BLOOMINGTON — When Betty Toland did a favor for a friend in need, she had no idea that it would become a women’s fashion accessory and a fundraiser for the Community Cancer Center.
“This is a very simple idea,” Toland, 70, said in her basement workroom of her Bloomington home. “I’ve been pleased with people’s receptivity and generosity.”
Toland designed and sewed a pocket with a strap for women to place on a shoulder to carry their cellphone, MP3 player, home phone, sunglasses, eyeglasses or keys. The goal is for women who don’t wear pants with pockets to wear something that can carry those items while keeping their hands free.
Toland calls her invention Phoney Pockets – pockets for cellphones.
Inventing and making her first few pockets was impressive enough. What’s happened since then is just as noteworthy.
Toland has continued to make Phoney Pockets. The colors and designs are all different.
“No two Phoney Pockets are alike,” she said.
The result? Since summer, she has sold 110 at $20 each, meaning $2,200 to the Community Cancer Center in Normal.
As of last week, she had designed and sewn another 140.
“My first goal was $1,500 for the cancer center,” Toland said. “I’ve met that and I’m pleased. Now I want to raise $5,000.”
“When you wear one, you realize how convenient they are — especially for women who don’t have pockets,” said Marci Schneider, the cancer center’s director of development.
“They’re well-made,” Schneider continued. “Betty puts a lot of work into making these. And she’s doing this out of the goodness of her heart.”
Toland, whose grandmother was a seamstress, began sewing doll clothes at age 5. She remembers sewing a stuffed purple octopus in fifth grade and teaching other high school freshmen how to make petticoats to wear under their poodle skirts.
By high school, she was sewing most of her clothes and some for others. At 19, she made her wedding dress, at 23 she made sails for her husband’s sailboat, and after that came baby clothes, doll clothes, curtains, bedspreads and reupholstered sofas and chairs.
For 15 years, she owned Betty Ann’s Drapery and Design, where she designed and created draperies, pillows, bedspreads, dust ruffles, tablecloths and other home décor and accent pieces for residential and commercial clients and historic homes.
But by the late 1990s, she was “sewed out.” She retired from her business and turned to new hobbies — writing, painting and photography.
In January, she and her husband, Dave, were visiting friends Joe and Vicky Harbison of LeRoy. Joe had been diagnosed a month earlier with pancreatic cancer and already was in hospice care.
“We’ve been friends with Betty and Dave for many years,” Vicky Harbison said. “They would come down and always wanted to know what they could do to help.
“One time they came down, I had Joe’s phone in one hand and mine in the other,” Harbison recalled. “So I told Betty, ‘Make me something I can put this phone in because I don’t have a belt or a pocket.’”
Harbison didn’t want to worry about setting down and misplacing their cellphones.
That evening, Toland returned to her basement workroom, which includes a 5-foot-by-12-foot cutting table, eight sewing machines and numerous drawers with fabric.
Using materials she had on hand, Toland went to work, designing and sewing a pouch made of felt and a shoulder strap made of ribbon.
She returned to Harbison the next day and asked, “Is this what you’re looking for?”
“I put my cellphone in there right away and I used it,” Harbison recalled. “It was very handy. Knowing Betty, when she gets an idea, she goes with it. It was a great idea by a great friend at a time I really needed it.”
Toland bought fabric and made prototypes to show other friends. They liked the idea but wanted different colors and designs. Toland made them and her friends loved it.
Toland knew she had something. She came up with the name Phoney Pockets and designed a logo. Then she read a Pantagraph article May 23 about fundraising to expand the cancer center. She decided to continue to design and sew Phoney Pockets, with proceeds going to the cancer center.
“I am the miracle patient who benefited from good treatment and care from Dr. (Pramern) Sriratana and the Community Cancer Center,” Toland said. Several years ago, she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia but, after treatments, she is in remission.
“I feel great,” Toland said. “I am so grateful and indebted to the cancer center. It was time for me to do something.”
Toland uses mainly cottons and some decorator fabric. Colors and designs vary but include John Deere, University of Illinois, soccer and golf themes.
Each Phoney Pocket has six or seven components and takes 45 minutes to create.
Each pocket includes a card that explains how Toland came up with the idea and that the entire $20 purchase price is going to the cancer center.
While Toland has sewn the vast majority of the Phoney Pockets, friends have made a few and her husband Dave and their daughters, Brenda Hartweg and Susan Sopek, helped.
Harbison isn’t surprised the idea has taken off. She has three Phoney Pockets and uses them “just about everywhere.”
Joe Harbison died Jan. 30. Vicky Harbison said it means even more that Toland is giving all the money to the cancer center.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Harbison said.
Along the way, something has happened to Toland.
“Creativity through sewing has returned,” Toland said. “The thrill is back. Working with volunteers has livened my past solitary sewing environment and working toward a philanthropic goal has given this grandmother great joy.”
Phoney Pockets are available for $20 at the Community Cancer Center, 407 E. Vernon Ave., Normal, or by calling Marci Schneider, the center’s director of development, at 309-451-2214.