Garden of Bright Images

     When the bowl was empty she continued for a space to regard it silently, as though exploring the many-sided recesses of her mind.
      “You have claimed to be a story-teller and have indeed made a boast that there is no arising emergency for which you are unprepared,” she said at length. “It now befalls that you may be put to a speedy test. Is the nature of this imagined scene”—thus she indicated the embellishment of the bowl—”familiar to your eyes?”
      “It is that known as ‘The Willow,’” replied Kai Lung. “There is a story—”
      “There is a story!” exclaimed the maiden, loosening from her brow the overhanging look of care. “Thus and thus. Frequently have I importuned him before whom you will appear to explain to me the meaning of the scene. When you are called upon to plead your cause, see to it well that your knowledge of such a tale is clearly shown. He before whom you kneel, craftily plied meanwhile by my unceasing petulance, will then desire to hear it from your lips… At the striking of the fourth gong the day is done. What lies between rests with your discriminating wit.”

Ernest Bramah,
Kai Lung’s Golden Hours


There was a time when it did not occur to anyone in this pure and enlightened Empire to question the settled and existing order of affairs. Indeed, it is now no unheard-of thing for an ordinary person to suggest that customs which have been established for centuries might with advantage be changed — a form of impiety which is in no degree removed from declaring oneself to be wiser or more profound than one’s ancestors! How narrow is the space dividing such delinquency from the actual crimes of overturning images, counselling rebellion, joining in insurrection and resorting to indiscriminate piracy and bloodshed.

Blue Willow PlateAs the wise philosopher Ning-hy was wont to say: “Where the road divides, there stand two Ning-hys.” Indeed, thus and thus it is with the origins of the famed Willow Pattern composition, as depicted on porcelain bowls for many cycles past.

But who attempts to eat an orange without first disposing of the peel, or what manner of a dwelling could be erected unless an adequate foundation be first provided?

That which in justice requires the amplitude of a full-sized cask shall be pressed down into the confines of an inadequate vessel.

A well-known fable there is, purporting to explain the meaning of this thought-out design; an imagined tale, framed by the makers of porcelain to entice the credulous; and herein does its falseness cry aloud. Though frequently exalted in poetry, or delicately enhanced with music, by many meritorious purveyors of high-minded entertainment, the tragic romance of the maiden Koong-Tse and the secretary Chang is entirely without substance, a pure invention of those native to the Isle of Sceptres; for truly may it be said that the Willow Pattern is precisely as authentically Chinese as Kai Lung himself.

Willow Ware Pattern CoverUnrolling her threadbare mat in tribute to the latter incomparable relater of imagined tales, this wholly inadequate person now raises her distressing voice, and wields her disreputable needles, to recount in textile form the Story of Wong Ts’in, that which is known as “The Legend of the Willow Plate Embellishment.” This story is that of the scene widely depicted on plates and earthenware; the true and authentic legend as first related by the eminent Tso-yi.

Sock from RightHow cunningly imagined is the device by which objects so varied in size as an orange and an island can be depicted within the narrow compass of a porcelain plate without the larger one completely obliterating the smaller or the smaller becoming actually invisible by comparison with the other! This engaging display, combining simplicity with picturesque effect, might indeed be a scene having an actual existence at no great space away.

Sock from LeftIn its transmutation from porcelain ornamentation into whole cloth, not only has the embellishment suffered no real detriment, but there has been imparted to the higher lights — doubtless owing to the nature of the subtly shaded colorway used to delineate them — a certain nebulous quality that adds greatly to the successful effect of the various tones.

Thus and thus, and by the opportune agency of their own incomparable skill and dexterity, may this striking embellishment be transferred from its former disposition on select pieces of porcelain to a covering for the sumptuous feet of the esteemed if bewildered auditors of this tale.

For the rest, let the shadow move as the sun directs.

- with apologies to Ernest Bramah,
whose infinitely meritorious retelling of
the true and authentic Willow Pattern story
may be found in the second chapter of
Kai Lung’s Golden Hours


Know, then, O most revered, that - oh, never mind. For the sake of everyone’s sanity - or what’s left of it - let’s fall back into the vernacular, yes? (If we can. It turns out that imitating Kai Lung is a little bit like reading “The Song of Hiawatha” - once you fall into either idiom it can be difficult to fall back out.)

This, then, is Willow Ware; Tsock #6 of 2012, the Tsock Club season-and-then-some that is coming to a close at last.

Did you eat off these plates when you were a kid? I did, and they are as familiar to me as my own face. I didn’t come to know Kai Lung until much later, but the rightness of that association leaped out at me long before I realized, to my infinite delight, that the latter actually had his own version of the Willow Pattern story.

