The Story Behind the Iconic Blue Willow China Pattern

Posted by Ariel Davis on

From its roots as a 19th-century English tableware trend to its global reach today, this iconic pattern has captivated generations of fans with its intricate designs, symbolic details, and timeless charm. Read on to learn all about Blue Willow china.

What is Blue Willow China?

Blue Willow china is a classic tableware pattern that features a charming transfer printed pattern of Chinese symbols that depict an idyllic outdoor scene. The main blueprint of the design typically involves an old willow tree, a bridge, two birds, and occasionally figures. Blue Willow china can typically be found on porcelain dishes, serving pieces, and tea sets. Blue Willow is considered chinoiserie design, in that it is inspired by Chinese art and culture but fashioned by and for European audiences.

blue willow china pattern on dinner plate

Where Did the Pattern Come From?

The exact origin of the Blue Willow pattern is not known, however, it's believed that it was first made in England during the late 1700s. There are conflicting stories about who created the pattern—some claim that Josiah Spode (of the popular Spode company) invented it, while others say John Turner did. Whatever its origin, it has become a classic china pattern with fans across the world!

Over the years and until today, many variations of Blue Willow china pattern have been created and replicated. According to the International Willow Collectors' website there are 400 documented makers of Blue Willow in Great Britain and 500 worldwide!

Here are just six of the different versions of Blue Willow that we sell and upcycle at our Brooklyn studio:

blue willow pattern with 6 different plate versions by English manufacturers

Makers include: Myott Staffordshire, Johnson Bros, Alfred Meakin, Churchill, Japan Co. and Homer Laughlin.  

The Legend Behind the Blue Willow China Pattern:

The pattern may look idyllic but the story behind the Blue Willow pattern is one of forbidden, star-crossed love! According to collectors, the pattern tells the story of a wealth merchant named Tso Ling who had a beautiful daughter named Kwang-se.

To set the scene: The father and daughter resided in a beautiful pagoda situated under a pine tree next to a bridge, on which a willow tree hung.

Tso Ling promised his daughter's hand in marriage to a wealthy businessman. Unbeknownst to Tso Ling,  Kwang-se fell in love with Chang, his kind and handsome but poor clerk.

When he found out about the secret relationship, Tso Ling was furious. He attempted to keep the couple apart but the two eloped across the sea to a cottage on an island.

As legend has it, Tso Ling would not stand for this and went after them by boat. He was about to have them killed when the gods intervened and transformed the lovers into turtle doves.

Look closely at the plates and you'll notice several featured of the story, including the two doves gazing into each other's eyes at the top of the design. As you might imagine, the story has inspired many plays, books, poems and, of course, beautiful ceramics of all shapes and colors.

Essential Elements in the Blue Willow Pattern:

To be considered a true Blue Willow pattern, there are certain elements that must be present. These include

  • Willow trees
  • Chinese pine trees 
  • a bridge with three men on it
  • a fence
  • a boat
  • a teahouse or pagoda and
  • two birds in flight.

    While these are the most essential features of the pattern, there are many variations that exist, including minor differences in the appearance of the birds or other elements. For example, versions produced by Japanese makers often feature plumper birds compared to early English patterns. Despite these variations, all authentic Blue Willow patterns share these core elements and are recognized for their classic, timeless appeal.

    What Makes it So Popular?

    The Blue Willow china pattern has been popular since its initial production and continues to be a classic pattern even today. Part of the reason is it's unique story (believed to be completely fabricated by a smart sales team!) symbolism and "exotic" details.

    The Blue Willow pattern is a timeless and classic choice for home decor due to its iconic blue and white color scheme. Its versatility allows it to be used for both formal and casual occasions, and its durability as a dishwasher safe transferware plate makes it a practical choice for everyday use. In addition, this pattern can be easily mixed and matched with other blue and white transferware to create a sophisticated and chic dinnerware set with a touch of eclectic style.

    On the hunt for blue willow china? Check out The Brooklyn Teacup's mix and match vintage plate sets and Sophisticated 3-Tier Tray.



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