Quilting Essentials: From Design to Color and Beyond

In partnership with
Heather Thomas, Quilting Expert
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Course No. 4080
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Discover the various types of balance techniques.
  • numbers Master color theory and design techniques.
  • numbers How to utilize embellishments, finishing techniques, and display tips.

Course Overview

Quilting originated as a practical way to create necessary items for the home and, much like other types of craft and sewing work that emerged from domestic need, it has a reputation to overcome. Often relegated to country craft fairs and quilting bees, the intricate and surprisingly versatile practice of quilting is actually a challenging and rewarding art that can produce amazing works and spark creativity. Take a deeper look, going beyond blankets and bedspreads, and discover the possibilities of an underestimated art form while building a toolkit of valuable skills and knowledge that will open the door to other crafting projects and artistic endeavors of all kinds.

Even experienced quilters can be intimidated by the challenge of creating a design that is visually interesting. Many often turn to prefabricated patterns, but what if you want to create original work? Understanding the principles of design alongside the essential cutting and sewing techniques can help quilters of all levels make more beautiful and effective pieces, whether they are practical pieces for everyday use or more complex works for display or sale.

Your guide to the endless possibilities of quilting is Heather Thomas, expert quilter and textile artist, who understands the difficulties of balancing skill and originality, all while ensuring you are always taking joy in your work. In the 30 inspiring lessons of Quilting Essentials: From Design to Color and Beyond, she walks you through the technical aspects of quilting and provides vital lessons in visual design, a winning combination sure to engage crafters of all levels of interest and expertise.

Tools, Techniques, and Design Principles

Begin your quilting experience by gaining a thorough understanding of the basics of blocks, sashing, borders, and a variety of sewing techniques as Heather walks you through hands-on demonstrations and explores the end results of finished pieces. From there, you will gain the confidence to work freestyle, moving beyond the blocks of traditional quilts and opening up the endless possibilities of your designs. And while Heather emphasizes the importance of knowledge and practice instead of relying on specialized tools, you will also get a complete overview of the instruments of the craft, learning which are most useful and which ones only serve to clog up your workspace.

Quilting Essentials is designed with quilters and crafters of all levels in mind, from those just starting out to longtime quilters who can sew a quarter inch seam with their eyes closed. With this in mind, to better navigate your way through the variety of topics and demonstrations throughout the course, the lessons have been divided into five modules built around important themes:

  • design basics
  • color
  • techniques and tools
  • embellishments
  • finishing and display

While beginners may find they do best to follow them in order, each module is designed to make dipping in and out of interesting and appropriate topics easy and fun.

As an artist with over 30 years of quilting experience, Heather has mastered the design techniques that help bring life and originality to every project. A successful quilt design requires many of the same elements as any other work of visual art, and these elements are distilled into three principles of design: balance, unity, and variety. These overarching principles will guide every decision a quilter makes when creating original work, from selecting colors and prints, to determining size, materials, and arrangement. Heather devotes individual lessons and workshops to each principle, using her own accomplished work and giving you an up-close look at a working artist in action—including failures that can teach valuable lessons.

Each design principle is further divided into many individual forms that can be applied to any quilt, whether traditional, experimental, or something in-between. For example, the principle of balance breaks down into several types, including:

  • Symmetrical balance is one of the simplest forms of balance, where elements of equal visual weight are placed on either side of the center of a design, often resembling a mirror image.
  • Linear balance uses line—sometimes literal and sometimes implied—to carry the viewer’s gaze over a piece in a way that gives a feeling of harmony to all of the elements within it.
  • Radial balance is based on a central point within the design which extends outward like the spokes extending from the center of a wheel. This is a very common form of balance in medallion quilts.
  • Asymmetrical balance can be tricky, since it relies on a distribution of elements that differ from each other but still achieve similar visual weight though size, placement, color, and other key choices.
  • Crystallographic balance is named for the way crystals grow in nature and refers to the kind of balance achieved when using an allover pattern of equal visual weight across an entire piece, with no individual focal points. It is easy to produce but difficult to make interesting.

