Sunday, November 8, 2009

Smudge Fans v1.0

Smudging is a common practice amongst practitioners of the magickal arts. It stems from a native American ritual and consists of using the smoke of burning incense (usually sage brush) to fumigate a room in order to drive out evil spirits, or negative energy. The smoke is traditionally forced into all the nooks and crannies of a room by blowing it with a fan made of feathers.

We sell a lot of smudge sticks (bundles of sage used for smudging) at the shop. We have sold a few fans, but they were usually fairly elaborate affairs and pretty expensive. Most of the people who buy smudging supplies form us will only need to use them once or twice, so they are reluctant to buy a $35+ fancy hand made ritual fan. My own personal philosophy about the quality and expense of your magickal tools aside, they really only need something simple. So, I decided to try to whip up a simple smudge fan that I could sell cheaply. The project did turn out to be a little more labor intensive than I had originally hoped, but all in all, it wasn't too bad, and I have already sold two of the four fans from my first production run.

These first two pictures are of the finished fans. The other two finished fans are at the end of the post, but right now, let's have a look at the creation process for these little beauties.

My original intention was to be able to make a reasonable quality smudge fan cheaply enough that I could sell them at a low enough price to be able to sell one to every customer who came in to buy a smudge stick. That meant my process had to be fast and easy, and my materials cheap. My first order of business was to select feathers. I had recently bought two packs of very inexpensive medium sized craft feathers, one pack red and one pack white, from a wholesale club. I chose them primarily for the price, about $0.40 per pack. I made these four fans from about half of a pack. I'm not sure what kind of feathers they are, but judging from their price, size, shape and color, I'm assuming they are probably chicken wing feathers.

I carefully selected five feathers for each fan (I made four fans at once) that seemed to be of the proper size and that seemed to fit well together. That, in and of itself, was a little more challenging than I had expected. Even more challenging was figuring out a way to hold them in the proper position while I affixed them together at their bases. The spacing and alignment of each feather had to be perfect, or it would look bad. First I tried just holding them in one hand while trying to glue them together with 5 minute epoxy with the other hand. Not happening. Then I searched around for a while looking for a suitable holder. Floral foam might have been good, but repositioning them could have been a problem, and I didn't have any. After about an hour of brainstorming, I decided that a loosely wound ball of yarn might work, but I didn't have one. I experimented with using a knitted yarn bag (like a large knitted hacky-sack), stuffed with other similar bags, but the effect was less than perfect. Finally I decided on a ball of clay. I stuck the ends of the feathers into a ball of clay, positioned them perfectly, and then ran a heavy bead of hot glue along the bases to create a brace. After the hot glue was hard, I removed them as a single unit from the clay and epoxied just the tips together. Finally I removed the hot glue (which I probably could have left in place).

While the epoxy was setting, I started working on the handles. I used a hardwood dowel, about 3/4in. in diameter. I cut it into about 5 inch lengths and sanded it nice and smooth. I sawed a notch into one end, about an inch from the tip, and about half way through the diameter. Next, I tapered them at both ends, so that it looked more like a piece of hand finished wood, and less like a dowel.. Finally I stained them different colors, some lighter and some darker, and sealed them with a coat of clear polyurethane.

I didn't like the look of them so far. They seemed a little sparse and spartan. The base was especially a problem aesthetically, so I found some more fancier feathers (marabou, I think) and glued three of them on top to make the fan seem more "full". I had planned on covering the base, where the feathers meet the handle, with leather anyway, but I think adding the marabou feathers made them look much nicer, and it was a very easy addition.

Once the epoxy was set, and the stain and clear coat was dry (read as: the next day), I did a little trimming and used more epoxy to marry the two pieces together. I clamped them with clothes pins and hung them to dry.

Making the leather skirt to camouflage the joint where the feathers meet the handle was one of the hardest parts. I had to do a lot of experimenting with paper test pieces to come up with a suitable pattern. I don't like wasting leather. My final design, which I am only somewhat happy with, was a two piece affair. The underside piece went on first, and was then overlapped by the top piece. The two pieces were glued on with a craft glue designed for leather. I used garment weight (about 2-3oz.) upholstery leather with the suede side out. I didn't want to have to stitch any of the leather, as that would add considerable time and effort to a design that was intended to be fast and easy, so I spent care to glue the edges well, and make nice neat butt seams. I held the leather in place with tape while the glue dried.

Then came the final touches. I used epoxy to affix a colored glass bead to the end of the handle. I didn't originally plan to, but I decided to wrap a little suede leather lace around the base of the skirt, because I thought it needed something. While I was at it, I tied a piece of leather lace around the end of the handle to make some tassells, and strung them with pony beads. I still wasn't happy with the leather skirt, so I drew a quick symbol on it with the dreaded puffy-paint. Immediately I hated it. But it was too late to do anything about it. Also, I was beginning to loose my enthusiasm for the project, as it was now well into its third day. I was growing impatient for them to be completed, and I was too lazy (and cheap) to come up with something better, so it was puffy-paint all around! Next time I will try to use something else to decorate the skirt.

I had hoped to make these a one day project with minimal cost and effort, and be able to sell them for a very reasonable $6.99 each. I kept the costs down, but there was more labor involved than I had expected. I ended up selling them for $8.99 each. Still pretty reasonable, but I probably won't be selling one with every smudge stick. Overall, I like them, but I think next time the puffy-paint has got to go.

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