By Meg Jackson
For women who have undergone a mastectomy as a result of breast cancer, there is a comfortable alternative available to typical silicone prosthetics.
Founded by breast cancer survivor Barbra Demorest, Knitted Knockers is a charity organization based in Bellingham whose goal is to supply free and accessible knitted breast prosthetics to women in need.
“We’re all about providing free knitted knockers,” Demorest said.
Completely handmade, the “knockers” are lightweight, soft prosthetics designed for breast cancer survivors to wear underneath their clothes. Unlike traditional silicone breast prosthetics, knitted knockers can be worn very soon after a mastectomy, Demorest said.
Demorest, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, began looking into silicone prosthetics after her mastectomy. She was told, however, that she would not be able to put anything against her scars for at least six weeks.
“For me, that was the lowest part of my journey, and that’s the first time I cried through the whole thing,” she said.
A week after her surgery, Demorest’s doctor told her about an alternative to silicone prosthetics: a “knitted knocker.” Intrigued and excited by the idea, Demorest asked her friend and experienced knitter, Phyllis Kramer, to make one for her. Kramer got a pattern for the knitted breast and the next Sunday when they met at church, she had one for Demorest to try on.
When she wore her “knocker” for the first time, Demorest said she knew then that she wanted to make them easily available to other women throughout the community.
“I took off my loose-fitting jacket, went out, and I reengaged with life at that point,” she said.
Demorest connected with a group of knitters and with Apple Yarns in Bellingham to begin making what they call “knitted knockers” to donate to clinics throughout Whatcom County.
According to Demorest, the idea came from a Maine woman who owned a yarn shop. After her yarn shop went out of business and she was no longer making the breast prosthetics herself, Demorest asked to use the name Knitted Knockers for the charity.
A couple years after beginning the Knitted Knockers foundation, Demorest received an award from Susan G. Komen, the largest breast cancer organization in the United States. The foundation suggested featuring Knitted Knockers on national news stations to raise its public profile, but Demorest said if that were to happen, “the demand would go through the ceiling! No one group could fill all of those orders.”
She said that although they could contract with a company to manufacture the prosthetics and inexpensively increase production, Demorest and Knitted Knockers volunteers will continue making them by hand.
“I think we would lose a lot of what we have here because these are handcrafted by women who care,” she said. “It’s a tangible way to bring comfort to women. Not only do the recipients benefit from them, but those of us that are making them, too.”
Instead, Demorest launched her own website, www.knittedknockers.org, where women can request a knocker, access video tutorials on how to knit them, and download a free knitting pattern to make their own.
“I wanted it to be a one-stop for everything you need to know about Knitted Knockers – to make them for yourself, for your friends, for your community,” she said.
For the last eight months, a group of about 16 to 20 knitters has been meeting at Apple Yarns each Wednesday to make and prepare the weekly orders.
“Apple Yarns has been such a support to us,” Demorest said. “Before that, I was doing it all myself out of the laundry room.”
Knitted Knockers was named Charity of the Month by the Seattle Seahawks for October 2015. In addition to their booth at Touchdown City, where Seahawks fans gather before games inside the CenturyLink Field Event Center, Knitted Knockers received a $2,000 donation and was featured on multiple Bonneville Seattle Radio stations throughout the month of October.
Knitted Knockers has expanded into 42 states and nine countries, all the way from Canada to South Africa. Demorest said that in the Whatcom County community alone, volunteers contribute about 1,600 collective hours of their time each month to make and ship the prosthetics.
“As our reach has expanded and we’re getting the word out all the time, the requests are increasing,” Demorest said, adding that Bellingham knitters have fulfilled 167 requests in the last week – many of which come from various places throughout the country and the rest of the world.
Even for those who don’t knit, weekly volunteering opportunities are available – such as handling the packaging and shipping of orders and filling the knitted prosthetics with cotton.
Demorest estimates that after the price of materials and shipping expenses, each pair of knitted knockers costs around $10.
Neither she nor any volunteers receive a salary or paid compensation. “We’re completely donation driven,” she said. Their biggest challenge currently is raising enough money to cover shipping expenses.
Since the knockers require a specific kind of yarn that is suitable for sensitive skin, they do not usually accept donations of yarn. However, those interested in making monetary contributions can visit www.knittedknockers.org for more information.