The Willow Ware tsock is All Colorwork All The Time. It is not by any means the first knitted interpretation of these images, but it is more nuanced than any other version I’ve seen - as Fa Fai says in the Story of Wong Ts’in it has “a certain nebulous quality that adds greatly to the successful effect of the various tones.” BoatThis is due entirely to the varied depths of the Blue Willow colorway, which ranges from light to dark, emulating the illusion of tonal shading that is the result of changing line thickness in the original. (So the shading is a little more random than it would be with exact pixel-for-pixel color mapping, but it still works, I think, and it makes the knitting a lot easier. Ask me how I know.)

Willow Ware is worked cuff-down, beginning with a two-color braided cast-on that I verily believe I have actually invented. I know, I know, it looks a lot like the conventional braided cast-ons, but the process is very different - it’s worked a bit like a crochet chain, with the colors interlocked but never twisted, so that with a little practice it is possible to make it quite loose and stretchy.

The cuff itself is worked in two stages; first a decorative foldover band that echoes the borders of the plates, then (after a turning sequence that incorporates a contrary-motion braid and a change of knitting direction) a hidden foundation of 1×1 rib, supplying the elasticity that is necessarily lacking in the slip-stitch overlay.

Ming Quilting


French Weave

And then the colorwork begins in earnest. It’s mostly festive intarsia, though really it behaves a lot more like stranded colorwork.

The Pagoda occupies the back of the ankle,


its ground floor making up the entire heel flap.

Heel Flap

The two Love-Birds appear on the front of the ankle,


flying above the branches of the Willow Tree.

Willow Tree

The Boat…


… sails over the right gusset -

Right Gusset

- while the Bridge, with its three Buddhas or Union Agitators (depending on which version of the story you endorse), is depicted on the foot.


The Crooked Fence occupies the toe.


Other details are added with embroidery - some of it optional, though you wouldn’t want to omit the Willow Fronds and the Apples.

Willow Fronds



Roof Peak

Roof Outline

Putting the packages together for this kit was nearly as much fun as knitting the tsock itself - but that is a story for another time.

Willow Ware went into the mail on Friday and Saturday, and has already landed in a number of mailboxes.

For the rest, let the shadow move as the sun directs….

72 Responses to “Garden of Bright Images”

  1. Linda S Says:

    And gorgeous it is. Lovely.

  2. Lisa Says:

    This…this…it’s just…buh…WOW!!

  3. Programmer At Arms Says:

    Take my money.

  4. Genny Says:

    I love you. This is the best Tsock ever. My mind is boggled and I can’t wait for it to land in London!

  5. Caroline M Says:

    I like that more than tsharks, more than Firebirds even.

  6. Colleen Says:

    So…once again, you have shown tht living in Lisa’s would be Very Very Interesting!

    As for speech being addictive, you must get stuck in whipping your flirds, when you read Lirty Dies! (

    I love patterns with long stories!

  7. neeuqdrazil Says:

    I have just spent the entire time I was reading this post saying “Oh my god, Lisa. Wow, Lisa. Really, Lisa?”

    I can’t wait for this one to land.

  8. Karen in McLean Says:

    Oh, wholly inadequate one, you have yet once again triumphed — over all: despair, ennui, innumerable Te Deum(s), rampant tenors, floods, fire, and famine. May you never tire.

    All is as near to perfection as may be, many thanks to the entire team!

    Cheers, Karen

  9. ZaftigWendy Says:

    yet another that I shall have to obtain as soon as it’s obtainable. You!

  10. Lynne in Florida Says:

    This syncronicity thing is striking again. I recently acquired a quantity of light pink angora yarn, which I had purchased with the intention of knitting the world’s plainest classic cardigan. However, day before yesterday, the thought of doing a yokeish affair on said cardigan emulating some Staffordshire designs. So here you are with Willow ware socks.

    Needless to say, they’re totally fabulous! I think you must live at 90 degrees from reality. Only thus could you not only conceive of such wonderful things, but actually manage to execute them. Here’s another sock that goes on my Must Have list. Mwwaahhh!

  11. Lynne in Florida Says:

    P.S. Pleeeeze blog the story of assembling the kits - puleeeeeeze? Pwease? With a cherry on top?

  12. Carys Says:

    Oh, this is *gorgeous*! *Exquisite*!

  13. Carys Says:

    (But I think you may have put 2012 where you meant to put 2013?)

  14. Jennifer Says:

    Oh my. Oh my. Oh my. I’m speechless. It is indeed exquisite. Can’t wait for it to arrive. You’ve outdone yourself yet again.

  15. Ozelote Says:

    These are amazingly beautiful! Just stunning! All the details just blew me away when I saw them the first time, and then I had to look at them again and again… Will this pattern ever be realesed outside of the tsockclub? (I am willing to wait and pay. And maybe sacrifice something.)

