How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Things That Inspire in Me a Story: Blue Willow

one of my miniature sets

Blue willow goes by a number of names: willowware, willow pattern, or simply blue and white china. This is a design on chinaware that was popular in Europe and America since the 18th century. It’s an elaborate blue landscape on a white background, so it positively gleams no matter where it’s displayed.

I can’t exactly date when I became obsessed with this pattern, but blue has been my favorite color since I was little, and blue and white form my favorite color combination. From there it was but a step to love blue willow. Actually, I adore any blue and white porcelain -- be it Dutch delft or British flowers or Oriental geometrics, on plates, vases, or boxes. But blue willow is the greatest because there’s a story embedded in it.


The exact willow pattern was designed in England but inspired by imported blue and white china. The story is likewise an English invention, though inspired by European Romantic perceptions of Chinese folklore. I found the plotline on wikipedia, though I liked the much more thorough treatment in the article "Porcelain, The Willow Pattern, and Chinoiserie" by Joseph J. Portanova. Each element of the legend finds portrayal in the cobalt blue picture. There are variations, but I’ll give you the basic plotline -- or rather, why don’t I have Mrs. Yvonne Endicott explain? Yes, that’s right -- blue willow features in my most recent novel, Six Cousins: Adventure in England. Mrs. Endicott in England is the proud owner of a spectacular willowware set, and she relates the legend to Marielle and her cousins:

“The girl that you see was the daughter of a rich man, and she and his secretary, the young man there, fell in love. But the love was forbidden, because of the disparate ranks and because the girl was supposed to marry a duke. The father separated the two, locking his daughter into a walled house; that’s the mansion in the background. The duke came to claim his bride shortly, and they were to marry when the blossom fell from the willow tree in the garden. The secretary slipped inside the walls, disguised, and he and the girl made their escape. There were jewels, too, which the duke brought for his erstwhile bride and which the secretary and the girl took when they fled. The father and the duke pursued them, but they came to a river and leapt onto a boat and were sailed away to a beautiful, secluded island. They lived there happily for a while, until the duke found them and took his revenge on them. Their spirits were turned into doves.”

Although the heavily Romanticized blue willow pattern in no way represents China, this idyll is so appealing (the picture, not the story) I think because it puts an image to our longings for a perfect, heaven-like existence … peaceful, lovely, and natural.

Thus, the fantasy, history, and artistry weave together an object that I’m ceaselessly fascinated by. It was only a matter of time before I included it in a story of my own, because -- blue willow inspires in me a story.

also from my collection


  1. How cool. I did not know this story about blue willow china. We don't have much china and it's always been locked up in cabinets or boxes so it wouldn't get broken. I've barely seen our pieces in all my 31 years--but I think there was a plate and cup set of white china with pink roses on it. Nothing blue. Where did you get the miniature set? It's adorable. :)

    1. I got the miniature set at an antique shop. (I love those places!) I hope to one day get a full-sized set!
      Aw -- it is a shame for china to get broken, but it's also a shame that you can't enjoy it. :) The white with pink roses sounds pretty!
      Thanks for commenting!