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Sequins
Beauty in Hand: The Art of the Hand Fan

Sequins

Sequins are small bits of shiny metal used for decorative purposes. The word sequin originated from the Arabic sikka, meaning “coin.” Since the seventeenth century, these disc-shaped beads have been sewn onto clothing, such as bonnets, dresses, jackets and hand fans. Sequins made these garments and accessories more luxurious as sewing precious metals (commonly silver and gold) onto clothing referenced wealth. Base metals including tin or copper were also used to make sequins. Today, sequins are often made from plastic, gelatin or mylar.

Unknown Maker, Fan, 1850–1870

This fan, made from ivory, gold, sequins and silk, was known as the “Jenny Lind” fan (fig. 1). Swedish-born Lind was a popular singer in the nineteenth century. Commercial items ranging from pianos, sofas and even hand fans were sold under the Lind name.

The fan’s sticks are made from delicately carved ivory, making it appear artistic and sculptural. The gold handle and silk tassel add grandeur to this seemingly simple object. Silver sequins were carefully sewn onto the blue fabric leaves. Each piece of fabric would have been individually cut out of silk in the shape of a small feather. The use of several pieces of fabric (one piece of fabric per stick, like the Jenny Lind fan features) classifies it as a brise fan, meaning “broken.” More typical folding fans only have a single, pleated piece of fabric to comprise the leaf. 

This fan was likely used by Eliza Gordon, wife of Queen’s University principal Daniel Miner Gordon (appointed in 1902). The sky-blue colour is very similar to a day dress that Gordon owned from the same time period (figs. 2–3). It is uncertain whether the fan was purchased to go with the dress. However, it was likely a favourite colour of Gordon’s as she had many items in the same hue.

 

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Eliza Gordon (1835–1910)

Click to learn more about Eliza Gordon and her connection to Queen’s University and the cultural life of Kingston.

The Woman
Eliza Gordon (1835–1910)
Eliza Gordon (1835–1910)
Eliza Gordon (1835–1910)
 

 

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Unknown Maker, Fan, Unknown Date

Sheer black fabric was used to create this fan, which is covered in silver sequins (figs. 4–5). These sequins glimmer in the light and would have been added with care and precision. Attached to a black metal handle are eight elaborate sticks of carved ebony. Ebony carving is a laborious process due to the nature of the material—it is tough and splintery. Therefore, a skilled carver or craftsperson would have been involved in the creation of this fan.

The sticks and sequins that fashioned this fan would have been a talking point among women. The choice of material and decoration of one’s fan served as a claim to character, cultural taste and fashionable sentiment. In addition to looking stylish, this fan would have been used to cool oneself on a warm evening or block one’s face from the beaming sun during the day. This purpose is similar to parasols, which shielded users from the elements during outdoor leisure activities. This particular parasol from the Agnes’s collection (fig. 6) is adorned with decorative embellishments (beads) that would have been attached with steady hands and careful eyes (fig. 7). Sequins and beads add to the allure of these objects as pieces of art and products of the creative mind.

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Footnotes
Image Credits