Thursday, 9 May 2013

Leslie Prokop

You never know when you will meet that person who makes you stop in your tracks and think about the generous quilters out there.    Every quilter has a story of how they began quilting.   This is one such story that grabbed my attention and is about an amazing woman and how she has incorporated quilting into the lives of the next generation.

Ms. Leslie Prokop was discovered by CQA/ACC when she sponsored a number of students in the Youth Challenge, through the exchange of several emails, she was gracious enough to share her story with us.

Tell us a little about yourself?
I am a mother of two and married for 26 years. I have been a high school guidance counselor/ teacher for the past 29 years.

Patch work quilt – in between every third or fourth quilt that I complete, I have tried to put a personal rule in place that I must use fabrics from my stash or scraps.  This is a table cloth we currently use in our kitchen.  It is quilted with thermal insult in the center to keep the heat off the table.

When did you start quilting?
I started quilting when I was a counselor with the Peel Board of Education. I oversaw a program called TEAM - Teen Education and Motherhood Program. Young girls ages 13 – 21 attended school either pregnant or with their babies.  This was a community outreach program with the YMCA and Peel District School Board. We offered a full range of classes from  English, Math Science, to physical education and parenting classes.  We tried to offer whatever courses were needed so the girls could graduate from high school with their Ontario Secondary School Diploma. These girls stayed with the program until they went to college, university or got a full time job. My first year at the program we needed a credited course that none of the girls had taken before that needed to be taught by me.  The only course we could find was a family studies course in sewing.

 I had sewn a little in the past: dresses for my daughters for Thanksgiving and Christmas, curtains and pillows etc.  My principal offered to send me to any sewing course to better equip me to teach this specialized area. I ended up at the Toronto Needlework Festival, registered in a variety of sewing classes.

The first class I attended was a quilting class with Ami Simms. I walked into her classroom and was totally overwhelmed – it was amazing.  She had quilts displayed around the room, with signatures and pictures of all of her students past and present. I decided immediately that I was going to do this. I wanted to create a memory of all of the students who had touched my life. So at the end of the class I went directly to the registration desk and changed my “sewing” classes all to “quilting” classes.

 Next I had a class with John Willard.  He was over the top creative and imaginative. I had no idea what I was doing, yet every woman taking the class took me under their wing and helped me. I had no stash, I didn’t even know what this was.  They all started donating fabric so I could stay a part of the class. I learned immediately that quilters were incredible people, and generous to a fault. They had hearts that were caring, plentiful and gave freely of themselves. 

During my four days I also had the opportunity to enjoy classes from Rosemary Makhan. Her supportive quiet nature combined with her vast knowledge and experience helped to solidify my interest in quilting. I have never looked back and have been taking courses ever since, reading books and magazines, attending retreats and workshops.  So far it has been 12 years of an incredible journey.
Sailing Quilt – I live in a home of avid Ontario sailors - our oldest daughter was on the National team and Olympic campaign last year. This quilt will be an auction item at Bronte Harbour Yacht Club’s fund raiser for the visually impaired sailing school / summer youth sailing program

You teach at a unique school, can you tell us about it?
 I currently teach at Appleby College. It is a university preparatory school in Oakville Ontario, attended by students from around the world. We host both local and international students who are either day students or boarders. One of the co-curricular activities that students have the option of taking is CRAFT CLUB. This club occurs every Monday after school for an hour and a half. Students learn a variety of crafts throughout the year. Every year we teach sewing and quilting. We donate cuddle quilts to the Neonatal unit at McMaster University. We create pillow cases for the Oakville Trafalgar Hospital and Ronald McDonald house. In the past we have donated full size quilts to the Quilt for a Cure Challenge. This year all of our Craft Club members created blocks to enter into the CQA/ACC Youth Block Challenge.  One of our members, Antonia Engel a grade 10 student won in her age category.  We were thrilled as it was her first time quilting.

Tula Pink – Free on-line pattern.  I currently love her fabric line – and patterns

What type of quilting do you like? 
I can truly say I am very eclectic. I like everything.  From traditional, civil war,  to applique and modern. I am limited like most quilters by not enough time. I have had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Houston Quilt Festival, as well as local quilt shows over the years.  I am currently a member of two guilds, the Grimsby Quilters Guild and the Stoney Creek Quilters Guild. The members in both are so creative and inspiring that every month there is something new to see and experience through the guest speakers and show and tell segment.

Tell us some favorite things you enjoy about quilting?
 My favourite thing about quilting  is the sense of community, and kindred spirit among its membership. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to include my hobby in my work place. It has enabled me to share my passion and creativity. I have been on several guild executives; Halton, Oakville, Stoney Creek and Grimsby.  Through participating in each, I have found the strength in women and a sisterhood through a common interest.

 I have also had the opportunity to work at a local quilt store and teach some classes on the weekends. The Quilters Garden Patch is a hidden treasure in Bronte, and has been amazingly supportive of my interest in quilting. The owner Janet Henry and customers are inspirational. I have a friend who also runs a long arm quilting business – Shelley De-Hay Turner.  Her company Perfect Pear Quilts makes all of our family quilts come to life.  Meeting and working with fellow quilters has motivated me, and helped to make my life more complete.

With retirement in the near future I have decided to launch an on-line quilt store with my daughters Joanne and Jenna.  JP's Quilt Studio will be selling fabric, books and hopefully inspiring others. We plan to have our kick-off grand opening on June 15th at our home at 6 Richmond Crescent in Stoney Creek. This will be an open house to show what we will be carrying and hopefully share the Houston quilt market experience with some of our local quilters. Lots of great new hot fabrics at some great low prices.  It might sound crazy but we don’t want to make oodles of money – we want to share our addiction by offering great value at market type prices.  This will provide me the opportunity to work with my daughters, and continue to share my passion and interest in quilting.

What would you like to try in quilting? 
I am about to try the Tula Pink hexagon quilt kit. The colours are fresh but the pattern istraditional. I like the blending of the two.

 Where would you like to see quilting go in Canada? 
My grandmother was a master quilter.  She was 99 years old when she passed away.  She always had some stitching in her hands and never sat idle.  She was so proud of being Canadian that she always tried to include a little maple leaf in her work. We have the opportunity to travel a great deal, and I am always impressed on my trips around the world, how stitching and quilting are everywhere. I would love to see Canadian quilters/artists continue with my grandmother’s  tradition and include a maple leaf somewhere in everything that they do. Either in the stitching, hidden in a border or on a label. I am so proud of our country, heritage and culture.  We need to stand up and be recognized as the best place in the world to live, and quilt!

This year was the inaugural year of the Grimsby Quilters Guild.
We were lucky enough to host a challenge sponsored by Northcott Fabrics.
My daughter and I each purchased a kit to enter.
We then decided we would try use them two-fold. 
Once for the challenge and secondly as a gift to my boss and her husband as they are expecting twins.
Grimsby Quilters Guild Challenge - Leslie Prokop

Grimsby Quilters Guild Challenge (made with daughter Joanne)

 Lastly, and I ask everyone this, what is your favorite food? 
Hahaha, could there be any question? Cookie dough, obviously.It has been such a pleasure interviewing Leslie, with her determination to educate the young about quilting and her strong pride in our country.  I think I am off to tuck a little maple leaf into my new art quilt.

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