Meet Gretchen

Gretchen Dent, known as “The Hat Lady” around the medical community of Rochester, coordinates the Chemotherapy Hat Project as well as making Mastectomy Pillows and Jackson Pratt Drain Holders. The project works with many community groups, including the Rochester Chapter of the American Sewing Guild. (Read our history below.) Among the many tasks that make this project happen are:

  • Purchasing fabric
  • Washing fabric and cutting it into hats ready to sew
  • Preparing fabric and ribbon for pillows
  • Coordinating volunteers
  • Sewing the hats, pillows and Jackson Pratt drain holders
  • Monthly deliveries of the items to the pickup sites

If you have any questions about the project or wish to help, you can e-mail Gretchen at

Photo of Gretchen Dent


Our History

As we all know, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often lose their hair. The patient is faced with the dilemma of how to maintain self-esteem and keep their head warm with a hat that is soft and comfortable on sensitive skin.

In the fall of 1998 a project was begun when the Viking Sewing Machine Company published a pattern designed by a cancer patient. Gretchen was asked to coordinate the project and it was kicked off by a “Sew For the Cure” day sponsored by JoAnn Fabrics. They continued their commitment for several years and donated fabric which was used for that day’s sewing. The majority of the project was then moved to the Viking Sewing Galleries and finally into Gretchen’s home.

We began by contacting the local oncology centers to distribute the hats. The list has grown over the years and now includes hospitals, oncology centers and others (see the list of Pickup Locations).

We have expanded the variety of hats we make to include turbans, scarves, stocking caps and fleece hats. We also now make pillows for mastectomy patients and Jackson Pratt drain holders for those same patients, along with other surgery patients.

Our purpose is to provide at least one hat to patients to provide warmth and contribute to their dignity. There are many other hats available and reasonable wigs to choose from in stores and online, but we wanted to be sure that EVERYONE had at least some covering for their heads and to know that others care for them.

We distribute approximately 100 to 125 hats per month depending on the need and also approximately 50 mastectomy pillows and drain covers. All of the facilities now count on a monthly delivery.

A dedicated group of people meets once a month at Gretchen’s home. In a space of 2 hours, they usually finish 100 hats.

Hats, which are cut out and ready to sew can be obtained (along with instructions) by emailing Gretchen. Individuals or groups can take these home, complete them and return them to be distributed. Many local chapters of the Rochester Chapter of the American Sewing Guild also assist in completing these hats.  Altrusa, a professional women’s service group donates one of their meetings a year to this project. A senior citizen’s group completes pillows for hospice care. They make the pillows in all shapes and sizes to support limbs and relieve areas of pressure. Also involved are the Home and Careers classes at some of the high schools.

The voices of those who receive these items cannot give enough praise for this project. Both patients and employees of the centers state their thanks often, not only for the hats, pillows and Jackson Pratt drain holders, but also for the care of others that accompanies them. Cancer touches us all and it is a small way for us to contribute to making life a little better.