"Shawl (Phulkari)" detail

Member Spotlight: Polly Bech

Surface Design Association is so lucky to have such a strong and talented community of artists and makers. With members all over the world, doing a variety of work, we’ve decided to start a monthly blog spotlight featuring more of what our community is working on. Our inaugural member spotlight is Polly Bech: a Philadelphia-based quilter and solar-printer whose vibrant work is exactly what we all need to get through the winter!

Polly Bech Off Kilter 2019, cotton, solar-printed, machine-pieced, hand-quilted, 46” x 46”.


Polly Bech

I had a very early interest in making things. My parents even indulged me with oil painting lessons at age six. At college, I thought that I wanted to study psychology, but I couldn’t stop wanting to make things. Gradually I accepted that I should study art. I attended college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—Amish country—so quilts were all around me, but making one seemed too daunting at the time. Instead I painted and did collage work, studied illustration to gain some marketable skills, and worked my way into computer graphics. I finally turned to quilting when I became pregnant with my first child. A local community center lured me in with a basic quilting class; from then on, I was a quilter.

Polly Bech Through the Woods 2012, cotton, solar-printed, fused, hand-quilted, 32” x 23.5”.

I’ve taken a number of workshops since then, with Lonni Rossi (stamping on fabric) and Jan Myers-Newbury (shibori dying), to name a few. I’ve tried to use what I learned from these amazing artists in my work. There are bits of shibori in Flowing Through and Unintended Consequences. I hope to continue taking classes and folding what I learn into the fabric of my quilts.

Polly Bech Flowing Through 2015, cotton, solar-printed, shibori-dyed, machine pieced, machine-quilted, 48” x 30”.

Polly Bech Unintended Consequences 2018, cotton, solar-printed, shibori-dyed, machine pieced, machine-quilted, 29” x 32”.

Most of my recent pieces incorporate cotton that I have solar printed, a technique I learned from a kit of Setacolor Transparent paints and have been working on for years. I collect leaves and make prints of them using sun sensitive paint. You can create many different effects by mixing and layering the paint, and by throwing salt on the paint while it is wet. For years I used Setacolor transparent paints, like the ones from my original kit, but they have been hard to come by in the last few years, so I have been trying out a few other brands. The different makes of paint have unique palettes and consistencies; I am still in the process of experimenting with them.

Polly Bech Solar Printing. Images ferns produce by the process of solar printing.

About five years ago I took an online workshop with Jane Dunnewold. As part of the course, she encouraged her students to make work with materials at hand, so I challenged myself to create some quilts using only scraps of my solar printed fabric. The black and white quilts—Black Hole and Hope Renewing—are part of this series. (I do admit, though, I did have to print more black and white fabric so I could make these. Sorry, Jane!)

Polly Bech Black Hole 2015, solar-printed cotton, machine-pieced, hand-quilted. 50” x 50”.

Polly Bech Hope Renewing 2019, cotton, solar-printed, machine-pieced, hand-quilted, 50’ x 50”.

In 2018 I was asked to take part in an exhibition, Responses to Gee’s Bend, at Swarthmore College. I created a quilt specifically for this exhibit, using old clothing and a quilt pattern loosely based on the unique quilts from this region of Alabama. After this experience I wanted to continue using the design methods I had engaged during the Gee’s Bend challenge. The resulting quilts incorporated my solar printed fabric along with plain black and white cotton. Echoes of Gee’s Bend and Off Kilter are two from this series.

Polly Bech Echoes of Gee’s Bend 2019, cotton, solar-printed, machine-pieced, hand-quilted, 49” x 35”. Detail below.

As I am writing this I have just finished piecing together a new quilt top, as yet unnamed. The impeachment trials were playing on the radio as I worked, and as I look at the piece I am thinking that they somehow seeped into the design. But I’m not sure that’s for me to decide.

Polly Bech New quilt top, unnamed 2020, cotton, solar-printed, 50” x 50”.


Are you a Premium Member and interested in being in an upcoming monthly spotlight? Email Lauren Sinner to share your artist statement and images!

4 Comments

  • C J Grabinski says

    February 12, 2020 at 6:56 am

    What a wonderful inaugural artist for this new SDA venture. I am intrigued by Polly's quilts and by her process. Her colors and designs are so beautiful. Thanks for shining the spotlight on her and her quilt art.

  • Susan Kotulak says

    February 12, 2020 at 7:02 am

    I love the "new quilt" and was wondering if it was for sale as is. Do you have any objection to it being stretched on a frame? Is the quilting part important to you? And I'd like to know pricing as well, of course. I also love the Echo of Gee's Bend. Somehow I immediately reacted to Off Kilter it as if it were sound, and the volume ramping up as the motifs got larger. And also, the "new quilt" reminded me of parisian cafes... old world mediteranean. Not a hint of politics in my viewing!

  • Joan Templeton says

    February 13, 2020 at 7:05 am

    Polly, such a unique take on quilt making. Absolutely beautiful! Your colors and printing are wonderful. Interesting...your last piece, yet to be named, a little like prison bars, just saying!

  • Edie Berstler says

    February 13, 2020 at 7:10 am

    Congratulations to Polly Bech! Bravo ... I have several "Polly Bech" pillows gracing my home. The pillows are small works of art. The solar dyed images on the fabric of leaves and ferns look and and make me feel like I am sitting in a beautifully shaded forest on a sunny, mild June afternoon. Pieces of late spring to gaze upon on a grey January morning!

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