Color Theory Class


Several months ago, I took a “Color Theory for Quilters” class by Louisa Smith. Although I was familiar with the color wheel and had tried a few experiments with mixing paint, before her class I knew nothing about color theory. This was an excellent class and I highly recommend it. (You can read more about this class the link below.)

When our local arts council offered a Color Theory class on Saturday, I was excited to attend. The teacher was Etta Siegel, a graphic designer with 50+ years experience and a part-time instructor at Parsons School of Design. The first part of the 5-hour class was an explanation of how we see color. While this was mildly interesting, none of it was a game-changer. However I did realize that the reason it’s so hard to quilt black fabric is because black absorbs all the light!

The second part of the class was on color we see (RGB — Red Green Blue) and color we print (CMYK — Cyan Magenta Yellow Black). This explained how to get what you see on your screen to appear accurately on paper. This screen-printer discrepancy can be due to many things. I now understand the vast variety of papers that are out there, and the fact that ink lies different on each kind of paper. Also, I learned that people are viewing projects under vastly different light sources — for example under natural light (which varies during the day) or florescent lights — and that changes how the color looks. In addition, a CMYK mix of colors doesn’t always duplicate what’s on your screen (for accurate color, you’d need to order custom ink). This is important to quilters who are printing photos onto fabric and not satisfied with the output colors.

The class concluded with an introduction to the color wheel. We covered warm and cool colors, as well as pure colors, tones and tints. We also covered color schemes and how to select pleasing color schemes based on the color wheel. For quilters, an understanding of the color wheel is important for selecting quilt fabric, as well as for choosing thread color.

This is the most theoretical class I’ve taken since I started quilting. In some ways it was frustrating, because I’m used to fabric and touching my colors. However the information was incredibly useful and I know it will make me a far better quilter. Yesterday, as I was choosing my thread for a longarm project, I actually thought about the thread in terms of it’s relation — on the color wheel — to what I was quilting. I would recommend a color theory course to all quilters.

Information on Ms. Siegel can be found at


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