Knitted Knockers UK: the crafters knitting breasts for cancer survivors

Knitted Knockers prosthetics

Written by Freya Parr.

All across the country, a group of approved knitters and crocheters are making breast prostheses for women who have had mastectomies. They’re part of the charity Knitted Knockers UK: a collective of makers who have found a way of crafting for a good cause.

The organisation branched out from its US origins and found a home in the UK in 2014. In some ways, it was a surprise that there was as much of a demand here for knitted breasts as there was in the States. “It’s easy to understand why Americans wanted them,” said Lynne Hawksworth, chair of trustees for Knitted Knockers UK. “They have to pay hundreds of dollars for a prosthesis, whereas our silicone ones come free from the NHS.” 

But it seems there was still a demand – women wanted lighter-weight options. Because the knitted knockers are made with 100% cotton and toy stuffing, they’re very light, whereas silicone prostheses intentionally weigh the same as the breast that’s been removed. “All we’re saying is that we’re offering an alternative,” explains Lynne. “There’s nothing wrong with silicone, because some ladies get on fine with it. We’re there for the ladies who don’t.”

Some women found that the silicone prostheses can move around and creep up, whereas the knitted ones tend to stay put within the bra. What’s more, silicone prostheses have been criticised for their temperature control, getting too cold in winter and too hot and sticky in summer. Knitted knockers don’t have these problems, absorbing sweat so as not to aggravate scars in the warmer months. And obviously, there’s no worry about being cold in winter – some women have been known to pop their knockers on the radiator in winter to keep them warm, which would be out of the question with the silicone alternatives. 

Introducing… Aqua knockers!

A new addition to the range is the Aqua Knocker, designed for exercise and swimming. Made of acrylic and stuffed with shower scrunchies, the knockers have already been a big hit. “One lady had an Aqua from us, and she said we’d literally changed her family’s life because they’d been able to have a proper family holiday for the first time since her operation”, shares Lynne. “We get such lovely feedback – it’s as much for us as it is for the ladies who receive our items. To sit down and do something you really enjoy doing and to feel like it’s changed someone’s life is incredible.”

Get involved

So, who are these brilliant knitters and crocheters? There are now about 150 makers on their approved list, which has a strict application procedure. “As a registered charity, we have to be aware of quality control,” says Lynne. “Every single knocker sent out to a lady has to be approved by our admin team, and people can only make knockers for us if they go through the approval system.” Ladies apply to knit via the Knitted Knockers UK website and Facebook group, and then make two different sizes of knockers – one with a nipple and one without – to photograph from all angles.

The patterns differ slightly for knitters and crocheters, but the requests for crocheted knockers are significantly lower than for knitted. So why is this? Lynne laughs, “the crocheted knockers are slightly more Madonna-ish – they’re more pert and harder to squash into shape”. As a result, they only tend to work better for younger women who have had a double mastectomy and naturally had smaller breasts. 

Knitted Knockers UK knitting night in John Lewis 2019.

The organisation has grown substantially in the last few years. When they started in 2014, they made just over 800 knockers in their first year. Now though, their numbers are between 3,000-4,000 a year. It’s become a military operation, with knockers made on demand and delivered within a fortnight. The knitters – or ‘knockerettes’, as they’re called – are given details of the size, colour and whether the woman wants a nipple or no nipple. This element of choice is a vital part of what Knitted Knockers do. “It’s funny to ask whether someone wants a nipple, but just having that little choice is so important,” points out Lynne. “When they’ve gone through something where they’ve had no choice, it’s really important to give them that power back.”

Personalise your project

The knitters try and accommodate any requests, be that knitting the knocker in the colour scheme of their favourite football team or creating a white knocker that can be stitched into a wedding dress; something a few brides have already asked for. Once a knitter has taken the order, they’re given more information about the woman requesting the knocker. “This helps the ‘knockerette’ think of the lady they’re making it for,” says Lynne. “We say that each knocker is made with love and filled with hope.” The knockers often have a personal touch – elegantly wrapped in an organza bag and sent with extra stuffing and lacing, they really are like a gift from one woman to another. 

Much of the work is organised remotely and managed through Facebook, although the makers can meet at various ‘Knit and Natter’ groups across the country. Lynne says these groups are the best way of learning the processes involved in making a knocker. “All you need to know is how to use double-ended pins or circular needles and be on Facebook. If you can cope with making a baby hat, you should be able to cope with a knocker.”

So what are you waiting for? Start with a baby hat, and you’ll be a Knockerette before you know it.

Head to the Knitted Knockers UK website to find out more. If you have a go at making some knitted knockers then tag us in your pictures on Instagram and Twitter or post it on our Facebook wall. Check out our other knitting projects below: