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This decoration is called a norigae (노리개), and it was commonly used by upper-class women to adorn their appearance. It consisted of colorful knots, called maedeup, made of a combination of silk and precious metals.
In the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), it was commonly worn on the front of traditional Korean clothing, called hanbok (한복), but could also be attached to the handle of a fan. The norigae functioned both as a luxurious accessory as well as a good-luck charm. It was customarily passed down from the parents or in-laws to their children. The word ‘norigae’ itself can be literally translated to ‘pretty and playful objects’. Even though most norigae were used for aesthetics, practical norigae existed too, such as the jangdo norigae, which hid a small usable knife.
Women from all classes decorated their outfit by wearing a norigae, which differed in size and materials used based on the social class of the wearer. Common women often could not afford expensive materials and had to wear modest one-part norigae, which they would usually knot themselves. Different norigae would be worn depending on the place, occasion or season. The typical norigae ranged from 20cm to 40cm. As women tried to outdo each other, the length of norigae continuously increased.
The simplicity of the norigae on this fan complements the simplicity of the blank paper. There can be up to five strands in a norigae, but this one has one strand
As this fan has a bead and a tassle, it is not as simplistic as the fans that were used by men. Therefore, this fan was presumably owned by a woman. Some men from the late Joseon dynasty used fans decorated with seonchu (선추), which was very similar to norigae. It consisted of two small knots and one larger decoration, often with minimalistic design. It could be made of various materials and in multiple shapes, but was less difficult to create than norigae.
This particular white fan has a norigae that is decorated with juniper beads covered with kingfisher feathers, enclosed by a part of the horsetail fern. There is no obvious theme going on, which is unusual for norigae. Norigae have been made with various designs, but are mostly limited to five categories: characters, daily objects, animals, plants, and religious symbols that represent Buddhism. Some recurring themes are turtles, bats, butterflies, ducks, orchids and lotus flowers. Some norigae have spiritual meanings, as they were used to ward off evil spirits or to wish for good fortune or a long life.
This being said, how was our fan actually used?