Knitters admit to crazes. Some years, it’s socks. Others, it’s feather-light wraps.
This year, it’s shaping up to be breasts.
Sonya Acord gathered in Lakewood with her Yorkshire Yarns customers on Friday for an evening of knitting prosthetic breasts to donate to women who’ve lost their own to cancer.
Be warned, these are pretty salty do-gooders – so salty, in fact, that my editor would prefer I not name the group outright. We would not wish to offend, or titillate, readers.
Instead, I will leave you to fill in a letter. Acord has named the group “The Knitty (-)itty Committee.”
The movement started in Maine, where it makes perfect sense. It is cold, cold, cold there in the winter. Given a choice of what to strap to one’s chest, a person might well prefer something super-soft and woolly to a bag of chilly silicone.
Chelsea Flotten, a knitter from Brunswick, had a right-breast mastectomy in 2002.
“In September of 2006, a wonderful friend, Mary Ellen, presented me with the most thoughtful and joyful gift – a knitted boob!” Flotten wrote on the Maine group’s website, theknittingexperience.com/knitted_knockers_program.
Flotten loved it and showed it to her doctor, who saw just the right combination of light-heartedness and financial benefit in it.
Traditional silicone prostheses are expensive enough to be beyond the reach of some women already struggling to pay for their cancer treatment.
A good prosthesis can cost $300, said Janie Cunningham, executive director of Tacoma’s Breast Cancer Resource Center. The center helps women with wigs, bras and prostheses – and the daily practicalities of building a life that looks normal in the midst of cancer.
“We’ve had people come in with 30-year-old prostheses,” Cunningham said. “Some of them are worn out and leaking and patched with duct tape.”
“I can knit a boob for $4.80,” Acord said.
That would be with the softest, most washable yarn for the job.
Like Flotten, she recommends a cotton-tencel blend or a cashmerino. Real wool gets too hot, can be scratchy and doesn’t wash easily.
“A bamboo-silk mix is really, really soft,” Acord said. “I just don’t know how perky the bamboo will be for the nipple. We may have to use a button.”
Acord is knitting her first breast in a rich milk-chocolate skin tone, using one of her many balls of leftover yarn. There will be just enough for one, perfect for a woman who has not had a double mastectomy.
But she, like Cunningham, sees no reason to stick to skin tones.
Cunningham, who’s considering taking up knitting for this, has her eye on a skull-and-crossbones button for a fierce pirate nipple. She might go with a butterfly button and bright yarns for a breast with less attitude.
Either way, she’ll knit an outer cover and a liner that she’ll fill with stuffing, and a small smooth stone for weight, to slip into a mastectomy bra.
Take the stone out before you go through airport security, Acord said, or you’ll give a screener an impromptu education.
The Maine-inspired breasts have been all about attitude, a fine fit for today’s social knitters, Acord said.
A good many of them are frank beyond old boundaries.
A woman who’d had a double mastectomy stopped by one day, asking if there was anything like Knitted Knockers going on locally.
“She just pulled her shirt up, and showed me what a double mastectomy looked like,” Acord said.
That woman had gone through enough to be matter-of-fact about it. She understood that most people don’t understand.
Acord researched the knitted breasts, picked an evening to get started on them, and emailed invitations to her customers.
One of them turned up the next day, looking for beige yarn and a pattern. She wanted to get one done for herself in time for bathing suit season.
Acord will send her knitters’ handiwork to the Breast Cancer Resource Center.
She envisions displaying some of them in her Lakewood shop.
“We’ll have a bowl of knitted boobies,” she said. “We need to be educated. Yes, we need to laugh, but we need to have the conversation.”
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677