In understanding these principles, you will learn not only how to create an effective composition, but how to successfully evaluate and correct your own work as you produce your piece.

Tradition and Experimentation

The traditional block quilt is perhaps the most recognizable, but it is only one of a myriad of possibilities. Heather demonstrates how the effective use of line, color, shape, and other compositional elements can help you create work that stretches and even breaks the bounds of tradition and breathes new life into an old craft. Not only will you learn new arrangements and unique compositional techniques, but you will also learn how to introduce surprising materials into your work—materials like paint, metal, buttons, paper, and other unexpected additions that make each project fun and interesting.

Color is a vital element of strong quilt design. Quilting Essentials teaches you how to go beyond simply choosing colors that appeal to you in the moment by introducing the foundations of color theory that will inform every aspect of a quilt project, from choosing a border and embellishments, to finishing and even framing your work. To better understand color and the many options available, Heather teaches you how to create your own cloth color wheels and demonstrates how patterns, shades, and tones interact within every aspect of your design.

Technique, materials, and design are all important. However, something even more vital is needed when creating dynamic designs and imagery that make a quilt stand out: curiosity. As Heather makes very clear, the toolkit of knowledge and skills you will build throughout the course is a starting point. Every successful quilt will combine the techniques you learn with experimentation and a constant desire to develop new and interesting approaches, something she encourages throughout every demonstration and workshop. Learn the value of working in a series to practice your skills, as well as how to appreciate and learn from the “failures” and accidents that inevitably happen during the creative process.

The Mathematics of Quilting

Math is a crucial factor in determining measurements for cutting and arranging, but since quilting is a creative endeavor, you may be surprised to learn how effectively math can be used to create a successful design. Many principles from geometry and other fields can be applied to create interesting and visually stunning pieces. Always useful and surprisingly accessible thanks to Heather’s simple explanations and numerous examples, some of these mathematical tools include:

  • The Rule of Thirds: This visualization technique divides a quilt surface into thirds both horizontally and vertically, giving quilters a valuable key for determining the proportions and placement of elements to create visual harmony.
  • The Fibonacci Sequence: Using this sequence of numbers, you can understand how to balance the size of individual elements in your designs to better utilize space and keep things interesting.
  • The Golden Rectangle: Used by visual artists for centuries, the golden rectangle creates harmony by helping quilters balance the proportions of various elements in a visually pleasing way.

Once you have honed your sewing skills, improved your design knowledge, and created your own work using these valuable techniques, Heather then teaches you how to put the final polish on your work with diverse types of bindings, finishes, and edging techniques. She also takes you a step further by demonstrating the ideal ways to hang and display your finished work.

Whether you are creating a practical item for home use, an heirloom that you hope to pass down through the generations, or artwork to hang on the wall, the construction and design skills you will learn in Quilting Essentials will give you a new appreciation for crafts, as well as supply you with a versatile set of tools and techniques you can apply to artistic projects of all kinds.

