A woman discovers American Hero Quilts — and designs a new fabric for the effort

Karen Roti might have limited her volunteer efforts for American Hero Quilts to writing letters to freight carriers, requesting help shipping the quilts to Afghanistan.

But the Seattle woman took her efforts several steps farther, and come spring, the quilts will show the fruits of her labor. The backs of most of the quilts will be made from fabric Roti designed especially for Sue Nebeker and her quilt project.

Roti, who had never designed fabric before, felt compelled to do so after meeting Nebeker and visiting her studio, where every corner is filled with quilts in various stages of completion.

“I wanted so badly to contribute to the work she is doing,” Roti recalled.

At 64, Roti is retired from a career as a marketing director for several Seattle hospitals, work a world apart from fabric design. But 30 years ago, Roti attended art school, and only recently she had connected with an old friend from her art school days — a fabric designer who works for Mark Lipinski, a prominent figure in the quilting world. Her friend suggested she try her hand at fabric design, Roti said, and with that seed planted, she left Nebeker’s studio, went home and got to work.

It’s rare for someone to design a fabric and have it be printed. But Roti, undeterred, quickly created 22 designs and brought them to Nebeker and a group of volunteers, who spread the samples out and voted on them. They pared it down to 14, and Roti prepared a pitch for Seattle-area Clothworks. The company selected two of her designs, which are now being printed in China on high-quality cotton and will be available in this country in April.

“It’s really a gift to Sue,” Roti said.

For her part, Nebeker is thrilled. “We adore them. They’re wonderful. I will use them most of the time,” she said.

The two designs are each printed in three colors, so six fabrics are available in all. Keeping quilting in mind, Roti designed them to be 108 inches wide, instead of the typical 45, so quilt backs can be made as one piece.

One of the designs is a star pattern; the other is a fabric that says “American Hero” and “Thank You” in several sizes and fonts.

“Vietnam was my era, and one of the tragedies is that we never said, ‘thank you,’” Roti said, explaining the inspiration for the design. “I do not want to ever think that we did not say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Roti is happy with this turn of events and is looking forward to her fabric being part of so many quilts. She is especially pleased the fabric is going on the backs of the quilts.

“It’s going to be touching them,” she said. “That’s the side closest to their hearts.”

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