Sunday, July 19, 2009

An Interview with Sarai Mitnick of Colette Patterns!

It's very rare in the sewing world, which is so steeped in tradition, that something so wonderfully and exquisitely new as the Colette Patterns line comes along. I was thrilled when Sarai Mitnick, the designer and founder of the independent company, agreed to do an interview. I was even more thrilled by her insightful answers.

How did you come up with the name Colette Patterns?

Colette is actually the name of one of my cats. She was, in turn, named after the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. I thought it fitting because Colette (the writer) had a very feminine style but also a very strong, modern point of view. She was feminine, but not afraid to be different.

And my cat is also very chic.

What do you have in store for your fall line? Can you give us any sneak peeks?

I've been really inspired by the 1940s lately. Actually, I always am, but more so lately. So the designs should reflect that a little, I think. I'm going to be adding a jacket / short coat, which I think will be really wonderful. It has sort of film noir look. Dresses are my core, but I'll also be adding at least one more skirt in there, and a dress that can be shortened into a blouse. All really flattering, feminine shapes.

How has the response been since you've launched the line? Has anything about the customer response surprised you?

I honestly didn't expect it to be such an immediate response, though I'm extremely happy and grateful for that. People have been so supportive, way more so than I could have anticipated, and I've already met such wonderful people through the pattern line. It's also been a big surprise to have so many retailers contact me right off the bat about stocking the patterns. I think it shows that sewers are really in need of new ideas in the pattern world.

What was the most difficult thing about starting a pattern line? Did you have trouble sourcing manufacturers?

Heavens, yes. The planning phase was very long. The biggest challenges were actually figuring out how to produce the patterns themselves, that is, getting them into a useful digital format, all nicely graded and nested. And then finding the right printing resources and working out all of those details, not to mention learning to do layouts for print design which turned out to be far more complicated than I knew. But I learned so much. It just took a lot of shopping around and a lot of trial and error.

I know that you love vintage patterns. In your designs, how do you update vintage looks to make them wearable today?

What I love about styles from the past is how flattering and feminine they are. That's one of the criteria for my patterns, so I draw a lot on vintagey elements for that: gathering, fitted waists, hourglass cuts. But they should also be practical and modern, so one thing I do is stick to shorter hemlines (knee length or just above). Mid-calf hems are pretty much universally unflattering in my opinion, but that's the length of many commercial dress patterns. I think the idea is that women can shorten them if they're too long, but I think a lot of people might not realize how much a hemline can change the look of a dress or skirt.

Another criteria is that they can be made in a variety of fabrics, and can suit different seasons. I like doing two-tone things as well, because it really lets the sewer use her creativity and that's what makes sewing fun. Who doesn't love coming up with awesome color and fabric combos? I also love practical details like pockets, so I add them wherever possible!

Your pattern sizes are closer to ready-to-wear than traditional sewing patterns. What made you decide to size your patterns the way you do?

I think traditional pattern sizing is a bit old fashioned. I did some research on sizing and looked at recent scientific data on body measurements before I created my sizes. I decided I really wanted the average woman to be right in the middle of my sizes: about an 8. I'm sure a lot of us have heard that our bodies have changed a lot over the last several decades. Not just girth, but height and even shoe size. We're much bigger now than we used to be. Ready-to-wear has kept up with these changes, and I think it makes a lot of sense for your average customer to be in the middle of a numerical size range.

It seems like the way sewing patterns are produced hasn't changed much in the last 60 or 70 years, which strikes me as odd.

I absolutely love that you model your own designs! Did you have any trepidation about doing the modeling?

Oh yes. I'm not a model by any stretch, so I worried a bit about that. But I've had so many people tell me how glad they are to see a non-skinny woman modeling the designs (usually without realizing that the model is me!), so that's been really encouraging. I'll be using a model for my next shoot, but I hope to find someone who can show what they look like on a closer-to-average figure. Ideally, I'd love to show the designs on a range of body types.

Do you still find enough time to sew for pleasure? What are you working on now?

I try to do my personal sewing on the weekends, but of course when the weather is so nice, that's not always how it goes. But I definitely still sew for myself, almost always from vintage patterns. Sometimes the instructions really remind me of what not to do when writing my patterns. I just finished a blouse from the 1940s that had the most difficult to follow, convoluted instructions I have ever read. It was like a choose your own adventure book.

Right now, I'm about to start on a 1950s yoked shirt for my husband in a fabulous sueded rayon. And I'm obsessed with really simple cap sleeve blouses done in solid silks or vintage rayon novelty prints. I can't wait to wear them with my Beignet skirt in the fall.

There you have it! Aren't we incredibly lucky to have a new line like this? I can attest that the designs are an immense pleasure to sew. Click here and here to see my versions of the Parfait dress, and look here for my Macaron dress.

Now, go support
Colette Patterns so that we can look forward to many more seasons of amazing designs to come!


  1. Great interview! I love her designs so much. Now I'm itching to see her new patterns!

  2. Love it! I absolutely adore all the Colette patterns. I can't wait to see what else she has up her sleeves!

  3. I love that the clothes are modeled by "real" women, with figures close to mine.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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