#SewHappyColor Color Theory Guide with Katie Kortman

#SewHappyColor Color Theory Guide with Katie Kortman

Every March I host a month-long color challenge on Instagram that encourages everyone to WEAR and SEW MORE COLOR (okay, this is only the second year, but we’re going to keep this thing going)! To do this I teach everyone about the color wheel and the color schemes it inspires! If you like what you see here and want to know more, I have written a digital guidebook, full of colorful inspiration on how to do this in your own wardrobe (and sewing) as well!

Let’s get started.

image of color wheel

First we are going to talk about the color wheel. You probably learned about the color wheel in school, but just to review: red, yellow, and blue make all the rest of the colors. They are the primary colors! Then we have orange, green and violet which are the secondary colors. The tertiary colors are the ones in between the primary and secondary colors, such as red-orange and blue-green.

image of fabric swatches

I love all the colorful swatches I used to make this pretty rainbow! These are all in my curated collection found here:

Katie Kortman sew happy color shop

Color Theory 101


The first color scheme I like to have participants try out is Monochromatic! It’s the easiest one! You just stick to one color and the different tints (lighter) and shades(darker) of that color!

image of of rainbow of fabric

In this photo you can see different shades of each of these colors. This would be great for making a monochrome quilt or a color-blocked outfit with coordinating pieces! Different shades of the same color always look pretty together.


The next color scheme is Complementary. This means the colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. These colors have nothing in common and so they are very noticable!

yellow and violet fabrics

Yellow & Violet

orange and blue fabrics

Orange and Blue

red and green fabric

Red & Green

(yes pink is just red with white mixed in!) If you don’t love bright opposites together, remember that a muted, lighter or darker version of opposite colors might feel better to you!


If you want something that is easy on the eyes, you might prefer Analogous colors. These colors are next to each other on the color wheel, so they have colors in common and feel good together. There are lots of different analogous color combos, but here are just a few examples:

green and yellow fabrics

Green, Yellow-Green, & Yellow

red and orange fabrics

Red, Red-Orange, & Orange

violet and blue fabrics

Violet, Blue-Violet, & Blue


My favorite color combo is Split-Complementary. Split-complementary is one color plus the two colors on either side of its opposite on the color wheel. They are fun because they POP! Here is an example: (red, yellow-green and blue-green):

red and green and blue fabrics

My 2020 Sew Happy Color Look

Katie Kortman Outfit collage

For my Complementary Outfit this year for Sew Happy Color, I partnered with fabric.com and used some Robert Kaufman Fabrics in the Pantone color of the year: Classic Blue.

To make it a complementary color scheme I added some shades of orange to the to the outfit because they are opposite on the color wheel! I love the Essex Linens because they are the perfect blend of cotton and Linen, making them easy to wash and easy to wear. Plus, they come in SO MANY COLORS!!!!! I have lots, plus other bright fabrics here is my curated collection! Go see what color schemes you can create with those fabrics!

additional image of Katie's outfit

I used the peach fabrics (light orange) to soften the contrast between the blues:

  • Kaufman Essex Linen Blend in Peach
  • Kaufman Essex Linen Blend in Mango
  • Kaufman Essex Linen Blend in Flame
  • Kaufman Essex Linen Blend in Indigo

I also coordinated the blue in the pants with the white and blue grid fabric. The pattern I used for the pants came from a Japanese pattern book and I didn’t realize there were no pockets until I put them on (finished)! Next time I will use a different pattern. The top is a Russian pattern I hacked and even with Google Translate, the instructions made no sense, so I just used my knowledge of sewing to figure it out! What an outfit right?

additional image of Katie's outfit

I love linen, cotton, and linen blends for spring and summer because they are so breathable and easy to wear. I made some linen pants like this last year in orange and lived in them all summer long, which is why I had to make a pair in blue for this year!

I hope this post helps you in making some more adventurous color decisions, or at least understand what different color schemes are! I have lots more to say on the subject, but you’ll just have to follow along during my month of color over on Instagram, or pick up my digital book here! Now go sew all the happy COLOR!!!!

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