HANFORD — Anne Sutton started knitting while she was in college and hasn’t stopped since, but now she knits "knockers" to help improve the self-esteem of breast cancer survivors.
Knitted knockers are handmade breast prosthesis made out of a special kind of yarn. Volunteers, working through the national nonprofit organization called Knitted Knockers, make them for women who have undergone mastectomies or other breast procedures.
Traditionally, prosthetics can be heavy, sweaty and expensive, but the knitted knockers offer a more relaxed soft feel that can even be placed in a regular bra to take the shape and feel of a real breast.
Sutton, 81, is a volunteer at Adventist Health in the Central Valley and was approached by a friend who will undergo a double mastectomy next month.
“She brought one from Fresno and showed it to me, and asked me if I could make her some knockers. I said sure,” Sutton said.
Sutton - along with at least 12 other volunteers - had been knitting quilts, blankets and other newborn baby items during a Thursday morning knit-and-crochet session at the Needle Inn on the Adventist Hanford medical campus.
Now she focuses on making knitted knockers. She's the only one of the volunteers who has mastered the art of knitting the knockers as it is quite complicated and requires four different types of needles.
Ambur George is the gift shop coordinator for the Volunteer Service Department with Adventist Health and is in charge of making sure the knitted knockers Sutton makes are available in the Adventist Health Breast Care Center.
“[Sutton] had wondered if through our organization we could benefit and have it stay local within the organization,” George said. “I contacted our breast center and spoke to the director, and they said that yes they had heard of [knitted knockers], but nobody had been doing this for them,” George said.
Sutton is not a breast cancer survivor, but she was diagnosed with a different form of cancer and thinks “cancer is the ugliest word in the English language.”
She retired 19 years ago after being a librarian at the Lemoore Library for many years and says she started volunteering because she was bored at home.
“I can’t just sit and watch TV without doing something,” Sutton said. “I’m selfish, I enjoy doing it.”
It takes Sutton about six hours to knit one pair, and she has made about 60 knitted knockers since April. They vary in colors and sizes for the patients at the Breast Care Center in Hanford.
Breast coordinator and lead clerk Julce Belo says they have given out 25 to 50 of Suttons knitted knockers in the last six months.
“We had a lady come in two or three weeks ago after having a mastectomy,” Belo said. “She heard that we had some here and we told her they are free. She was so excited, she had tears in her eyes, and I was trying not to cry. She was just so touched.”
Sutton is insistent that the knitted knockers are free. She buys most of the yarn herself but hopes more people learn how to make them or help donate.
“The reason I’m even here is because I hope other people start knitting. Why should I do everything,” Sutton jokes.