The Willow pattern

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By Teresa Saunderseducation journalist and children’s writer

Bring intrigue, mystery and drama to your Literacy Hour with the enigmatic story of the Willow Pattern – then add further creative touches with an exploration of Chinese art

willow pattern

During the past two hundred years, the Willow Pattern, with its distinctive blue-and-white Chinese scene, has become one of the most familiar and best-known household images in Britain. Yet, while almost everyone has at least one piece of Willow Pattern ware in their kitchen cupboard and could recognise the pattern without any difficulty, few seem to be aware of the poignant and dramatic story that lies behind this tranquil Oriental scene.

The intrigue continues with the story’s origin. Is it a classic Chinese tale, handed down through generations in the great tradition of storytelling? Or was it invented much more recently by 18th century Staffordshire pottery manufacturers to promote their newly produced Willow Pattern tableware? Let the children decide – putting their investigative skills into practice to explore the mystery will add an extra dimension to this fascinating tale.

The story of Koong-se and Chang’s flight to happiness has been retold in the colour activity sheets that accompany this article- providing a perfect text for exploring the National Literacy Strategy’s traditional tales and stories from other cultures for both lower and upper juniors. It also extends the theme with some related non-fiction texts – including a history of Willow Pattern ware, the infl uence of Chinese Art and a description of the process involved in putting the Willow Pattern onto chinaware.

The links with the art curriculum provide a stimulating and creative climax to the project, encouraging children’s visual literacy and endorsing the inextricable link between words and images – a concept recognised centuries ago by the Chinese in their quest for the ‘three perfections’ – painting, poetry and calligraphy.

Willow plate

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