25 February 2012

A Day in the Life of Sarai Mitnick - Colette Patterns

Does this lady need an introduction? I imagine if you have ever read my blog before you will know that I'm a huge fan of Colette Patterns, set up by Sarai Mitnick from Portland, Oregon. Sarai has also recently found time to write the delightful Colette Sewing Handbook, which sewing bloggers have rightly been going crazy for. "What's her secret?" you plead, "Coffee or yoga?" Let's take a peek inside her studio and find out for this month's A Day in the Life...


"It seems paradoxical, but one of the main things I've learned in working for myself is that, if I want to have freedom and flexibility, I have to give myself a lot of structure and organization. My biggest problem is that, like a lot of small business owners, I have workaholic tendencies and take on way too much. Being disciplined and structured with my time helps with that, because I can force myself to come home at a certain time, or to not work on the weekends (mostly).

I wake up around 7, cuddle the kitties for a few minutes, get up and throw on my running gear. Kenn gets up around the same time and we have our coffee and wake up slowly and quietly. I usually read or knit, since I try not to go online before work. Right now, I'm working on mastering the complex art of Icelandic knitting, with its crazy multi-strand colorwork.

I have something small to eat, like a homemade granola bar or a piece of wholegrain toast with almond butter, just for a little pre-run fuel.

Right now, I'm training for a half marathon (and possibly a marathon later in the year!). Most weekdays, I'll run between 3 and 5 miles, with longer runs on the weekends. I really really love running outdoors and really really hate treadmills, so I'll get out there even if it's raining. And in Portland, it's usually raining.

After my run, I have a bit more food, usually a smoothie, and do some yoga stretches. My favorite smoothies right now are this raw chocolate shake or this amazing clementine creamsicle smoothie. I'm a smoothie addict.

I walk to work, and get there sometime between 10 and 10:30. Our office / studio is only about half a mile from my house, and it's a lovely little walk. The space itself is a renovated industrial loft in an old brick factory building. We have huge factory windows, high ceilings, and lots of natural light. Kenn works from the office too, managing our website, inventory, shipping, and customer service. Caitlin works with us a few days a week, doing a lot of sewing and working on the blog.

During the day, the studio is usually full of music, the sound of sewing machines, the tapping on our keyboards, and Caitlin and I laughing and swapping stories about our cats. Overall, I'd say the atmosphere is really relaxed, calm, and fun.

The first thing I do at work is email. I try to practice Inbox Zero, meaning I empty my inbox every day. I take answering email pretty seriously. I consider it a sign of professionalism and respect, I guess. A lot of people take the time to write really thoughtful and kind emails, and I definitely feel it's my responsibility to thank them for all the feedback, well wishes, and smart questions.

I should mention, the only weekday that's a bit different is Friday, when Kenn and I have a weekly breakfast meeting. We go out for breakfast together and discuss the progress that week, our sales numbers, traffic, things like that. It helps me to stay on top of things from week to week, plus we get a yummy breakfast in the bargain. After breakfast, we'll return to work like any other day.

Caitlin and I always get hungry at noon, like clockwork. I bring my lunch most days, usually leftovers that Kenn packs up for me while I run (what a sweetie). Occasionally, the three of us will go out to our favorite Mexican place for tamales and margaritas, but not too often since it makes us all very lazy afterwards.

1:00 - 4:00
I use project management software to keep on top of the bazillions of tasks and projects we all have going on. I'll check in there and see what needs to be done. Right now, we're working on finishing up our Spring patterns, getting them tested and ready for printing. So I'll spend the afternoon working on laying out the instructions. Next week, we'll start planning our photo shoot.

I like to take breaks from the bigger projects to work on upcoming blog posts. Blogging is usually more fun than doing the more technical stuff, so it breaks up the day nicely. We have a list of upcoming topic ideas to work from, so I might need to take or edit some photos, or write a post to go with them. Blogging actually takes up a huge amount of time, even with lots of help from Caitlin.

I like to close out the day with a little sewing for myself. Since all my sewing equipment is at work, that's the only real time I have to sew, and it helps relax me. Plus, it gives me stuff to show off on the blog.

Kenn and I walk home together. Kenn is a cocktail guy, so he'll usually mix us a nice after work drink, like a Sazarac, a Negroni, or an Old Fashioned to drink while we make dinner together. Or sometimes, we'll head out to one of our neighborhood bars, maybe meeting up with friends for a few drinks. Portland is a very social city, and we really enjoy just hanging out with friends in the evening, so we do tend to go out a lot. We're lucky because there are several great restaurants and bars within blocks of our house.

Other times, we'll make dinner together. Kenn and I are both vegetarians, I love to cook, and we both love food. We have pretty healthy and varied tastes, I guess. This week, we've had a vegetarian jambalaya, a curried yam and peanut soup, and a black bean and roasted root vegetable dish with a garlic lime sauce.

After dinner, we sit together and relax. This usually involves reading, knitting, and quality kitty time. I like to read both fiction and non-fiction (often history), and the occasional literary journal (usually The Paris Review).

