The flat fan is a favorite object that has been carried by the American Indian for many years and is found in a number of different styles over a wide region of the United States. It is most commonly carried by both male and female dancers and other powwow participants, as well as being used for religious purposes. It is also a very practical item for use in cooling its owner on a hot, summer day. This style fan has gone through many refinements and reached its peak of development among the tribes of Oklahoma, the Northern Plains and the Northwest, where it is most popular today.
Unfortunately, the best feathers for a fan of this type are the tail feathers of the golden eagle or one of the many varieties of hawks, which are federally protected and unavailable. For this reason, I will describe how to use readily available imitation eagle feathers to make an excellent quality fan that is a very close facsimile of the real thing.
In order to achieve the finest quality finished fan, only the very best materials should be used. The best imitation eagle feathers available are the “hand-painted” variety, which are sold by most Indian craft suppliers. These are generally trimmed and straightened and can be purchased in matched sets, especially designed for making fans. The next best feathers to use are standard, dip-dyed imitation eagle which can be trimmed and straightened to make them look much more like the real thing. It is very important to remember that a modern fan should be a thing of beauty, with the handle being rather delicate and
balanced in size to the feathers being used. The main feathers should be set so as to give them a completely natural look, just as the tail would appear when on the bird. Look at the photographs in this article as well as fans found in museums. The internet is an excellent tool that has opened up hundreds of museum and other websites which post photographs of some of the finest material in the country and most are quite easily accessed for research.
If you are using hand painted feathers which have already been matched, straightened and trimmed, normally you can skip Steps 1-3 and begin with Step 4; however, sometimes it might be necessary to do a small amount of straightening or trimming on these feathers as well.
First, determine which feathers are “lefts” and which are “rights”. Spread them out with the shiny sides up and you will see