Thursday 5 November 2009

Amager Blue - Conceived in China?

Or conceivably it could be the other way around? While travelling last month I came across again a book published in 1978 called Blue and White, The Cotton Embroideries of Rural China by Muriel Baker and Margaret Lunt. I think first time round, in my uneducated state, I had dismissed the book for what I considered very simplistic and uninspiring charted extracts, never bothering, as a consequence to delve into the text. My loss. But sometimes learning is a cyclical thing and it is only when you have come to appreciate something else that you can return and find hidden enjoyment in what you have previously discounted. There is a time for things to make sense. And I had had to wait until I had discovered the fabulous Amager stitched panels for these blue Chinese folk embroideries to make sense. Amager is a Danish island a bus ride away from Copenhagen. Until very recently it was a self contained, self regulating Dutch enclave which had been plucked by the King of Denmark out of the Netherlands in the 1520s and dropped down on fertile ground in order to stock the court pantry with good green vegetables as only the Dutch know how. They have such a totally fascinating history - they maintained their customs, their speech, their dress and embroidery over the centuries. When I visited Amager, I was totally struck by their wonderful indigo blue embroideries teeming with mermaids, lions, horses and angels. What most impresses me is the superb gestalt of their designs in which all these apparently chaotic motifs are positioned, not at random, but in such a studied way with respect to their neighbouring motifs that the overall composition comes together in a beautiful close harmony. This effect is enhanced by the internal patterns that powder the large motifs. It is incredibly distinctive, and although I have seen some of their motifs elsewhere - for example, the paired angels appear on Vierlander samplers - I have not seen that particular approach to design anywhere else. Until I looked more carefully at the Chinese cotton embroideries book again. This is very much work in progress for me at the moment. There was a Danish East India Company with warehouses on Amager which traded with South East Asia - and the question is, did one trading country influence another? The Needleprint Amager Panel 1797 Chart contains more history. Because of the present postal strike, I have decided to make a black and white PDF version available as a download for those of you who are unable to buy the physical chart at your LNS. Just click here for the Amager Panel PDF costing $10. By clicking on the little Chinese extract below which I have charted, you should be able to have a sufficiently large pattern from which to work. If you are a Needleprint Infinity user, you can click here to download a free editable version. (Remember you need to choose the option to save and not open the file as you can only open it from inside Cross Stitch Designer.)


  1. At the International Quilt Festival this year in Houston there was a large display of antique Chinese Indigos. It looks like the embroiders were copied from these printed fabrics or vice versa.

  2. I have enjoyed Blue and White: The Cotton Embroideries of Rural China for a number of years. I did not stop to think that it might have such a close relationship to European embroideries. It should have though because of the popularity of Delftware, Blue Willow, and Chinese Canton porcelain.

  3. Simply stunning! You always amaze me with the wonderful information you find! I love this post, it is so interesting.
    Margaret B