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THE KNITTING ROCKET
By SUANNA SHORT, London
Even before the Apollo astronauts had set off for the moon, the world's fastest knitter was rocketing at 100 stitches a minute through a "space sweater" which was made in six hours.
THE "space sweater"
has a dark blue
background with yellow
moon and stars and a
white space - rocket labelled "Apollo 11
Mrs. Gwen Matthewman, of Featherstone, Yorkshire, designed it and knitted up the 40 ounces of wool all in six hours.
Mrs. Matthewman, who is listed in the "Guiness Book of Records" as the world's most prolific hand-knitter, sent the "space sweater" to spaceman Neil Armstrong.
Space officials have written thanking Mrs. Matthewman for her gift, which, they say,
moon astronaut Neil Arm
strong will wear "for pic
A company in Bradford have already asked to buy the design for manufacturing space sweaters for children.
Mrs. Matthewman has
been so busy living up to her reputation as the world's fastest knitter that recently she had to go out and buy
her husband a sweater.
The 41-year-old mother of four admitted in broad, staccato Yorkshire: " 'Aven't 'ad time."
A surprising admission from the small, brown-haired knitting dynamo, who can run off a scarf in 15 minutes, a sweater in four hours, and a dress in two nights.
But, as she pointed out, her television appearances, Press interviews, lecture tours, weekly demonstrations - and the "space sweater" - have kept her pretty busy.
Mrs. Matthewman has
become something of a celebrity since her name first appeared in the "Guiness
Book of Records" almost
three years ago for getting
through a record 2930 ounces of wool in one year - and turning it into 231 garments.
Last year she toured Japan as a guest of Japanese tele vision, competing against - and beating - that country's
fastest two knitters.
Finding herself without any of her small cable-needles during a television demon stration of cable-stitch, Mrs. Matthewman took a box of matches out of her purse and proceeded to knit on match
She also knitted a record 160 square inches in half an hour and, in between breaks in her ten-day tour, a sweater for the program's producer.
Closer to home, she sat in a shop-window in Essex for two days, knitting non-stop and competing against a
local contender for the world title, who did 20 stitches to Mrs. Matthew
man's every 40.
Her husband, who works at a local power-station, was not very happy with the shop-bought sweater he got for his annual holiday this year, Mrs. Matthewman said.
Her children - David, 20, Kevin, 10, Wendy, 5, and Roger, 3 - like being able to put in an "order" with Mum for a new garment and be wearing it the next day. So far Wendy has not shown any interest in learning to
"But wouldn't disappoint me if she never did," said Mrs. Matthewman, who speaks with Yorkshire brevity. Her own mother has never learned to knit.
How did she start knit ting?
"Knitted first jumper when seven, and just kept on," she replied. "All just
She knits every night from 7 to 11.30 p.m. watching television as she flies through anything from bubble-knit to Continental stocking-stitch.
She would like to knit
full-time but, with a family to look after, nights are all she can manage.
She has a photographic memory for knitting patterns, but digresses from any pat tern at will, and often designs garments. One of her most elaborate designs is a dress with an all-over rose pattern
knitted into it.
She likes to experiment with new knitting materials, she said, pulling out of one of her many suitcases of knitteds a "fun-fur" knit dress and one of gold "cotton
She has also experimented with new types of needles, such as the plastic "maxi pins," which were a craze last year. With these, and the combined strands of eight balls of thick wool, Mrs. Matthewman can knit a dress in less than an hour.
She prefers, however, her faithful steel needles ? she estimates she has worn out about 500 pairs in her knit ting career.
"Once ends are blunted, are no more use," she explained.
Her own wardrobe, as might be expected, is almost entirely knitteds. "Hardly ever have t' shop," she said.
In Yorkshire's climate, woollen dresses can be worn
for most of the year.
She claims that knitting today is on the increase, and denies that it is a skill for old ladies.
More and more young
mothers in Britain are knit ting their children's clothes for economy - to make ends meet, she said. They are dis
covering - as she discovered - that hand-knits last and stay in shape well.
"When go t' Mothers' Unions for demonstrations, all are young," she declared.
Every year, around Christmastime, she takes off a day or two to knit her
MRS. GWEN MATTHEWMAN with the
"space sweater" she knitted in six hours.
presents - bootees, scarves, dresses, coats, and stockings - and is never short of a gift for a friend's wedding or baby's christening.
She receives orders from people in all parts of Britain,
who have read about her in their local newspapers. Some orders would daunt the best of knitters - but not the mother from Yorkshire.
" 'Twould drown" She admits, however, that a few household chores went by the board when the Inter national Wool Secretariat recently asked her for four women's suits, to be ready in a fortnight.
Although Mrs. Matthew man sat for two days in an Essex shop-window, she is not interested in marathon knitting or in producing the world's largest garment, she said firmly.
She likes to make things people can wear.
The largest garment she ever made was a 60oz. fishing sweater?for a big man.
"But hope never fall?,
wearing 't," she said, will twinkle in her sharp knit
eye. " 'Twould drown." I
The Guiness world reco holder for marathon knitt is, in fact, a New Zeal woman, Mrs. B. M. Ha of Christchurch.
Matthewman says Hands is welcome to record ? she prefers specialise in speed.
This year she has doubled her output
broken her own world She has knitted 4391
of wool in the shape garments, including
sweaters, 84 cardigans,
pairs of mittens, 25 lad jumpers, and one teddy be
How did the "Book
Records" find her, a mot of four in a remote part Yorkshire? I asked.
"Wrote them," she "Wrote them letter."
And, finally, why did
"Relaxes me," she fided. " 'Tis my way of g ting rid of nervous tensioi