It's not at every cocktail party that the hostess is telling you to play with her boobs, but then again, it's not every hostess that has such fantastic ones.
"This is Confetti, she's the original," Beryl Tsang, the "chief executive knitter" of Tit-Bits, says as she affectionately pats what resembles a pin cushion with a cherry button. But rather than a sewing aid or a deluxe cat toy, Confetti is actually a hand-knitted breast. And in the table in front of Tsang, a breast-cancer survivor and knitting fetishist, is a virtual knitted-boob garden of delights in a merry range of colours and sizes.
Tsang started making Tit-Bits for herself after her own surgery at the age of 37, when she couldn't find a prosthetic she liked. Her friends told a friend, they told two friends, and so on and so on, and now Tit-Bits ( http://www.titbits.ca) is in business.
"I went to all the different mastectomy stores," recalls Tsang, who is having her launch party at hip Toronto lingerie boutique Secrets from Your Sister. "But these things were all ugly, they looked like giant triangular pieces of liver. And at one store, the woman who worked there -- I'd swear she'd been fitting these things since Nixon was president. And she was like, 'Now you'll need a bra, dear' and I said, 'Can't I wear my regular bra?' And she said, 'No, dear, you'll squish your prosthesis.'
"I took this thing home and started to cry. And as I'm crying there's my whole yarn stash, and I just knit myself a boob. I went out with it, and a friend said, 'Hey, those prosthetics are really great! Your left breast looks as almost as good as your right.' "
Her right breast, of course, was the Tit-Bit.
"Look at this!" says Tsang, holding up the massive bra designed for the typical medical prosthesis. "Doesn't it look like it could hold up the suspension system of my Volvo?"
Regular prostheses are made of silicone. They're hot, heavy and expensive -- $400 and up. Tit-Bits start at $65 and are made of cozy, luxe fabrics like cashmere, so they don't irritate the skin. They can be tucked into any regular bra in a way that they don't sit on the mastectomy scar. And they can be worn weighted or non-weighted (for weights, Tsang uses stones inscribed with the Chinese symbol for healing).
"I show them to everyone," brags Cheryl Mason, a friend of Tsang's and fellow survivor. "I must have flashed about five people a day. I showed them to my minister at church. It's a real icebreaker."
"This is also about reclaiming," Tsang says. "I think it's important there is some way you have control. It's a demeaning experience to get fitted for a prosthesis -- you're poked and prodded. Something like this you can buy discreetly at your favourite lingerie shop. It can be fun. Listen, cancer sucks, it really does. Cancer is not funny. But you have to find the humour in it."
"My daughters put mine in their Groovy Girls dollhouse," Mason says. "Every morning it's like, 'Has anyone seen Mommy's boob?' "
"I think they're a very lighthearted way of approaching something that puts a cloud over everything," says Jen Klein, the owner of Secrets from Your Sister, which is carrying the Tit-Bits. "A prosthetic breast is all basic and ugly and doesn't allow a woman to feel better about herself in the morning."
And with a top price of $85, a woman can have a whole wardrobe of Tit-Bits for her every mood.
"The only thing I charge extra for is if somebody wants a pierced nipple," Tsang says. "I have a friend in her 50s who has Bits with pierced nipples. She thinks it's a hoot."