small measures

small measures with ashley: cooling off with hand fans

by Ashley

[image above by Paloma Sia Designs]

As I write this, a good portion of the United States is in the throes of a serious heat wave. It’s crazy hot out there. Do the Right Thing hot. Dangerously hot. From coast to coast, people are looking for cooling down solutions. Because I’ve never been much of a fan of complaining, and am especially opposed to weather-based complaints, I’ve been on the hunt for means of remaining whine-free during these blazing days (although, admittedly, being pregnant in the summer in a house without a/c has tested the limits of my no-complain policy; thanks to my loving hubs for putting up with my repeated pronouncements of “And this is PRECISELY why we need to move to the San Juan Islands north of Seattle!” when I feel especially miserable).

In recognition of our collective need to keep cool and carry on, today’s Small Measure focuses on the decidedly low-fi hand fan. Several years ago, I picked up collapsible wooden fans for myself, my mother, and my editor. That fan lives squarely in my purse all summer long, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. Creating a breeze where none exists can be an absolute saving grace on the most vicious days of scorching heat.

Numerous cultures the world over have their own take on the hand fan. Weather fashioned from silk, paper, wood, metal, bamboo, lace, or palm, hand fans are employed to cool down hot bodies from Barcelona to Burkina Faso, from Nagano to Nigeria. I especially love these African hand-crafted colorful beauties (these, too).  Handmade in Cambodia, these offerings are fashioned from real palm leaves while these Filipino lovelies are crafted out of straw (I could see purchasing these in bulk to use for a summer wedding, family reunion, or backyard barbecue). Speaking of weddings, this site contains a wealth of accordion and paddle-style hand fans for those with nuptials on the hot weather horizon.

If you’d like a statement piece that’s handcrafted to last, these wooden hand fans are truly gorgeous. Similarly, these silk and bamboo Japanese fans would do double duty, cooling you off and keeping you looking chic at the same time. I also found two Etsy purveyors of handcrafted hand fans. Paloma Sia Designs are made in Spain and individually painted by Paloma herself, while Olele (image above), also in Spain, presents modern designs using wooden Spanish staves for the body and cotton fabric for the fan itself (she also packs her fans in faux-leather cases so you can safely transport her lovely creations anywhere the heat takes you!).

CLICK HERE for the rest of ashley’s post (including the “secret language” of fans and additional tips for staying cool during the summer) after the jump!

[image above by Paloma Sia Designs]

[image above: Olele]

[images above, both from ideco]

While it may seem that a hand fan’s only function is to cool off its holder, that wasn’t always the case. In the 18th century, women, who were much more socially repressed at the time in their abilities to speak their minds freely, carried a world of meaning in the manner in which their fans were held. Somewhat akin to the secret language of flowers used by the Victorians to express sentiments, holding a fan in a certain manner silently conveyed the way in which a woman of the time was feeling. Here’s a sampling of fan language meanings:

Touching right cheek – yes

Touching left cheek – no

Twirling in left hand – we are watched

Twirling in right hand – I love another

Fanning slowly – I am married

Fanning quickly – I am engaged

Open and shut – you are cruel

Open wide – wait for me

Presented shut – do you love me?

With handle to lip – Kiss me

In right hand in front of face – Follow me

Drawing across the cheek – I love you

Placing on left ear – I wish to get rid of you

Twirling in right hand – I love another

(Thanks to the Covent Garden Minuet Company for clueing me in to the antiquated meaning of fan holding).

If you’re more the do-it-yourself type, this tutorial presents ideas for whipping up Paddle, Folded, or Japanese replica hand fans using simple craft supplies.

Of course, hand fans aren’t the only low-fi means of cooling down when the mercury soars. Here’s a list of additional small measures you can take in lieu of cranking up the a.c.:

-Wear floppy hats when outdoors.

-Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing (as a person possessing a rather dark color palette, this is my constant summer struggle).

-Make every attempt to avoid outdoor activities, or strenuous indoor, a.c.-free activities, during the hottest hours of the day (that’s prime siesta time!).

-Place window blinds or dark, light-weight fabric curtains over those windows letting in the greatest amount of sunshine.

-Keep yourself hydrated, all day long, all summer long.

-Cool yourself off with a quick, cool water shower (if you have long hair like me, this is the best possible means I’ve found of cooling off my entire body in a hurry).

-Make use of public swimming areas, whether that’s a publicly maintained pool, the ocean, a lake, a creek, or a mountain stream (which I intend to go on the prowl for with my dogs and husband as soon as I’m done penning today’s post!).

-Keep the kitchen cool by making smoothies, grilling outdoors, blending up cold soups like gazpacho, and eating cold pasta and egg salads. YUM!

Got any go-to tips for cooling off? I’d love to hear about them. Otherwise, I wish you a chilled out weekend (I’ll be celebrating my 34th b-day this Sunday, outdoors, at home, with some friends and a build-your-own taco buffet bonanza. You better believe I’ll be drawing my fan demurely across my face, letting my buddies all know just how much I love them-although none of them will probably have idea what I’m silently saying!). –ashley

Suggested For You


  • I fill a sock with rice, tie a knot at the top, and stick it in the freezer. When it’s cold, I drape it around my neck and it cools me right down. I also like to sit with my feet in a cold tub of water!

