Colour: turquoise temptation

I was trying to be systematic with my colour posts – I did the primaries, and then the secondaries… and I managed to hold back from indulging myself with one of my all-time faces. No longer.

Go turquoise!

For me, turquoise is an interesting colour. For one thing: what exactly does the name cover? Is it peacock? Is it jade? Teal, perhaps? Is it cyan, the classic turquoise colour of printing? Pantone 15-5519? Is it lurid, or is it more subtle?

Is it the colour of a shallow sea over sand?

(A slang expression for the Caribbean is the Turquoise, but I think it would be just as appropriate for the Shetlands – this is the sea from the Burra Isles. OK, not quite so much rum as the West Indies, a tad cooler, not that many pirates, but there’s a heck of a lot more wool in the Shetlands.)

When I began considering a turquoise post, I thought I’d have difficulty finding ‘found’ colours to photograph – I like to illustrate my colour posts with examples I’ve retrieved – and then I started looking through the photo archives. It’s everywhere, which I found really surprising.

You want a turquoise windbreak for your veg? Turquoise wire? Easy: it’s well represented in our local farm suppliers.

A turquoise train? We can do that too (that is a train, honest, on the bridge over the Mawddach estuary), and of course almost any beach around the British Isles can provide turquoise netting.

In holistic medicine turquoise is calming, so maybe in our farming shop it’s intended to mitigate the effects of all the paperwork, oil prices and people who leave gates open (we’ve already had one lot of sheep in the car park after some idiot failed to close a gate and it’s not Easter yet). Incidentally, that’s why it’s often used in hospitals, along with light blue and pale greens: they’re all colours which induce calm, and most people respond positively to them.

(Though not me, ahem, in a pale blue and turquoise room having my stitches out earlier today. I fainted. Or maybe too much calm had been induced?)

This is Pearl – she’s not mine; I’m an honorary cats’ aunt – and if the colour calmed her down, it would be a good thing.

Throw? Not me either – charity shop.

Turquoise is an old colour, though not as a fabric dye – there, it really came into its own with the development of artificial dyes and boy, do I have a weakness for it. I have to have it. I can’t help myself.


As a mineral, it’s been valued for its colour for thousands and thousands of years. In fact, it seems to have been one of the earliest gems to be mined, with Sinai and Iranian sources providing the turquoise used as inlays in Ancient Egypt. It was also found and used in Ancient China, though it was more commonly acquired there in trade with people from further west – that’s the Iranian area, again. It wasn’t really prominent in Europe until later, about the fourteenth century CE (traded through Turkey, which was thought to be where the stone originated – though it most likely came from, again, what is now Iran), but it was valued in the Americas well before that.

Aztec turquoise mosaic inlay, from the British Museum

Interestingly, almost everywhere it was used, it developed a reputation as something remarkable and even holy, though often, also, as something equivocal. It was thought that the changes in colour which occur quite naturally – due to chemical reaction from the skin, cosmetics, etc, as well as the effect of light – reflected the wearer’s health, for instance. Jade, of course, was the jewel of heaven, a product of interaction between water and mountains, and always symbolised good fortune.

One of my favourite uses for turquoise – apart from in my stash – is in ceramics, mainly Islamic. I was first exposed to them in situ at Samarkhand (sorry about that, but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds; I remember there was a perfume called Samarkhand which was supposed to convey the ‘scent of Smarkhand at night’ – and I do hope not: that would be goat and diesel), and they blew me away. This is the Gur Emir, or the tomb of Timur:

And I love the colour in Iznik pottery too, where it is usually used (as elsewhere) with a deep, vibrant royal blue:

Iznik dish, about 1540-50 CE, British Museum

I love it with the blue, but also with the green and the pale smoky lavender – now there’s an idea. Hm.

Turquoise actually goes with a surprising range of colours. Theoretically it’s best with its analogous colours – the ones next to it on the colour wheel, so that’s a blue and green: both present in that Iznik dish – or its complement, a reddish orange. And once you start turquoise-spotting, you notice that particular combination cropping up in nature

as well as in fabric (particularly fabric from a couple of years ago), and maybe the sand of the netting photo earlier in the post fits that, too.

But it’s also surprisingly adaptable. I think the turquoise of the train in the shot next to the netting works well with the purplish colour of the hills, and I have some merino / silk fluff which pairs a turquoise with a deep, dusty crimson, rather like one of the crochet squares in the throw covering Pearl’s turquoise throne. I’d like a shot of that too, but I can’t quite put my hands… hmm.

Time to stop diverting myself by withering about turquoise, and excavate the stash. Argh!


14 thoughts on “Colour: turquoise temptation

  1. Shadow

    Think I’ll have a turquoise hunt tomorrow 🙂
    My favourite stone in this colour is Chrysocolla…. droool. It is said to stimulate creativity and bring out latent creativity within. I believe this has some merit, as I have a piece near my desk.

  2. knitsofacto

    I think I like turquoise best in stained glass, and in ceramics, paintings, embroidery, fabrics … but always as an accent colour, I don’t think I’d knit with it unless we’re talking Fair Isle, but that’s just me.

    So glad to hear your stitches are out, here’s hoping that’s the end of all your hand problems 😀

    1. kate Post author

      I think – for me, anyway – it depends on the shade and tone. I’ve a friend who looks fab in a really mineral-like shade but I wouldn’t dream of wearing it myself (I know it makes me look really ill). But peacock – oh yeah!

      Still got right hand to do, but that’s less work and (hopefully) will also involve less fainting! Went to excellent LYS in celebration when I’d finished work – yum, yum – but only bought a set of needles. Phew.

    1. kate Post author

      That’s all right, it’s just nice to hear from you (even a repeat!) – comment systems are very idiosyncratic… I’m sure the same thing has happened to me on your blog!

  3. del

    I LOVE turquoise jewelry; it’s one of my birthstones, so this post was right up my alley! Plus, whenever I see that color, I always think of the ocean.

    1. kate Post author

      That’s lucky – I’ve got emerald for mine (fat chance of affording that any time soon, but at least I can knit with it). Turquoise is so tactile, isn’t it? I found a fab pendant in a craft fair and fondled it so much I had to buy it…

  4. Elizabeth

    The view from the Mawddach bridge is stunning – I can never decide which way to look though. Must make my way up there soon.

    The teal-peacock-jade spectrum is one of my favourites too.

    1. kate Post author

      I know – I go over it in the train looking like someone watching Wimbledon… upstream most of the time – mountains and water – and downstream as the sun is setting. (But alas the newer trains are coming in a very pedestrian and disappointing silver.) Yes, you must come soon!

      It’s such a gorgeous range of colours…

    1. kate Post author

      Thank you – mmm, turquoise. The colour of the shawl is actually pretty accurate (amazingly), and it was a one-off skein. Wouldn’t it be fab in a sweater? Sigh…


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