True Navy Blue

According to local folk lore, Norfolk Ganseys were traditionally knitted in Navy Blue yarn, after a decree passed by Lord Horatio Nelson that Navy Blue should be the exact colour worn by the British Navy. Naturally, the fishermen liked to be associated with such a heroic local figure (Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk in 1771) and so they adopted this colour to be their unofficial uniform sometime in the mid to late 19th century.

12 Fishermen by Gerry Yardy courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service

When I first began my research in the local archives, it soon became clear that the Ganseys were always knitted in the same shade of Yorkshire worsted Navy Blue yarn, most often bought from the same Sheringham wool shop. I’d expected some of them to be knitted in a cream wool, like the Aran knits, but apparently cream yarn was only used to knit the fishermen’s underwear and socks. Whilst reading printed interview transcripts taken from conversations with the original knitters, it became apparent that the fishing communities were almost entirely self-sufficient, making everything they possibly could, themselves from whittled knitting shields to their knitted underwear. This was because money was always scarce, but also because the fishermen’s wives were immensely proud of their handiwork, whether it was baking, lace making (their own shawls) or knitting Ganseys.

Earlier this year, I spent time working on my yarn: the knitting tension, washes and finishes, because I wanted to achieve an even softer handle and minimise the use of detergents in my manufacturing processes. (My Nottingham factory now only washes the finished jumpers in water.) This was when I decided to develop my own Navy Blue shade which is exclusive to Charl.

Laxtons, the mill who spin my yarn have a sister company, Park Valley Dyers, (also based in Yorkshire), who are specialists in eco-friendly hank dying and drying high quality yarns like mine. They use 80% less water than conventional dyers and source their water from a borehole which means that the water used is purer than conventional tap water (very important when dying yarn). Once the dying process is completed, 85% of the water is then recycled after undergoing a cleaning process to ensure 100% dye exhaustion (meaning only clean water is flushed into the drain). The yarn is dyed and dried at a low temperature which ensures that the fibre is not compromised, this also saves on energy consumption. The finished yarn is deep in tone, soft and bouncy having lost none of its natural qualities.