribbon to the sticks on the reverse, between the first and the second holes.
  5. Leave to dry before moving on to the next stick, leaving enough ribbon for the fan to open.
  6. When all of the sticks are threaded, glue the ribbon to the guards to finish.