Our supporter, Hilary, shares how her mum, Barbara, used her embroidery skills to raise money for breast cancer research, after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991.

Tuesday 21 March 2017      Community blog
Barbara with her 'Pocketful of Dreams' hanging

Barbara with her 'A Pocketful of Dreams' embroidery piece

My mum, Barbara, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, just weeks after the birth of her first grandchild. Following her treatment and two operations she saw a piece in the Yorkshire Post in October 1991 which called for ‘£15m to save women’. Pictured were Esther Rantzen and Norma Major who were launching a nationwide appeal to build a research centre dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer. The appeal was set up by a charity called Breakthrough Breast Cancer. This article inspired my mum to spend most of the next ten years raising money for Breakthrough, as well as the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary Breast Clinic Appeal.


Barbara was a textile artist, and her greatest interest was embroidery, although not really embroidery as most people thought of it then – it was innovative and something different. Her first piece of work was entitled ‘Breakthrough’. Before starting work on the piece she met with a Consultant Pathologist at her local hospital, the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, who explained how cancer cells looked; their shapes and colours.

The final piece measured 1m x 1m and took nearly three months to complete. Worked into it were pieces of bandages, medical gauze and swabs, which were all dyed in pinks and blues. Among the medical imagery, gold and silver colours shone through to represent hope. She intended the hanging to show that there is hope and that the disease can be conquered. She hoped that it would give everyone who saw it the strength to fight the disease.

'Breakthrough' was featured in many local newspaper articles in Huddersfield and Yorkshire, was displayed in Huddersfield as well as at the Knitting and Stitching Show, the Business Design Centre in Islington, and the Ideal Home Exhibition in London. She found when talking to people at these venues and explaining how the piece came about that people saw something creative, something visual, a mental picture to take home with them and they went away pledging to support Breakthrough Breast Cancer. The piece went on to be displayed at the Royal Marsden Hospital.

Brass and bags for breast cancer research

Her second piece of embroidery was entitled ‘Carnival’ which was a gloriously colourful concept deriving its inspiration from the shapes, movement, sound and colour of a carnival parade; from steel drums to fancy costumes. This took two months to complete and was donated to the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary Breast Clinic Appeal, together with funds raised from ‘An Evening of Songs and Sounds of Brass’ which she also organised.

Barbara then went on to organise a sale and exhibition in Huddersfield entitled, ‘Bags for Breakthrough’. She was a member of the Embroiders’ Guild and members from branches all over the country sent bags to be sold to raise money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Nearly 200 bags went on sale, including everything from shopping bags, make-up bags, evening bags and even a ceramic bag made by a local potter.

As well as these larger fundraising events, she also organised smaller ones, such a musical concerts (she was a member of the Pennine Singers; a soprano), and embroidery exhibitions and was, it seemed at times, rarely out of the local press!

Barbara's biggest idea yet

Then came her biggest idea yet… ‘A Pocketful of Dreams’. She wanted to create a huge wall hanging covered in pockets containing people's dreams for the future. Contributors were asked to send a donation, together with their dream, and a piece of fabric. The dream and fabric (and in some cases ready-made pockets) were then sent to Barbara who put together the piece.

In the end the piece was turned into three hangings covered in many multi-coloured pockets, with donations coming from as far away as Australia, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Holland from people of all walks of life including contributions from Norma Major, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Diana Moran, Sian Lloyd, Anna Walker, Gloria Hunniford, Caryn Franklin and Wendy Richard.

The finished hangings took over a year to complete and were exhibited locally, but a final home for this wonderful piece of work was never found. The hangings were uncovered while clearing Barbara’s family home and they are to be put up for auction at Gildings in Market Harborough (as seen on the BBC’s Bargain Hunt), where all the money raised will be donated to Breast Cancer Now (created by the merger of Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer).

The auction is to be held on Tuesday 11 April 2017 and bids can be placed in person, via telephone or online. For further information please visit the Gildings website.

Help for the future

Through her fundraising work, my mum found a focus – something to drive her forward and an outlet for her creative talents. She wanted to help other people and to give them a chance to survive what was becoming a more and more common cause of death in women. She wanted to use her creativity in whatever way she could to help others

This will be the last chance for Barbara’s work to raise funds for the charity that was so close to her heart and for which she raised so much money for over a decade. She now receives full-time care for dementia and this saddens all that know her, as she has lost all the skills she had that she loved so much.

Her family really hope that this auction of such a ‘one off’ piece will raise a lot of money for Breast Cancer Now and that the funds raised will go on to help others in the future.

More information

If you know of a venue that could provide a loving home for this unique piece of artwork, or an event where it could be auctioned to support our work, we’d love to hear from you.

If you'd like some ideas to start your own fundraising, take a look at our fundraising materials and ideas page.

Already planned a fundraising event? We'd love to hear about it. You can tell us about your fundraising plans using our online form.

To find out more about the auction of Barbara's 'A Pocketful of Dreams' piece, please visit the Gildings Auctioneers website.