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30 lectures
 |  Average 38 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction and Block Basics
    Begin your journey into quilting by looking at a series of finished quilted works and gaining an understanding of how they were designed and what makes them work. Then get an overview of basic design principles, followed by an introduction to the basics of block construction, including measuring, cutting, and piecing, as well as a few tricks that will help with complex designs. x
  • 2
    Quilt Settings
    In this lesson, learn some of the basic setting options including straight set, diagonal set, medallion set, horizontal set, and off set. As you gain an understanding of each type of setting, you will also be introduced to the special math principles that are the foundation of each type and how to use them in your work. x
  • 3
    Sashing, Coping Strips & Borders
    See how coping strips can be used to stop action and help fit a pieced border to a pieced body of a quilt. You will also examine assorted styles of sashing and follow along as Heather demonstrates a simple stitch-and-slash technique. Close this lesson with great information on how borders work and which are ideal for bed quilts versus hanging quilts. x
  • 4
    Designing Your Own Unique Quilts
    Many quilters begin with commercial quilt patterns, but in this lesson, you will learn how to take your work from the craft level to that of an artist by understanding how to design and create your own original work. Get a feel for the depth and breadth of the skills you will add to your toolbox as you plan, experiment, create—and learn from missteps along the way. x
  • 5
    Becoming an Artist
    Heather uses her 30 years of personal experience and many of her original works to illustrate her journey to becoming an artist. Learn how a better understanding of each step of your own work will improve it over time, as well as the value of acquiring new skills through trial and error rather than simply through books and patterns. x
  • 6
    Color Theory & Elements of Design
    Dip into the basics of color theory, which will help you understand how colors work together and how to integrate them successfully into your work, including the benefits of having a color wheel for reference. Then, follow Heather as she walks you through the elements of design and shows you the many ways you can begin to put those elements into play. x
  • 7
    Technique, Visual Language & Working in a Series
    Every technique you learn adds another tool to your tool box, opening the possibilities for your work and giving you the confidence to try new things. Learn how to apply the techniques you have learned to develop your own visual language and make each new quilt unique. One way to improve both your technique and visual language over time is by working in series, a method Heather demonstrates through several of her own pieces. x
  • 8
    Freestyle Piecing: Beyond the Block
    If you are hoping to take your work beyond the traditional look of blocks, here is where to begin. Explore the possibilities of freestyle techniques by looking at successful freestyle works, while also getting an introduction to the elements of composition and technique that makes freestyle so flexible. x
  • 9
    Guide to Composition and Freestyle Piecing
    Explore the unlimited possibilities of quilting by taking what you have learned about traditional techniques and applying them to freestyle work. Learn how to place quilt block freestyle by using drawings and a design wall to create a template for your work. Finally, see how you can bring it all together through your color choices and arrangement. x
  • 10
    The Color Wheel & Color Scale
    Return to the brief introduction you received in color theory and dive deeper into the use of color wheels and the color scale when choosing fabrics and creating patterns for your work. Gain a more thorough understanding of color through an exploration of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, as well as pure hue, tints, tones, and shades for every segment of the color wheel. x
  • 11
    Value, Texture, & the 12 Colors
    Learn how the inherent value of a color affects how it works in combination with other colors by painting or creating value scales with cloth. Move from value to texture, looking at the many ways textures and patterns can be used to create movement, rhythm, and more. Close this lesson with a look at the twelve colors of the color wheel and create your own color wheels and scales for future reference. x
  • 12
    Interaction of Color & Principles of Design
    Follow Heather through a series of guided exercises to help illustrate how colors interact, including working with neutrals, exploring direct complements, and playing with triads and tetrads. Combine this exploration of color with another look at the three principles of design by applying color theory to create balance, unity, and variety. x
  • 13
    Color: It's all about the Contrast
    Contrast can create dynamism in a piece, making it one of the most crucial elements of design in quilting. Compare multiple finished pieces to see how contrast works, beginning with a black and white piece and moving into subtler works utilizing tones, tints, and shades. Also see how other forms of contrast can be used when the colors for a chosen piece are very similar. x
  • 14
    Color Expanded: Bold Personalities
    Better understand color by looking at visual temperature and what makes a color warm, cool, or temperature neutral, as well as what temperature can do to the overall impact of your work. Heather walks you through the many ways color can be used to create unity and variety in your quilting projects and offers a detailed workshop on the process of creating a colorful whole cloth quilt. x
  • 15
    Broadening Your Experience and Practicing
    The number one tool you will bring to every quilting or crafting project will be your own practice and experience. One of the best ways to refine your own skills and design knowledge is by working in a series, which Heather demonstrates though several of her own projects. As you go, learn how to examine and critique work (your own and that of others), and close with a look at how color brings certain real-world associations to your art. x
