A need for ‘knocker knitters’

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  • Miriam Callabras with the prosthetics she knits for women who have had mastectomies (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

    Miriam Callabras with the prosthetics she knits for women who have had mastectomies (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

  • Retired nurse Miriam Callabras knits prosthetics for women who have had mastectomies (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

    Retired nurse Miriam Callabras knits prosthetics for women who have had mastectomies (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

  • A room in Miriam Callabras' Sandys home is stocked full of yarns and knitting needles

(Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

    A room in Miriam Callabras' Sandys home is stocked full of yarns and knitting needles (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

  • Miriam Callabras with the prosthetics she knits for women who have had mastectomies (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

    Miriam Callabras with the prosthetics she knits for women who have had mastectomies (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

  • Keeping her hands full: Miriam Callabras with the prosthetics she knits for women recovering from breast cancer (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

    Keeping her hands full: Miriam Callabras with the prosthetics she knits for women recovering from breast cancer (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)


Ask Miriam Callabras how she spends her time, and you’re likely to get a lively response.

The 71-year-old keeps busy knitting prosthetics, or as she describes them to anyone with even a passing interest, “knockers! You know, boobies?”

She’s donated 15 to Pals in the last year, each knitted in a different size to fit women who have had mastectomies.

“It takes me an evening,” said the retired nurse. “I do it for the love of it. A manufactured prosthetic is made out of silicon. It is hot, heavy and sticky.

“When a woman has just recently had a mastectomy, she has scarring on the chest wall.

“Scar tissue can be itchy and sore. The benefit of a knitted prosthetic is that it is made out of cotton and is absorbent. It doesn’t weigh very much, and you can throw it in the wash.”

Her mother, Margaret Owen, taught her how to knit and sew at age 6, in Harrowgate, Yorkshire.

“[She] was a schoolteacher and head teacher who specialised in the arts and crafts,” said Mrs Callabras.

She became a midwife because she thought she’d be able to travel: “‘Every country needs a midwife,’ they said. It didn’t quite work out that way.”

In 1972 she moved to Bermuda to work at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. She later joined the staff at Lefroy House and then was a Sandys district nurse for many years.

Life was one big party.

“A lot of nurses dated police, because they were on the same shift schedule,” she said. “There were always parties at police headquarters. It was an amazing time. It was a case of party, work and sleep.”

She met architect Sinclair Callabras in Casey’s bar on Queen Street.

“Hell yes, he was a good-looking guy,” she laughed. “And he would give you the shirt off his back.”

They married on July 10, 1979.

She still has the blue wedding dress she made for the ceremony.

“I keep it as a reminder of the days when I was 95lbs, soaking wet,” she said.

Her husband died in 2008; Mrs Callabras retired from nursing three years later.

Ham radio, orchids and her beloved bichon frise Lucky Licky Louis all keep her busy but her main focus is knitting — any and everything. A room in her Sandys home is stocked full of yarns and knitting needles.

“I can’t resist a yarn shop,” she said. “I was on holiday in New Orleans recently and was on an evening walking tour of the city.

“I looked up and saw this big basket full of luscious yarn in a store window.

“The next day, I had to get a taxi and go back. In the store, I was just walking around picking up yarn after yarn. I said, ‘Someone slap my hand’.”

She and a friend knitted a dozen blankets for patients at Agape House four years ago. Once that was finished, Mrs Callabras started “looking to see what else I could do”.

An online forum for knitters alerted her to her most recent cause.

“Knitted knockers is a worldwide movement,” she said. “There are even women who will stuff them for you, if you don’t have the money for that.”

Part of the draw came from the challenge. Patterns are a little more complicated because they use four needles rather than the standard two.

She proposed the prosthetics as a project for her knitting group at St Andrew’s Church in 2014. There was little interest from the other members or from Pals.

“I imagine the knockers just got put away in a corner,” she said. “No one asked for any the first year.”

Then she ran into a former colleague, Kathy Fox, who’d become a Pals nurse.

“She was really interested when I told her about it,” said Mrs Callabras.

The requests trickled in; three for the entire year.

“This year demand has really picked up,” said Mrs Callabras. “I’ve done 15 already. I said to Kathy, ‘There must be a breast cancer epidemic’, but I think really, the nurses at Pals have finally gotten to know about them and are suggesting them to more people.

“Now we’re looking for more people to knit the knockers. If they don’t know how to knit, I’ll teach them.”

•To get involved call 234-2021 or join the knitting group which meets in St Andrew’s church hall on Tuesdays at 7pm.

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Published Oct 17, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 17, 2017 at 7:22 am)

A need for ‘knocker knitters’

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