Sunday 1 August 2010

Fan birds

Fan bird customs from Germany

I met a woman at a show last year, and who was born in North Germany. She remembers fan birds from her childhood. I received this email from her the other day explaining the fan bird customs in Germany.

Hi Sean, we've met at the crux fair, where I got exited about the fan birds, if you remember, as I knew them from where I originate (very north of Germany). I told you then I'll find out about the tradition as I'd forgotten parts of it, you said you'd be interested to know. I finally managed to catch up with my father about it, it differs a little from what you've said: Fan birds were common all along the coast of the Baltic Sea, from the border to Denmark in Germany down to the coast of Russia. People used to make them themselves whenever a baby was due in the family. They hung them over the cradle, not only in the house, but also outside, when the cradle stood under a tree. The bird usually moved gently in the wind, however if a person came near and it stopped moving, suddenly stood still, it meant the approaching person had the evil eye and people would take care not to let this person come close to the baby. This is how we know it, hope it's interesting for you. Best wishes Christine.

I love hearing this first-hand tradition and would like to hear more from anyone around the world with their tradition or custom relating to these beautiful wooden birds. As with all traditions and customs they vary so much.

I love making these birds, and I am now selling them wholesale, as I now mastered the crafting of them. This is not to say I have learnt everything there is to know about making them, and I am still developing new styles and designs. As far as I am concerned we do not stop learning until we stop breathing. The first shop to sell them is a National Trust property a few miles away from me in Widecombe on Dartmoor, and hopefully I will get other NT shops interested in Devon as now I am now on their suppliers list.

 Above; coloured fan birds

Above; Geese

I have saved my first birds I made and will post pictures of these crude attempts in the near future.This I hope will inspire you to have a go, and after all it is just practice and a enquiring mind; that, and persistence that makes you good at something.


  1. These look good. I tried , but have admitted temporary defeat.

  2. They are gorgeous! I was actually looking for info on the Finish Hattula bird when I stumbled upon your fan birds. That's what I love about Google... internet serendipity! ;-)

    I've never seen fan birds before. they are wonderful. I'll be sharing your blog with other wood carving and artistic friends. :-)

  3. Sean,

    I am fascinated with your fan birds. I have been researching them, watching your videos and trying to find everything I can about them. In the coming days I am going to try and make my first fan bird. If possible, could you answer a question or three? First, I plan on using White Ash, still green, will that work? I plan on cutting my feathers across the growth rings, instead of with them, any problems there? Last, do you recommend soaking the fan bird before spreading the wings? Thanks for your time! I'll be sure to post pictures if you want when I am done.

  4. Tom, good luck, you have probably started your fan birds by now, as I have been away at a show.
    Yes cut across the grain, that is rive radially. If the wood is green then no need to soak, if the wood is dry then the hinge will need to be wetted, this does not need to be soaked for long.
    I would love to see pictures.

  5. You probably know about the "fan bird" tradition in Finland, but I'd like to show you some local modern birds and crosses made by same technique - models are traditional. In my childhood "fan bird" tradition was from Karjala region - and birds were always homemade - you was not able to buy these. There are still some older men who keep the technique alive. People who escaped from Karjala region during WWII brought this tradition to Häme region. Crosses are Christmas decoration, today birds are too part of Christmas tradition.

    The birds are called Karjalan käki (Cocoon of Karjala) and in some parts of east Onnen lintu (Bird of Luck by Russian tradition, I think). You can call it Lastulintu (lastu describes well how the birds look like, but I name 'lastu' to describe a different technique). Table crosses are called Tuomaanristi (Cross of Thomas). Star decoration here is much younger tradition (at least to me). (just write the http:// before address to see the image)


Sorry, because of the huge amount of dubious people leaving spam comments for their useless stuff, I unfortunately have to bring back word verification.