Other times, we'll watch a movie in the evenings, which is particularly nice when you just feel like zoning out after a long day.

I head to bed around 11. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later. I'll often read in bed for a few more minutes before drifting off.

Weekends are a bit different. On Saturdays, I go for a long run maybe followed by a little yoga. On Sundays, I go for a nice long relaxing swim and use the sauna. Other than those things, my weekends aren't scheduled. In the Winter, I spend a lot of time baking, making healthy snacks we can take to work, knitting, going out for coffee with friends. In the Summer, I'm more often found outside, usually in my vegetable garden, out taking walks or riding my bike, or in the kitchen canning up my harvest. We are still eating all the tomatoes I canned this summer, which is pretty awesome.

Being your own boss is wonderful. You have so much freedom and can really design a life that will make you happy. I think the trick is to not become so overburdened by the work of it all that you start putting the business ahead of your own happiness. It's really easy to get tunnel vision and forget why you're doing it in the first place. That's something I'm actively working on, and its made me a much happier (and even more productive) person."


Did you find this as inspiring as I did? Running a fantastic business... and running! Sarai seems to have found the perfect work/life balance, don't you think? Right, I'm going to take a leaf out of her book and get my running shoes on...

19 February 2012

Thinking in Shapes Skirt

I've named this the Thinking in Shapes Skirt, but there wasn't really too much thinking involved - or at least not the type of thinking I usually do. And that's the point. My research project is taking up all my mental energy at the moment, so I wanted a sewing project that would prove super simple, one I could dabble with during short breaks between writing to let the right side of my brain come out to play while I allowed the left side of my brain go duuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrhhhhhhh... Have you ever turned to sewing at times like that?

It's made from some upholstery fabric that I bought in Ikea a couple of years ago with the intention of making cushions but never did (quelle surprise!). The project was originally intended to be a gathered skirt following Gertie's great tutorial. The fabric is perfect for this skirt in one way, as it's nice and stiff, producing a wonderfully full silhouette. It is so thick, however, that when I started gathering it the thread snapped - so I decided to pleat it instead. One of the benefits of working with geometric print fabric is that you can use the lines and spacing of the shapes as guidelines for cutting and folding, which is really useful when it comes to pleating and hemming, for instance. The hem is finished with a fancy topstitch because I couldn't be bothered to hand slip stitch it because I decided to add a decorative feature.

Ooh I'm really pleased with this skirt! What sewing project are you working on at the moment?

[Soundtrack: 'Day Dreaming' by Aretha Franklin]

13 February 2012

Winners, Update, Meet-Up

Yes, a bit of an admin mish-mash post, but this is important information, people!


First up, the winners of the Sew Grateful giveaway.

The winner of the Advance 8622 pattern is... Cynthia!
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The winner of the Butterick 3030 dress pattern is... Jill!
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Woop woop! Congrats to both!

Next, a quick update on the One Week, One Pattern project. I was a bit worried I'd be Tilly-no-mates, but I'm so glad that lots of you are up for playing along! Let's do it the last week of March - from Monday 26th March to Sunday 1st April. I know some of you want some time to create a few extra bits for it, so that should give us enough time. I wasn't actually expecting anyone to make anything especially, but if the idea of the project has already got people thinking about maximising use of their patterns, then that's great. Just to reiterate though, if you can't do that week then do play along later on and I'll work out a way of joining up all the efforts. I'll launch the project officially a bit nearer the time with a snazzy button and further details on exactly how it's going to work... my brain is firmly elsewhere at the moment so if you have any ideas I'd love to hear them!

Finally, a little meet up. Karen, Jane and I are planning to go to Oh Sew Brixton on the evening of Thursday 8th March. Fiona (who many of you loved hearing from in this interview) is organising a little sewing, cake and wine evening to mark International Women's Day and to raise money for Oxfam. If anyone fancies joining us, that'd be lovely. It'll be from 6.30pm until about 9pm-ish. Please bring cake or wine, plus a donation to Oxfam - Fiona is thinking a fiver for entry, plus donations to "buy back" the things we sew from her fabric scraps, all of which will be donated to Oxfam.

Right, I think that's my admin post over. My brain hurts. I'm going to bed. Night night!

11 February 2012

One Week, One Pattern: A Group Project?

Does anyone want to take part in a little group project?


One week last year, I wore homemade Beignet skirts all week. I posted about it here - One Week, One Skirt Pattern. I was thinking that I'd like to do something similar this year, wearing M2401 shift dresses all week or Jenny skirts all week or self-drafted button back blouses all week... And then I realised that it'd be quite fun if other people were playing along too with their favourite sewing patterns too.

Is anyone up for joining me? As a group project or challenge or whatever you want to call it?

Many sewing patterns get made up once - if that - and spend the rest of their lives on the shelf. And then there are the special few which are so versatile, wearable and totally gorgeous that they get made up again and again. The names PendrellSorbetto and Ginger have entered the stitcher's vernacular, even if you haven't made them up yourself. Even more bizarrely, some of my non-sewing friends will comment on my "Beignet" rather than my "skirt"! (Ooh that sounds rude.)