  • 16
    Products & Tools
    Machine quilting involves many decisions about what tools and products to use—find out which are necessary and which are a matter of marketing. From thread weights and needles to presser feet, Heather will help you understand how every decision you make will affect the outcome of your quilts and how to create work that will last. x
  • 17
    Design, Ergonomics, Basting & Doodling
    This lesson begins by introducing you to many design options, breaking down the benefits of each. Then, learn how to improve your experience by approaching your sewing machine from a new angle, lessening the physical strain that can interfere with your work, as well as a new way of basting that will give you more freedom of movement. End by experimenting with free-motion doodling on your sewing machine. x
  • 18
    Nine Basic Stitch-Outs
    Learn everything you need to know about fills and motifs you can use in your work, from curvy or angled lines to stippling and flowers. Get all of techniques you need to keep your work neat and tidy while you master nine basic stitch outs that can take your project to the next level. x
  • 19
    Machine Quilting Design Basics
    Look at machine quilting in a new way by understanding the ways you can use your machine as a valuable design tool and to extend the life of your fabric and stitch-based work. Along the way, Heather helps dispel many myths that surround machine quilting and will introduce you to a valuable set of skills that require no additional tools or specialized machines. x
  • 20
    New Alternatives to Free-Motion Stitching
    Complex designs can require an immense amount of hand stitching, but this lesson shows you how to create an applique look without any hand stitching by combining machine doodling and fabric paints and inks. Discover the tools and techniques you can use to create amazing designs with shading and color by introducing alternative methods into your skill set. x
  • 21
    Creating Your Design & Tracing Your Motif
    Create an original design by mixing and matching motifs, or even creating one from scratch. As you learn to select and arrange the elements you want, Heather helps you bring them together using the principles of design. She also demonstrates her methods for transferring designs to the fabric surface, as well as her preferred batting choices and basting technique. x
  • 22
    Free-Motion Stitching Your Design
    Begin your foray into free-motion stitching your own design by approaching your machine from an ergonomic standpoint for comfort and efficiency. Then, follow along as Heather demonstrates how to stitch traced lines and how to choose the perfect stitch out to fill negative space. Also, learn a valuable technique to hide less-than-perfect stitching! x
  • 23
    Adding Color
    Enhance your stitched design with color, starting with a look at how distinct color mediums like ink, paint, or fabric markers move on a fabric surface, and how different kinds of markers and brushes can be used. Heather then colors a stitched piece, demonstrating multiple wet and dry shading techniques and discussing how to choose colors to best enhance your designs. x
  • 24
    Final Shading
    Once you have finished stitching and coloring your quilt, Heather shows you how to square up your piece and bind it using fabric that is the same color as your thread. She will then show you how to look over your finished piece from several different angles to determine where to add highlights and lowlights to enhance or downplay specific areas. x
  • 25
    Paper Clay, Hot Fixed Metal & Embellishments
    Discover the possibilities of unexpected elements, like paper clay, iron-on hot fixed metals, and other embellishments that create interest without weighing your quilt down. You may be surprised at how much can be changed in the composition of a quilt by simply adding a few unconventional details, and how easily they can be incorporated with a little practice. x
  • 26
    Basting, Quilting & the Finishing Touches
    Finishing a project that makes use of embellishments can be tricky, so this lesson walks you through the process of quilting your piece without damaging the surface elements or disrupting your design. Finally, follow step-by-step instructions on binding your piece, with an emphasis on how to keep hanging pieces flat. x
  • 27
    Unique Embellishments, Surfaces, & Stitching
    From “schnibbles” (many little bits of cloth) to metal leaf, from personalized hand stitching to ribbon quilting, get a sampling of the many ways you can bring interest and excitement to simple designs and motifs. Heather goes over the important tools you will need for each surface treatment, demonstrates over half a dozen decorative hand stitches, and walks you through several tucks and trims. x
  • 28
    Playing with Beads, Bling & Sheer Fabrics
    Hand-beading and sheer fabrics open brand new possibilities for the surface of a piece. In the spirit of exploration, Heather walks you through hands-on demonstrations of hand-beading and creating a piece with layered sheer fabrics. Gain valuable insight into how embellishments interact with other fabrics and design choices throughout every step of every project. x
  • 29
    Exploring Edges & Finishes
    While much of a designer's energy will go into the motifs, colors, layout, and patterns of a piece, the edges and finishes of your quilt are just as important to a complete and harmonized design. Go over some of the many ways you can edge and finish assorted designs, keeping in mind the three design principles of balance, unity, and variety. x
  • 30
    Displaying Your Quilts Like a Pro
    In this final lesson, get an overview of methods you can use to display your work, including creating your own hand-twisted wire frames with simple tools, and stretching your quilt like a traditional painted canvas. Look at multiple ways to hang your pieces, going beyond traditional methods and giving each project the treatment that displays it at its absolute best. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 30 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 30 lectures on 5 DVDs
  • 80-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 80-page printed course guidebook
  • Quilting Templates
  • Quilt Artists Guide to Color
  • Biography

