Like so many avid knitters, Jo Panayotoff has put her needle skills to work for a variety of charitable endeavors, from blankets for Radiance Women’s Center in Beaufort to baby gowns for preemies.
A few years ago, while looking for a new project, she came across the website for Knitted Knockers, an international nonprofit group that creates knit prosthetics for breast cancer survivors. Panayotoff knew all too well the need for an alternative to the standard silicone breast forms, having heard her daughter, a breast cancer survivor, gripe about her cumbersome artificial boob.
“I remember my daughter complaining that her prosthetic was heavy and hot,” Panayotoff recalled. “She found it so uncomfortable she started stuffing her bra with a rolled-up sock.”
To create a Knitted Knocker, Panayotoff had to learn how to knit in the round with double pointed needles, an advanced knitting technique that uses four needles with points at each end.
“The first couple of knockers I made were a little wonky, but I got the hang of it,” the retired Lady’s Island resident said. “I knitted a pink one for my daughter and sent it to her to try out.”
Made with 100 percent cotton yarn approved by Knitted Knockers and proven to be washable, breathable and durable, the wonderfully soft, contoured tata was a big hit.
Realizing these could help other women, Panayotoff set off to find local recipients for her Knitted Knockers. Her first stop was Beaufort Memorial Hospital’s Breast Health Center.
“I loved them the moment I saw them,” said Beaufort Memorial Breast Care Navigator Erin Bulatao-Hollifield. “They’re light and soft and look very natural.”
The knockers are especially popular with women who have just undergone a mastectomy and need to wait for the surgical site to heal before wearing a standard prosthesis. Available in sizes from A to double D, they are stuffed with high-quality fiber fill that can be adjusted through a small drawstring opening on the back. They also come in an acrylic blend that can be used for swimming.
“Many women particularly like that there is a knocker made for swimmers,” said Bulatao-Hollifield. “It’s a great option especially for those who reside in our coastal area and want to get back to swimming in the pool or at the beach.”
Since she started her efforts back in the fall of 2019, Panayotoff has personally knitted more than 200 knockers.
“It typically takes me about eight hours to make one,” said Panayotoff. “Smaller ones can be done in less time, but it’s mostly the larger sizes that are in demand.”
Recognizing that she wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand for the free prostheses, she’s recruited several friends who knit, and has
partnered with Coastal Knitting in Beaufort to find additional knitters. The shop’s owner, Janice List, also offered to host a “sit & knit” event for the cause, as well as be a drop off location where knitters can leave unstuffed knockers for Panayotoff to pick up.
“Then I stuff and size each one, label and package them with care instructions and distribute them,” she said.
In addition, Dataw Island’s knitting group took on Knitted Knockers as their charity project. Volunteer knitters pay for the yarn themselves, with a ball of yarn generating about five average-sized knockers.
And while support has grown, so has the need. In addition to providing for Beaufort Memorial patients, she has also expanded distribution to the hospital’s Okatie Medical Pavilion and Hilton Head Hospital’s Breast Care Center in Bluffton, and become a state provider for the national organization, fulfilling requests from the Knitted Knockers website.
“Bottom line is we need more knitters. With increased awareness, and the enthusiasm of the nurse navigators at the hospitals, I’m looking for a way to expand our ability to reach more women,” she said. “I want to keep doing this until it’s no longer necessary and there is no more need.”