Gemma Evans didn't expect to figure out her major HSC design
project while chatting to Andrea Swift, mother of American country
superstar Taylor Swift.
"We were at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre and I was trying
to explain the HSC to someone from Nashville," she laughs.
"My idea was that you could make a quilt from a basic kit and
personalise it with different materials."
After the concert Gemma wrote "a ridiculously rambling letter",
attached a pen and fabric square and posted it to Taylor Swift.
"I wanted something that people like me could work on during
their hospital stays.
"I have cerebral palsy. It affects people differently but I was
determined not to be in a wheelchair."
Gemma's mother Lee says, "In order to stay on her feet she had
to have a lot of operations where her femur was broken, rotated,
pinned and plated. Her calf muscles were cut, extended and sewn
together so she could stay upright."
Only days after posting the letter, Gemma received a reply and
Swift's signed fabric square.
"I was beside myself. It ended up on my quilt and that's how it
The former St Francis Xavier's College student's 'Inspirational
Hospital Quilt' placed first in the diocese in last year's HSC for
Design and Technology.
"I've been quilting since I was in Year 5 and thought it'd be
cool to have something you're working on and can see progressing,
because often in hospital you don't see how far you've come."
Although many activities are available to children with chronic
illness or disability to alleviate the anxiety of surgery and
treatment, teenagers have few outlets to express their thoughts and
"I wanted something that would help with emotional and physical
The quilt is a mosaic of colour, fabric patterns, ribbons,
buttons, photographs of family and friends, her god-daughter's
footprint, grandmother's bridal veil, and lyrics and messages from
Pink, Taylor Swift and Ingrid Michaelson. All these are markers of
personal significance and motivation.
"I've tried to make it fit a hospital bed, lightweight,
non-toxic and washable. If you have to change beds or rooms you can
take it with you. All the techniques can be used in hospital."
Design and Technology teacher and mentor Trish Stallard oversaw
Gemma's project. "She worked incredibly hard putting the quilt
together, all the blocking, embroidery, and applique."
"She had many barriers to overcome and never complained. I
nominated her for the Brother John Taylor Memorial Prize."
The prize recognises students who achieve academic success while
overcoming personal hardship. Gemma was one of three NSW
recipients. She also scored Band 6s (90% and above) in her other
subjects, placing first in the diocese and fourth in the state for
Now studying Event Management at TAFE, Gemma hopes her quilt can
be an inspiration to others.
"I found that it gave me a sense of belonging because you have
something that's yours. You've made your mark."