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The Blue Willow Pattern

Updated on November 27, 2014
 Plate with Willow pattern
Plate with Willow pattern | Source

Blue Willow: the Classic Collectible Blue-and-White China Pattern with its own Tragic Love Story

One of the best-loved and most keenly collected china patterns of all time, the ornate Blue Willow or Willow pattern was introduced into England's potteries in the late 1700s as a copy of a Chinese illustration of an ancient Chinese legend from the days of the mandarins.

The blue-and-white pattern was made popular by Thomas Minton but was never exclusive to one company and has long been a staple pattern for many chinaware makers.

Over time, some variations crept into the pattern, just as a good story will change a bit from one storyteller to the next - which makes Blue Willow a fascinating choice for china collectors!

Today you'll find the Blue Willow pattern appearing on many different houseware and decorative products, but my fascination with the pattern began in childhood, when my grandmother's Blue Willow platter was brought triumphantly to the center of the dinner table for every holiday feast, so my heart lies with the dinnerware.

It's still possible to find lovely antique pieces for sale or at auctions, but for daily use you'll find the modern Blue Willow tableware by the likes of Royal Stafford, Churchill, or Johnson Brothers is a practical choice and faithful to the beloved 18th century china pattern.

Oval Serving Platter in Blue Willow Pattern - Blue and White Chinoiserie Platter Made in England

If you can have only one piece of the Blue Willow pattern china, you might want to consider a serving platter. It's not only one of the most useful, practical and versatile serving pieces you can have on hand for a big family feast, the traditional blue and white in a larger scale has a way of looking like a work of art whether it's on display or in use at the table.

Churchill Blue Willow Platter 14.5" x 11.5"
Churchill Blue Willow Platter 14.5" x 11.5"

Imagine this serving platter at the center of your holiday table, holding a savory entree surrounded by festive garnish... that's a treasured memory from my own childhood, those big family dinners when Grandmother's Blue Willow platter held pride of place at the table.

 

The Meaning of the Blue Willow Pattern

This video tells the story of the Blue Willow pattern, a tale of star-crossed lovers in the mysterious Orient, long ago, who fled across the bridge to escape an angry father, died tragically, and were turned into a pair of beautiful birds. Their love story is memorialized in this traditional china pattern.

Original music here is by Jim Pryts, who also reads the poem, author unknown. Like many of us, Jim has fond memories of eating dinner from his mother's Blue Willow china and daydreaming over the story that forever unfolds on the dishes and plates.

Churchill Blue Willow Georgian Teapot

Churchill Blue Willow Teapot 40-ounce
Churchill Blue Willow Teapot 40-ounce

If I could have only one piece of Blue Willow, besides a lovely oval serving platter, I think I would choose this elegant teapot. It's a microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe earthernware teapot well suited to our modern lives, but in the traditional Georgian style.

 

Blue Willow China Pitchers - Churchill or Johnson

Whether you choose a Blue Willow pattern from the Churchill potteries or from Johnson Brothers - or perhaps you'll decide mix and match a collection of antique Blue Willow pieces from different makers, as you build your collection - a creamer is one piece where you can cheerfully have multiples in different styles. We've used a creamer to serve pickles and relishes, sometimes, when there weren't enough small condiment dishes to fill out a buffet table.

Johnson Brothers Willow Blue Creamer
Johnson Brothers Willow Blue Creamer

The generously rounded shape of this classic cream jug, especially popular around the turn of the twentieth century and seen in the pieces from many of England's leading potteries, is one of my favorite pieces. The pattern is beautifully balanced with a blue figured border around the top edge and the classic Blue Willow legend scene played out on the lower curve.

 
Churchill Blue Willow Milk Jug 30-ounce
Churchill Blue Willow Milk Jug 30-ounce

The taller milk/cream jugs like this one make a sweet container for a small centerpiece display of wildflowers, too, if you don't take milk or cream in your tea!

 

Blue Willow Pattern Dishes - Place Setting or Full Dinner Service

Johnson Brothers Willow Blue 5-Piece Place Setting
Johnson Brothers Willow Blue 5-Piece Place Setting

Churchill (England) Blue Willow Dinnerware - Blue and White Chinoiserie Tableware Made in England

Established in 1795, Churchill China of England with its sister company Sampson Bridgwood began producing the Blue Willow dinnerware in 1818 in the heart of the English "potteries."

Churchill China Blue Willow 20 Piece Dinner Set
Churchill China Blue Willow 20 Piece Dinner Set

The 20-piece set includes 4 each of Dinner Plates, Side Plates, Teacups & Saucers, and Oatmeal Bowls. Microwave and dishwasher safe earthenware, made in England.

 

Blue Willow China by Johnson Brothers

Perhaps best known today for its award-winning Old Britain Castles pattern of the 1950s, Johnson Brothers was founded in the 1880s in England, and today operates as part of the renowned Wedgewood Group although production was moved to China in 2003.

Johnson Brothers Willow Blue 5-Piece Place Setting
Johnson Brothers Willow Blue 5-Piece Place Setting

The 5-piece Blue Willow pattern place setting by Johnson Brothers includes a Dinner Plate, Salad Plate, Cereal Bowl, Teacup and Saucer. Made in China. Dishwasher, freezer and microwave safe.

 

Blue Willow Salt & Pepper Shakers - Johnson Brothers

If you're looking for a small item to begin or add to a Blue Willow china collection, salt and pepper shakers are an affordable choice - and a must-have item for any collector of salt and pepper shakers, too. Choose your preferred style of shakers to go with the Johnson Bros. version of the Blue Willow pattern dinner service - the conventional smooth cellar shape or the charming figures of the romantic lovers from the legend. Keep your eye open for shakers in small pagoda shapes, not unlike like the Oriental buildings that are pictured on the china, too - they're getting hard to find as they're so much in demand by collectors.

Johnson Brothers Willow Blue Salt and Pepper Set
Johnson Brothers Willow Blue Salt and Pepper Set

This dishwasher-safe set of shakers each measures 3 3/4" tall by 2 1/8" wide, large enough that they won't need to be refilled too often but small enough to look perfectly in scale on the smallest of bistro tables.

 
Churchill China Blue Willow Salt And Pepper Figure Set
Churchill China Blue Willow Salt And Pepper Figure Set

So pretty! On your table or displayed in your china cabinet, the white china 5-inch-tall figures of the star-crossed lovers in the ancient Blue Willow legend are delicately decorated with touchs of the blue motif. These are glazed ironstone pieces, so not safe for the dishwasher - an occasional wipe down with a soapy damp cloth will do. In case you're wondering, the lady is the salt and her gentleman suitor is the pepper shaker.

 

Is there a piece of Blue Willow in your family's china cabinet?

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    • ColwoodWheelWorks profile image

      ColwoodWheelWorks 4 years ago

      My Mum loves Willow Pattern. I think of her whenever I see it.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      @sybil watson: Yes! That Spode pattern is also quite wonderful. And I like to mix and match a bit of Delft blue china in there too, then fill out the table (if needed, for a crowd) with pieces of my godmother's all-white vintage Wedgwood.

    • profile image

      sybil watson 4 years ago

      Yes! This was my grandmother's pattern, and my mom chose Spode's Blue Italian, which is also beautiful. I love mixing and matching different blue and white patterns. Lovely lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Hostess Salad Server Set with Shakers

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      @TonyPayne: That makes sense! The *true* Blue Willow is born-and-bred in the UK, even though it's Asian inspired, and real Blue Willow china is still made in Britain to this day. I think one reason why the pattern fascinates us is because we all love stories!

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