We should celebrate these patterns! With the One Week, One Pattern project, the (mini) challenge comes in really pushing the boundaries of the pattern's versatility, finding new and creative ways of restyling similar-looking garments so it doesn't look like you're basically wearing the same outfit all week. Or maybe you've only made one version of the pattern and want the added challenge of wearing the exact same garment all week... and not spilling wine all down it...

I could pick a week in March if people want to do it at the same time, although there's no reason to have any time restrictions so you could basically pick your own week if you like. Also, you could do it as many times as you like with different sewing patterns. I could create a blog page or some round-up posts with photos and links to different people's posts showcasing their week of wearing one pattern.

It'd be fun, non? Restyling our homemade garments, checking out what each other are wearing, wondering when someone at work is going to notice that you're basically wearing the same thing all week...!

Let me know if you're up for it and, if enough people are, I'll write a proper post about it with practical details and a button or something. If you've got any bright ideas for snazzy titles for the project/challenge, that'd be good, as at the moment the rather dull and perfunctory working title is 'One Week, One Pattern'. Also any other thoughts about how to make the project awesome!

Ooooh exciting!

[Soundtrack: 'Baby I'm in the Mood for You' by Odetta]

7 February 2012

Sew Grateful Giveaway! Win Vintage Patterns from My Collection

Would you like to win a vintage pattern from my collection? I'm taking part in Sew Grateful Week, an initiative by the lovely Debi from My Happy Sewing Place, which is all about showing our appreciation for the sewing community. And I do really appreciate the sewing community. Due to craziness going on in various areas of my life recently, I have been posting less frequently and reading other sewing blogs more sporadically than my previous twice-daily fix. I'm hoping things will calm down by March and I'll have a bit more time in sewing blog land, but in the meantime just to say that I do still consider being part of this network an important part of my life, and ogling the gorgeous things other sewing bloggers make brings me so much pleasure. I love you guys!

Enough gushing, I am British after all. Onto the giveaway. This isn't any old rubbish I'm trying to fob off on you, readers, oh no. These are two patterns I really love, but I can't see myself making them up in the immediate future, so if you can, that's great.

The first one, Butterick 3030, is a semi-fitted dress with princess seams, gorgeous pointy collar and optional detachable contrast  over collar. I'm not sure of the date but I'm guessing late 1960s. It's a size 16, 36" bust. I reckon you could make a delightful nautical chic version in navy blue linen with a trimmed white collar and shortened hemline. Hang on a minute, why am I giving this away??

The second pattern up for grabs is Advance 8622. One version is a boring functional sleeveless top, the other features my beloved button back design and chic roll collar. It's a size 20 or 40" bust and I reckon should be quite easy to grade down if you're smaller than that. This one is pretty hard to let go of too, mainly because of the pseudo-sexy expression on the lady in the top illustration.

Two people can win one pattern each. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below saying which pattern you'd like to win (of if you like both, give your preference in case you're picked first). The deadline to enter is Sunday 12th February at midnight GMT and the two winners will be drawn at random. Don't forget to leave your email if it's not in your blogger profile so I can contact you if you win.

And now for something completely different and more than a little bit random. (This really, honestly is in no way related to the giveaway so don't relate entering to having to read this paragraph!) Someone, somewhere - I don't know who, so thank you if it's you - nominated me for a Dorset Cereals Little Blog Award. Basically this is a clever marketing campaign by them to lure people to their website, but, whatever, I COULD WIN AN EGG CUP! That's right, the stakes are high. If you have a spare seven seconds and fancy helping me in my quest to GET THAT EGG CUP, please click on this link and on the right hand side of the page click 'vote' under my blog. They're not an evil company or anything, quite the opposite, and I do eat their yummy cereals, and it's quite nice that they're showcasing little blogs, so there are a few reasons why it's not a bad campaign to get involved in. Plus I grew up in Dorset!

[Soundtrack: 'Rock Me' by Sister Rosetta Tharpe]

3 February 2012

Chocolate Buttons Button-Back Blouse

Golly gosh, it seems like about three years ago that I started this project! Okay, maybe more like six or seven weeks ago, but that's a long time in sewing land. I really do plan to stick to my resolution to sew more this year, but I've had a particularly frantic and stressful couple of months. I'm hoping things will quieten down by March, when I shall unleash the inner sewing beast, oh yes...


So this is the third iteration of my self-drafted button-back blouse pattern, and I have to say I love it so! This time I added tucks on the yoke and finished the collar with a facing. It has pearlised vintage buttons running down the back. The fabric is a beautiful bargain from Walthamstow Market with a lovely drape that I starch-sprayed the hell out of to make it easier to work with. No idea how it's going to hang after the first wash - we'll see!

I really love the colour of this blouse, which I have named the Chocolate Buttons Button-Back Blouse. It looks quite nice with the soft yellow of my Banana Sweetie Skirt (what a tasty pairing - yum yum) but what I really want to make now is a mint green or baby blue wool pencil skirt to wear with it. What would you wear with this?

[Soundtrack: 'I'm His Girl' by Friends]