Knitting groups help women needing breast prosthetics


By Doug Gardner

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Women love Kathy Harriss' knockers.

"Knitted Knockers," that is, hand-knitted, lightweight breast prosthetics used by women recovering from mastectomies, lumpectomies and radiation reconstruction.

Harriss created 75 knockers in July and August and expects to complete 25 or more in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The prosthetics are free, donated to women who contact Harriss directly or who order them at www.knittedknockers.org.

"Everybody ought to have something to give back. And, I love to knit," she said.

Harriss is an Elizabeth City native, a Northeastern High School and College of The Albemarle graduate, who for eight years has been the finance officer for the Eliazabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission. She majored in drafting and design technology at COA, worked in banking, and ran the construction design business for her husband before coming to the EDC.

Harriss learned about the knockers project through a Facebook knitting group early last year.

Founded by Barbara Demorest of Bellingham, Washington, the organization now has 500 groups registered in all 50 states (24 in North Carolina) and in 25 countries. Demorest got the idea from a cancer patient in Maine who knitted some for herself.

Harriss took the first batch to her hair dresser, then got requests every month. A Dear Abby mention of the group in May 2017 spurred 250 back orders in North Carolina alone. She has help from two women in Kernersville and recently from Sue Thomson, a retired patient advocate at the former Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City.

It requires about four hours to create a pair of the devices, Harriss said. She usually works at home in the evening while spending time with husband Bob Norton, a builder and developer. A "C" cup size is the most often requested, but recipients can add or subtract PolyFiberFil stuffing through a hole in the back secured by a draw string. A completed knocker weighs ounces, compared to six pounds for a traditional prosthetic.

Owners can ask for a separate pair for swimming, fashioned from acrylic yarn to dry faster. Knockers can be washed stuffed or unstuffed on the gentle cycle and, uh, hung out to dry.

Harriss is helping a group of Greenville knitters who want to offer the knockers through Vidant Medical Center. She is working on connecting with surgical groups in Elizabeth City.

At first, Harris sent the completed knockers to Washington for distribution. The national organization mails out up to 1,000 pairs a month, Demorest said.

"Why don't I do this in Elizabeth City instead of sending them to Washington? Harriss decided.

Harriss cherishes the thank-you notes that many knocker recipients send her, often with small checks enclosed. Three skeins of yarn, enough for eight pairs of knockers, cost about $30. The national organization spends $1,000 monthly on postage, plus stuffing, materials and website management, Demorest said.

All the knitters are volunteers. There are no quotas. Patterns are free and instructional videos can get an individual or group started, Demorest said.

"The yarn used for Knitted Knockers is very important as they are to be worn against scarred, sensitive skin," Demorest said. "We have compiled a list of yarns that have been tested and approved as appropriate for Knitted Knockers."

The American Cancer Society estimates that one out of eight women will experience breast cancer sometime in their lifetime. There are 50,000 mastectomies done in the U.S. annually. Demorest said that 90 percent of surgery patients will wear a breast prosthesis at least for awhile.

Knitters and cancer survivors can contact Harriss at Carolina Knitted Knockers on Facebook or at carolinaknockers@gmail.com.

Doug Gardner is a resident of the Weeksville section of Pasquotank County.