  16. Marion Says:

    Oh, oh, oh! these are the cutest ever!! Is this the first kit for 2013 Tsock Flock mini series? I can’t wait to get mine and tstart knitting.

  17. Marion Says:

    Oh….so sad. This beautiful sock is the last of the 2012 Club. Well, it serves me right for not signing up for a few years. Well, I know that the 2013 club will be simply fabulous so I will not whine anymore. ;>D

  18. Patricia Says:

    What a beautiful tsock! I had Blue Willow Ware when my grandchildren were young, and my granddaughter and I had lovely tea parties wearing silly hats and she poured tea from the Blue Willow teapot into our cups while I told her some of the stories. She immediately loved the stories and the dishes, and over the years we shared some sorrows and many joys over our tea. Now she is 25, expecting her second child and living far away. I spoke with her a few days ago and she mentioned that her feet seem to be permanently cold, so I have been planning to knit her a new pair of socks. This pair of Willow Ware tsocks would be perfect. As soon as I finish the baby blanket on my needles now, I’m going to cast on. I know my granddaughter will feel my love every time she wears these. Bless you, Tsarina.


  19. =Tamar Says:

    I have always liked the Kai Lung stories. Reading such a wonderful write-up added immeasurably to the pleasure of seeing the socks.

  20. Amanda Says:

    I NEED these socks! My grandma had those plates and they’re going to me once I have my own place

  21. Elizabeth Says:

    How do we get these?

  22. Little Vica Says:

    Will this be available as a kit or pattern. They are the most beautiful socks I have ever seen.

  23. Lindsay Says:

    These are absolutely brilliant! LOVE! LOVE! LOVE!

  24. amelure Says:

    gorgious! wonderful colors, wonderful designs, wonderful idea!!!

  25. Sarah Says:

    Your work is AMAZING, do you sell online? x

  26. Melanie Says:

    I a completely amaized by your handy work! You are such a joy!

  27. Melissa in Oklahoma Says:

    Tstunning tsocks! It puts me in the mind of “Blue Willow” that tsmall book by Doris Gates written for children I read tso many years ago! It’s beautiful.

  28. Melissa in Oklahoma Says:

    I mean, they are beautiful….tsorry…

  29. Knitnana Says:

    I am in awe…not sure I’d ever possess the skill to make them, but I wish I might. I had (still have) a blue willow child’s tea set when a wee one. I love it still. If I made these? I’d NEVER wear them!!! Just stuff them and display them, I’m sure. What a work of art - and my goodness what TALENT!

  30. Georgianna Says:

    I’m so confused… I landed on this blog from a Vogue Knitting Facebook link… SO BEAUTIFUL, BTW! I looked on Ravelry for this pattern and was sent back to this page. Am I right? You’ve marketed it after it’s purchased? Sigh…

  31. Rachel Cameron Says:

    i would love the pattern for the willow pattern sock is it available to buy??? my Aunt has seen your stunning work ana i would love to knit them for her ..she collcts the pottery

  32. Liss Says:

    Lovely!!! I want these ;) You are good to make pattern!
    Do you sell these pattern?

  33. Melanie Says:

    I’m thinking what others have posted… MAGNIFICENT! Jaw dropping! AND…. I, too, found the blog from Vogue Knitting Facebook and where can the pattern be purchased for this incredible work of art??? Have a great weekend, people!!

  34. Karyn Says:

    Gorgeous! How can we get the kit or at least the pattern? There are very few garments that make me say I MUST knit this. I MUST knit these socks!

  35. Melanie Says:

    (I’m now on the waiting list for the Tsock Club)

  36. Rose Says:

    Beautiful! I too wish to know how to get the pattern for this!

  37. Dana Says:

    Will somebody please take my money and send me this kit? My god, this is amazing.

  38. diana welte Says:

    those are the most beautiful socks i’ve seen in forever!

  39. Joan Says:

    You have outdone yourself, these are truly amazing!

  40. Mary Says:

    Shall I join the choir? I love these tsocks!

    I have joined the waiting list to be in the ‘club’ but I fear this will not be enough. My husband is Dutch, and two of our children were born in China. What can I do? Is it impossible?…?…?…?

  41. PurrlGurrl Says:

    Wow! These are spectacular.

  42. Angel Says:

    Just drop-dead gorgeous!

  43. beadsandfibreslady Says:

    This is the most beautiful sock I have ever seen. In our house, we use willow pattern crockery the whole time and this sock is an amazing interpretation of traditional willow, you clever lady!

  44. Lawre O'Leary Says:

    You never cease to amaze me!