  • Happy Birthday, Ashley! I hope you have a great one.
    I’m right down the road from you, in Burnsville. I had to get up and wet a washcloth with cold water to lay on my neck just so I could go back to sleep the other night. This is not our typical mountain weather.

  • Ruth-LOVE that idea!

    Miz Jo-thank you! Both my mom and grandmother live in Burnsville! Such a cute little town. They’ve both been there for over a decade. Good to know there are d*s readers there!

    Oh, and this weather has been sheer madness. At least it’s cooling down at night, per usual. Don’t melt!

  • I’m totally going to do that! Look for me this afternoon in pritchard park, gesticulating wildly with my hand fan at random passersby. How do you say “Happy Birthday Ashley, you’re totally awesome” with a fan?
    . xoxo

  • I love this post! I’m the only person I know who carries a hand fan. I have a few antique ones and I keep them in my purse or backpack. They really can save you from a stuffy train! They’re also good if you’re stuck in blaring sun waiting for a bus or train or waiting in line, etc. I love the fans pictured in this post. Beautiful!

  • I have a few silk hand fans (with different designs so I’ve always got one to go with any outfit), my only problem is I have so few excuses to use them where I live! I usually keep one in my handbag all the same :)

    Great post, have a fantastic birthday!

  • The San Juans will likely hit 90 or so today… :) It’s not much cooler around here! But a pleasant breeze and a nice view would help.

    Now I want to get on a ferry.

    Beautiful fans!

  • I remember one of my elementary school teachers telling us that fanning yourself only makes you hotter, and I’ve avoided it ever since! But I still totally want a hand fan. They’re too cute, and the breeze just feels too nice on a hot day!

  • My girlfriends and I formed a “fan club” to deal with the Tucson summers–we would meet up with our hand fans and create our own breezes, preferably with cocktails. Now I’m in Portland, but with the current heatwave, I have had to unearth my beautiful fan.

  • Hmmm….some enterprising person should jump on what you said and create a “Keep Cool and Carry On” version of that ubiquitous poster!

  • Aww this completely made me reminisce about my stay in Spain. I pulled out my orange wood fan that I always have sitting on my desk. I got it in Toledo and everyone on the subway always had one handy. I loved seeing all the different ones.

  • aw Ashley, the heat is bad enough when you’re not pregnant….it hasn’t been quite so hot here in the midwest, but when it’s still in the 80’s at night, makes trying to fall asleep pretty difficult. My solution – take a cool shower and go to bed with wet hair. Works every time for me. Hang in there, fall is just around the corner!

  • When my husband and I were in Barcelona in the summer a few years ago, many women had them in their bags and took them out to deal with the mugginess at the Underground Metro stations.

  • I have a small sensu fan used in Japanese tea ceremony I keep in my purse, when I bust it out to cool off people think it the cutest/smartest thing ever.

  • I bought a great fan last summer that had been soaked in jasmine oil, and it smelled amazing. The onlyproblem was that it had been cheaply dyed, and when I used it the dye came off on my hands! The fantastic scent was ALMOST worth it, but not quite. :)

  • Great post! I started carrying hand fans a few years back when I had classes in an ancient building with spotty retrofit AC. People look at me a little funny, but with temperatures hitting 45C/113F this week, I think they were jealous stares.

  • On the occasion of our outdoor wedding (6 years ago tomorrow!) we cut the programs out of heavyweight cardstock in the shape of fans. It was very warm outside, and they came in handy, as well as practical.

  • I have always carried a hand fan in hot weather. I get a few stares, but I also get a lot of people who rush up to me and say”where’d you get it?” (who doesn’t know where to buy a fan?) or “I love it!” I remember one very hot day when my subway train stopped for almost twenty minutes; at the same time the air conditioning switched off. Everyone else looked like they were close to being smothered to death. I just whipped out my turquoise paper fan and created some moving air in front of my face. For the first time in my life, I felt the mass envy of everyone around me.

    I’ll buy a cheap fan if it’s pretty enough, but many aren’t made to last. Luckily I have a few that I bought in Asia years ago–still perfect and going strong.

  • Dear Ashley, what a great post you wrote, full of good advice to keep cool over this summer!
    I’m glad you like my fans and really flattered to see them featured on Design*Sponge. :)

  • Love the “Do The Right Thing” reference. I used it all last week in my tweets and status updates.

    Fabulous fans. Reminds me of the small vintage one I picked up in Venice.

  • I have been looking for a fan recently! So thank you for this post. I love the first one especially – so unique! Fans are such a classy way to cool off.

  • I have been collecting “church pew fans” and funeral parlor fans (now very rare) for years. On Sundays I remember mostly ladies fanning themselves throughout the sermon. And BEING fanned was a sure fired way to hypnotize fidgety little boy like me into settling down.

  • I love hand fans! I have a few that my grandmother bought in Japan in the late ’40s/early ’50s, while my grandfather was stationed there. They’re still strong, beautiful, and useful. It was that inspiration which prompted me to order a gross of wood hand fans for my wedding three years ago. Sunset wedding though it might have been, our guests seemed very appreciative.

  • These are beautiful! Does anyone know where I can find out how to make my own fans? They would make great gifts for friends and family.

  • I love the Spanish fan and the African fans, the designs are so graphic and the colors vivid. I have a friend who is never without her hand fan…thanks so much for the fabulous writing and images.

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