Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Backstitch talks to the Designers: Sarai Mitnick of Colette Patterns

Another article from the series that I wrote for Sewing World magazine. This time I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarai from Colette Patterns:

Working out of a studio in Portland, Sarai and her design assistant Caitlin steadily turn out the incredibly clean, elegant and chic sewing patterns that we know as Colette. The studio they work from is in an old industrial building in Portland and has an entire wall made of factory windows extending to the ceiling. ‘Our view is a mix of old industrial buildings, trees, and the beautiful green hills to the west. Oh, and a train runs directly under the window, which can be noisy. But we're used to it’ says Sarai. From this industrial environment come the most beautifully produced classic, feminine patterns with a modern approach. ‘The classic elements come from the lines and details of the designs, but what makes them modern is that they're practical. They fit into a modern wardrobe, they can be styled in different ways, and they're easy to wear’ explains Sarai.

Remarkably for someone who produces such technically perfect and instructive patterns, Sarai is almost entirely self taught. ‘I really enjoy learning difficult skills, and I have found that a hands on approach is the way I learn best’ says Sarai. She got her first sewing machine, a ‘not at all fancy’ inexpensive model, when she was sixteen and her grandmother began to teach her to sew. ‘At the time I had no idea that sewing was such a complex skill. I actually think that’s a good position to start from sometimes, because I wasn’t intimidated by it.’

Sarai’s tastes have changed a lot since her first self-made garment which was ‘a very simple A-line sheath dress in a quilting cotton, with some scratch lace at the hem’, and now draws on designs and styles from the past. ‘My inspiration varies quite a bit. Right now I am really into the classic styles of the early sixties, but I like to mix things up, finding details from different time periods and incorporating them together in interesting ways’ she explains. ‘I'm really interested in past "retro" trends too. For example, the way the Biba look of the 1970s drew on fashion from the 1930s, or the influence of 1920s fashion on the gamine styles of the 1960s. It's always intriguing to see familiar things put into a new context.’

This study of past styles is evident in all Colette Patterns including the three new designs just released for Fall. All three of these new patterns are suitable for beginners, so anyone can make them! ‘I really enjoy designing beginner patterns with interesting details, since I know that many beginners are looking for something to sew beyond the basic wrap skirt. I really feel these three patterns alone could form the basis of a very chic mini wardrobe.’ Sarai explains.

The first new release is Peony, a classic boatneck dress with a removable cummerbund style belt. It's a very flattering dress that can be made in many fabric combinations and with either short or long sleeves, so adaptable for any season. ‘I was very much inspired by Audrey Hepburn in creating this dress, and wanted to do something with an utterly classic style that could be interpreted in many different ways by the seamstress.’

Jasmine is the new blouse pattern. It's a beautiful, versatile blouse that can be made with a contrasting collar, or a longer collar that ties in a bow. ‘Because it's cut on the bias, there's no need for sewing closures, which I know many sewists appreciate, and it has a very graceful drape’ says Sarai.

Finally, there is Clover, the first trouser pattern from Colette! ‘My customers have been asking for a simple and easy pattern like this for such a long time’ says Sarai. ‘Again, I definitely had Audrey Hepburn on the brain in designing these. I wanted a pair of pants that would be chic, a little retro, but very easy to wear’. The Clover trousers are slim, and can be made either in ankle length, or a mid-calf length. They have optional flat in-seam pockets at the front and a side zip.

Sarai has also just written a book. ‘The Colette Sewing Handbook’ is released in the US mid-November and will be available here in the UK shortly after. The Colette patterns are well known for their terrific instructions, with each one bound to teach you new clever tricks. The book, which is covers techniques through projects, is therefore much anticipated. ‘I’d realised that there are a few concepts that are really central to having a great sewing experience: planning your projects, working with patterns, getting a good fit, understanding fabric, and finishing’ says Sarai. All the lessons in the book are structured around these five fundamentals, and each fundamental has its own project, so readers take a hands-on approach. ‘I wanted to provide something that was more like a guide, something that lets you build skills gradually and focus on the things that will make the biggest difference to your sewing.’

The new styles and the book demonstrate that Sarai clearly has her finger on the pulse when it comes to what the modern sewist wants. ‘I imagine that my customer is someone like myself: a creative woman who sews both as a creative outlet and because she wants a wardrobe that means something to her. I think many women today are tired of the cycle of spending on trends or clothes that don’t last. We want to make more thoughtful decisions about what we wear, and handmade clothing is an incredibly fulfilling way to do that.’

Related Products:
All Colette Patterns
Jasmine Blouse
Peony Dress
Clover Pants

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