  45. Margaret Says:

    WANT! more than you can ever imagine! how did I not know about this Tsock Club you speak of? oh - maybe I was in my austerity program at the time?

    how *does* one go about getting the pattern? I’m sure a zillion of us are asking the same question!

    back to casting something off and waiting for said pattern to be available to the non-club-members …

  46. Joy Ryan Says:

    How do I get the pattern or kit for these? They are INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL.

  47. Joy Ryan Says:

    Please tell me how to get this pattern or kit. This sock is incredibly beautiful.

  48. Joy Ryan Says:

    Beautiful. How do I get the pattern?

  49. Laura Says:

    Outstanding! Beautiful! Nostalgic, for sure! My mom used a collection of blue willow (and other blue dishes) of various vintages as her “everyday” dishes. I always liked them, but since my mother’s passing have an especially good feeling whenever I see the pattern. Thank you for sharing your beautiful work!

  50. Lynley Says:

    And fromAustralia also, we also ask and hope….is there anywhere, any way we can buy a kit, a pattern?? So, so talented!

  51. Ann Leiboh Says:

    As all who came before me said …in so many words……”I must have these, LOVE LOVE LOVE these, how do I get these” and on and on. Pleaseeeeeeeee I “need” these! :)

  52. Jassik Says:

    I am speechless!!!!!!!!!!!! This is SO beautiful, amazing, incredible, unbelievable!!!!!!!!!! Just a few weeks ago I did a “brocante” (sorry, I am not English speaking - some kind of garage sale) and I bought 3 plates of Nikko Blue Oriental for 5 francs… I just loved the white and blue design… Then I studied the pattern on internet and found the original - Blue Willow… And now throught Knitting Paradise forum I fell upon your site!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am SOOOOOOOOOOOO excited!!!!!!!!
    You are the MAGICIAN of knitting!!!!!!!!!!!! This is a masterpiece!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Good luck!!!!!!!!

  53. Chantal Says:

    Do you sell these?

  54. Veriton Says:

    My dear Tsocky, you have done it again. You surprise time and time again with your designs. These are truly pure and simple (well, not simple at all reallt, but you know what I mean) ART.

  55. KiKi Crombie Says:

    How do I order this pattern?

  56. Michael Says:

    Where can we get a pattern or better yet how can we simply purchase these amazing socks???

  57. Harpa Jónsdóttir Says:

    Amazingly beautiful!

  58. Arnhild Westeng Says:

    I would like to buy the pattern to the blue socks. My niece, living in Dorset, has got those dishes to use for holidays.

  59. Lara Says:

    I am so wildly in love with this pattern! I’ve always been in love with the Blue Willow style, so much so that I was actually considering tattooing it on my body. Though I’m not really the tattoo type, I wanted to brandish my affections in a more public, less ceramic way. You may have saved me from a horrible mistake by allowing me to wear it in a less invasive, more impermanent medium. Beautiful.

  60. KnitNell Says:

    Beautiful. Congratulations!

  61. Thelma Says:

    These socks are amazing! Please, tell us how we can get these patterns.

  62. Lucia Says:

    Good afternoon, I lice in Brazil and would love to buy the Willow Ware kit. It is Art most beautiful. Could you please give me directions? Thank you

  63. Lucia Says:

    Good afternoon, I live in Brazil and would love to buy the Willow Ware kit. It is Art most beautiful. Could you please send me directions? Thank you.

  64. Lynne in Florida Says:

    It is now four months since we’ve heard a word from you here. I know you’re multi-tasking in your sleep, trying to get everything done, but we do miss you!

  65. annette Says:

    love these

  66. Mo Says:

    How can I purchase a sock kit for the Blue Willow or at least get on a list for it?

    Thanking you!

  67. Mireille Says:


    Would love to buy the pattern as well.
    Please, post it for us to buy it.

  68. Barbara Van Wagnen Says:

    I absolutely love your socks. I am looking for a challange and would love to knit a pair of the Willow ware socks. Could you tell meif you will have a pattern at ravelry to purchase? I kit would be ok, also. They would be perfect with my Birkenstocks. Thanks

  69. Ellen Says:

    I’ve made it over to here from a pin of your shark sock and have been scrolling thru your blog. I’m impressed you are indeed a Tsock Tsarina.

  70. Bronchitikat Says:

    Truly amazing.

    Errr - it’s now gone five months. Have you finally knitted a black hole & it’s swallowed you? Or are you merely trying to figure out another fiendishly complicated pattern?

    Looking forward to hearing from you sometime soon. Please?

  71. Laurie Says:

    I was wondering if the sock pattern is still available for purchase. Thank you.

  72. Barbara Van Wagnen Says:

    Iam not able to get back east for your shows, as I live on the west coast. I would love to purchase your Willow Ware sock kit. My email is Please let me know if this is possible. Thank you

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