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Your professor

Heather Thomas

About Your Professor

Heather Thomas, Quilting Expert
Heather Thomas is a fiber artist, writer, instructor, and surface designer with a career spanning 30 years. She has developed and taught over 100 different classes on quilting, fabric embellishment, and surface design, and has completed more than 3,000 quilts and quilted artworks. She is the author of A Fiber Artist’s Guide to Color and Design, and the coauthor of Fabric Embellishing: The Basics and Beyond. She currently...
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Quilting Essentials: From Design to Color and Beyond is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 13.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The information presented is very well rounded. Much helpful information on many aspects of quilting and quilt making. It didn't include information about the kinds of fabrics I usually use (prints) as the lecturer uses plain or minimal prints (creating her own designs). However, it is filled with so much fun material that I am certainly enjoying it.
Date published: 2019-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have been sewing and quilting forever--Thank you Heather, I got this last week and I'm learning so many new things. I love it!
Date published: 2018-07-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Lots of Talking, Not a Lot of Teaching! I am not quite sure what is going on in this course. Heather promotes herself a lot in these classes. I am glad that she is happy and has achieved many things in her life, but I am looking for detailed, instruction, and I feel that this course is very much lacking in that.
Date published: 2018-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Color, Quilting Details, Design This Quilting course covers nearly all aspects of the craft and art. I had the opportunity to take two Color classes from Heather and this course expands and incapsulates what I've learned from her. Excellent artist and teacher.
Date published: 2018-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome ! I bought this with uncertainty that it would be useful. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I learned things right from the beginning. I’ve been quilting a long time and didn’t know that I didn’t know these helpful teachings. Wonderful and I’m just finishing the 1 st of 6 disks. Recommended !!
Date published: 2018-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not your typical quilting class If you are looking to follow along and make a quilt this is not the type of course that takes this approach. You will gain some excellent skills in design, color, free-motion, etc which will build your confidence in quilting. This course is designed to help you grow in your quilting techniques so you can move beyond the quilting patterns. I am new to quilting and after viewing the first lesson I gained a better understanding of the mathematics involved in the designs of quilts. After this lesson I started to look at quilts with a better understanding of quilt patterns and construction. I love how the instructor describes the information and demonstrates using her own quilts. The instructor is very artistic and encourages you to find your own strengths and define your individual skills. I feel that she encourages you to create your own unique quilts and enjoy the process.
Date published: 2017-12-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This is not a course This is a cobbled-together series of unrelated videos from a third party website. There is no continuity. There is no rhyme or reason as to why they’ve been put together in the order they have. If you’re looking for Quilting 101, this is not it, as it assumes prior knowledge.
Date published: 2017-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not Just Technique! I’m pretty new to quilting, and was very nervous about the price tag on this course. It was completely worth it! The site itself was user friendly, and the quality of the recording top notch. I particularly loved that I could download upcoming lessons for when I knew I would be flying or away from WiFi for an extended period of time. Ms. Thomas, first and foremost, kept me engaged, which I promise is no easy feat. She explained and showed things in close detail when needed, and quick when not needed. I think what I most loved was the way that even when she taught some basics, she was also showing us how to fly away from the stringent rules that would quickly make someone like me become bored with the process. The lessons were all interesting and honestly I was sad when the course ended. I personally wished there was a bit more of the basics (especially in Ms. Thomas’ “break the rules” style of teaching them), but everything that was included was insightful and inspiring. Hand down this is the best quilting tutorial I have so far taken. After this course I have gone from being fearful to fearless. I have set my sights higher and set a course for learning things far outside my comfort zone. I can’t wait to see both the mistakes and successes to come.
Date published: 2017-10-29
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