A boys kimono decorated with fans (picture courtesy of Ichiroya)Hiōgi - these types of folding fans are most frequently made from strips of cypress wood. They were the official imperial court fan right through until the 19th century. They are made with about 30 or so wooden 'blades' which are held together with a rivet at the base and either cords or ribbons at the top. These fans were highly decorated and the guard sticks of the fans used by the Empress would be decked with artificial flowers and long flowing cords.
Wedding kimono from Ichiroya decorated with representations of hiōgi fans
Suehiro (wide ended) fans were created in the 15th century and used paper on both sides of the fan sticks, technical problems created by incorporating paper on two sides created the wide ended shape but the shape proved popular and eventually was created deliberately.
Kimono from Ichiroya decorated with suehiro fans
Suehiro - stitched by Carol-Anne Conway, design copyright of JEC
The technical problem of incorporating two leaves of paper was solved also by developing bombori type fans. In this type the guard sticks are formed to bend sharply inwards, when closed this gives the shape of fans we in the west would easily recognise. These fans are often described as suehiro as well.
If you'd like to find out more about Japanese fans there is a wonderful book called Ōgi, A History of the Japanese Fan, by Julia Hutt and Helene Alexander. It has lots of detailed information and wonderful photographs. ISBN 1-872357-08 3
There are loads of websites out there where you can find out more and also buy fans, here are three to get you started.
The Fan Museum, Greenwich
Lifstyle Japan - article on Uchiwa
Video of fan making from You Tube