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Knitters Support Breast Cancer Survivors With ‘Knitted Knockers’

“I have a passion and a purpose in life now of bringing comfort and dignity to women everywhere.”

October 13, 2016
Knitting communities are banding together to support survivors of breast cancer with handmade breast prostheses.

On a Wednesday morning at the Apple Yarns store in Bellingham, Wash., a small crowd gathers in the store’s lounge, emanating a steady buzz of banter and chatter.  A knitting group at a local yarn store may be a predictable sight, but upon closer inspection, what this particular group of women (and one man) are knitting is anything but predictable.

They’re making knitted breasts, playfully dubbed “Knitted Knockers.”  From neutral-beige tones to more festive designs such as the blue-and-green “Legion of Boob” knockers inspired by the Seahawks, there’s a knocker for every occasion. 

Founded in 2011 by Barbara Demorest, KnittedKnockers.org is a group that makes and distributes knitted breast prostheses for breast cancer survivors.  Demorest discovered Knitted Knockers after her breast surgeon, Dr. Cary Kaufman, recommended she download and knit the pattern. She learned that she would not be able to have breast reconstruction surgery and that she (along with all mastectomy patients) could not wear the traditional prosthesis until six weeks after surgery.  

“I am working harder and longer hours than I ever did for a paycheck.  But the pay for me is far superior in the love and the ability to change lives... I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

Demorest downloaded the original Knitted Knockers pattern created by Cheslea Flotton — a breast cancer survivor  and knitting-supplies storeowner in Maine — who had modified the original pattern created by a knitter named Beryl Tsang in Canada.  Demorest asked the best knitter she knew, her friend Phyllis Kramer, to knit her a pair. 

For Barbara, receiving her first pair of Knitted Knockers was life-changing.

“I plopped the Knitted Knockers in my bra and I took off my loose-fitting jacket and I re-engaged with life… I knew immediately that these Knitted Knockers needed to be made available to women everywhere.” 

In addition to providing a bridge during the six-week post-surgical period, some women choose the Knitted Knockers permanently over traditional silicone prosthetics because they are light, customizable and can be worn in a regular bra. 

Knitted Knockers volunteers share a smile.

Demorest set out on a mission to help make Knitted Knockers available — for free — to any woman who needed them.  She contacted Flotton for permission to utilize the Knitted Knockers name and pattern, and ever since Barbara and her crew of volunteers have been supplying Knitted Knockers both to individuals who order them through their website and to local clinics.  In addition to making them from scratch, they receive shipments of completed knockers from knitters throughout the country, which they utilize to fulfill orders. 

I plopped the Knitted Knockers in my bra and I took off my loose-fitting jacket and I re-engaged with life… I knew immediately that these Knitted Knockers needed to be made available to women everywhere.

From their homebase at Apple Yarns they send out approximately 1,000 Knitted Knockers per month.   

Demorest helps organize Knitted Knockers groups in other communities, with 197 registered groups knitting Knitted Knockers nationally.  Most recently, Demorest was contacted by Philippa Kibugu-Decuir, founder of the Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa, and will be travelling to Rwanda in October 2016. There, she will teach a group of women how to start Knitted Knockers groups in their own communities. They aspire to reach over 800 communities in East Africa, where traditional breast prostheses have proven impractical due to their uncomfortable weight in hot climates and lack of availability in darker skin tones.

“I’ve worn prosthetics since 1992. The only thing that the prosthetics were good for was taking off my bra and throwing it at my husband,” quips one knitter.This past year, Demorest retired from her job to devote herself full time to managing KnittedKnockers.org. A journey that began with a heartbreaking cancer diagnosis has led to a life renewed with a mission and purpose. 

“I honestly could say I wouldn’t change a thing,” Demorest notes. “I have a passion and a purpose in life now of bringing comfort and dignity to women everywhere.  And when I read their stories it touches me.  I know we’re making a difference.”

To download the pattern, order Knitted Knockers, or receive information on how you can start a Knitted Knockers knitting group in your own community, visit www.knittedknockers.org.

 



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Made possible in part by

Aileen Imperial

Aileen Imperial is a multimedia and documentary producer with a commitment to thoughtful observation and engagement. Her work has aired nationally on the PBS American Masters series, PBS NewsHour, and she is a 3-time Emmy winner for feature videos in the Arts, Culture, and Human Interest. Find her on Twitter: @imperealize

More stories by Aileen Imperial

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You did a beautiful job, Aileen!  Thank you!

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