Meet Mary Tabar

San Diego, California, USA


All photos courtesy of Mary Tabar.
Click on quilt photos to enlarge.

Hi Mary.  When did you start quilting? 

I always find this question hard to answer, because I have been sewing and drawing since the age of 6.  I feel the hand arts are such a mixed medium and most quilters/artists have always done some kind of art for many years.  I started making lap and wall quilts about 10 years ago.

Who taught you how to quilt?

Peggy Martin was a Community Education teacher in San Diego, CA. and I took her classes with the encouragement from Lee Olson, a friend of mine. I thought quilting was the only hand art that I did not know, so I took these quilting classes weekly for about 5 years.

Do other people in your family quilt?  Who?

In the Midwest during 1880-1950 most all women sewed as a basic skill.  So blankets were made for utilitarian purposes.  Many women in my family made quilts.  My own mother did not quilt, yet she made every kind of item in our house that was made from fabric.

Tell me about your family.  What do they think about your quilting?

I have two daughters that are supportive of my lack of computer skills, by answering all my questions, making CDs and even helping with my web site. They both sew and love many needle arts.  My husband works very hard to support all of the women in his life!  I always ask my family their opinions on designs and color.

o you live in the United States?  Which part of the country? 

Southern California, with a Midwest influence.

Have you ever quilted in another country?

I lived in Northern Lebanon eleven years ago, for one year.  I sewed only clothing then, and had not started quilting.  My husband is Lebanese and he had a job in Saudi Arabia so my daughters and I lived with family members.  The hand art there is crochet and knitting, so I did a lot of these two arts while visiting relatives.  Sewing supplies are very expensive and most of the population does not have the income to quilt.  I did meet fabulous tailors, both men and women.

What other hobbies do you have besides quilting? 

I do all kinds of art daily and walk around a huge lake.  I like to read books and art, quilting, and crafting magazines.  My daughters and I also enjoy photography.  I have combined some of our photos into my art quilts through piecing techniques and photo transfer.

Did you study art in college?   Do you ever wish you would have?

I have a degree in Industrial Technology, with a minor in Graphic Arts. I did not study fine arts; I’ve decided that is why you send your children to Art Colleges!

Do you belong to any art quilt groups? 

I belong to Visions Art Quilt here in San Diego.  I have been a member for four years. This year I am on the board for Children’s Education.  I also belong to Quilts on the Wall--this is a group of fiber artists that display their work in galleries, libraries, quilt shows, and quilt shops. This year I became an active member of SAQA, Studio Art Quilt Association.

How much time per day do you typically get to spend creating quilts?  Do you squeeze in your work around other things or does your quilting get its own block of time?

My only job is teaching quilting and surface design, so I spend about eight hours every day doing something that has to do with quilting.  I have just started a business making hand bags with my dyed canvas fabric.

Where in your home do you quilt?

I have a spare bedroom for my dry studio, and a garage for dyeing fabrics.  Sometimes my dining room is full of material if I am working on a large project!

What is your favorite part of the quilting process?

I like to think about the next quilt for many weeks.  Then I draw it out.  I enjoy cleaning up after the previous project and starting the quilt.  I must say finishing is the hardest part of quilting.

What inspires you creatively? 

I like to look at industrial areas that are under construction, urban areas, and interesting buildings.  Of course, quilt shows and meeting other quilters is also inspiring.  Plus I find my students to be a source of inspiration...they come up with new designs and new fabric combinations that I would have never imagined.

Whose quilts inspire you?  Why?

I think antique, traditional, and contemporary quilts all help inspire me to create new and different textiles.

What is your favorite season?

Here in Southern California the year is very mild.  Many times I have to stop and think what season we are “In”?

How many quilt projects do you have in progress right now? 

I really try to work on one project at a time, but with teaching I am always making class samples, and then I have my own personal art quilts I try to work on.

Favorite quote?

“If you can imagine it, you can do it.” by Martin Brofman

Do you quilt your own projects?  By hand or machine?  If not, who quilts them for you?

I try to quilt my own quilts.  I quilt all my art quilts by machine.  My first few classes I only enjoyed piecing tops together. Then when I started to quilt my own quilts I found a new art.  I have a lot of students that do not do their own quilting; I am always trying to encourage them to actually quilt.   

Linda Kamm has quilted four of my quilts and three of those quilts went to AQS in Paducah, AQS Nashville, and Pacific International Quilt show.

Tell me about a project that you are working on right now.

I have been working on using photo transfers and piecing to make art quilts. I just finished a quilt for “New quilts from Old Blocks” for AQS Museum. The block challenge was Rose of Sharon.

Do you prefer to piece or appliqué your quilts?

My quilts are about 90% pieced…I also like to machine appliqué raw edge and turned edge.

What is your favorite brand of fabric?  Do you ever hand-dye your fabric?

This answer could go on forever; fabric is my main medium and I use any kind to produce art quilts. For class samples I use mostly cottons. Hand dyeing fabric is almost a second job. I dye fabric almost every day.  Lately I have even been dyeing canvas and home dec fabrics and then using them for hand bags.

You mentioned entering quilt shows…How was that experience?

I started entering quilt shows two years ago. And probably enter some kind of exhibit every other month. I have seen my quilts hanging in shows and it feels a bit embarrassing. Maybe after several years a quilter and artist can look at their work.

Have any of your quilts won awards or been published in a book or magazine? 

I have a quilt traveling in “My Culture, My Country” with

I have two other quilts traveling; I always wonder where they are sleeping.

I also have quilts in two of Peggy Martin's books:  Quick Strip Paper Piecing (goes to Amazon) and Paper Piece the Quick Strip Way.  

Do you ever teach classes?  What is your favorite class to teach?

I teach for two Community Colleges in San Diego. I also teach at quilt shops.  In the summer I have been teaching young students at a sewing shop.  It is rewarding to teach young students how to sew on a machine and make projects to use around their home. 

With getting to teach so much, I hear all kinds of stories from students describing how they stash their fabric...every place from the dryer to a dog house in their yard!  I like to design quilts to help them use up some of those material possessions!!  I also teach a fabric dyeing class where my goal is to have my students make more fabric by dyeing their own stash! 

Do you use any tools or gadgets to achieve a ¼” seam allowance? 

I do like a ¼” foot for my sewing machine. It has a bar that keeps the fabric straight. Ask your local sewing shop, and take your sewing machine in with you to the store, there are so many machine brands.

Do you sell any of your quilts? 

I have sold a few quilts, but because I teach and lecture surface design classes, I like to keep all of my work. But sometimes I think it would be great to sell more quilts.

How has your quilting changed over the years?

I feel more confident to try new techniques and waste more fabric. I use mostly hand-dyed fabrics and any other medium that is fairly flat.

So, are you wondering what else I learned about Mary?  I found Mary to be sweet and kind, and very modest about her abilities and the fabulous quilts that she creates.  I would have to guess that Mary's classes are wonderful for not only learning to quilt, but also for growing as a quiltmaker. 

Thank You so much for sharing your story and your talent with us, Mary.

Here is a link to Mary's website if you would like to find out more about her:

So whom do you want for the next Real Women Quilt Featured Quilter?!!  I'm always open to your suggestions.  and let me know.

Featured Quilter Achives!!   sort of like our own little Hall of Fame!! 


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