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...


  1. well, that was one really interesting and inspiring post to read.. thank you for sharing this interview with us

  2. What a lovely post... I definitely found it Inspiring! Love Colette Patterns and this gave a wonderful insight into Sarai's work life and business.... No wonder she has been so successful!
    Love the news that the new Spring patterns are underway...:) and her work area is to die for.... Absolutely impeccable organization !! I wish my area looked like this.... :)
    Yes it is so important for life to be balanced... To stay emotionally and physically healthy.... This I know... I have learned this the hard way.....So good on Sarai
    she has it all together!!!Good Diet, Exercise and Rest are the 3 non negotiable for a happy healthy life! Also wish Sarai all the best for future success!
    And thanks to you for such a brilliant blog post! Love your blog anyways.... :) usually just lurk.... As I don't have a sewing blog as yet...
    Apologies it was such a verbose message...:)
    But just loved it!
    Lou xx

  3. Wow! This is so inspirational. I think I need to add more structure into my routine if I want to run a successful business from home (however I'm not sure I'll ever be running at 8am!)

    Love Colette patterns.

    Thanks for this post :)

    Isabel, I Know.


  4. Thanks for this, I love the way Sarai has worked out a great work-life balance, it seems, good for her!

  5. When I grow up I want to be Sarai.

  6. That is a REALLY nice and realistic life/work balance. I really like the balance of work, exercise, healthy eating and the odd cocktail and lots of fun. Everything in moderation, as my grandma always said. To run most mornings before work without squeezing them in at 5am - ah, bliss. Which leads me to question myself: I have extremely flexible employers, why don't I play around with my working hours a bit more to train and work? Thanks, Sarai!

  7. I agree with everyone, this was so inspiring! I too am a runner, and am forced to squeeze in my runs at 5 in the morning or 7 at night, after a grueling day at work for corporate America. Sewing is the one thing in life I truly enjoy, and it's a shame that I'm usually so beat after a week of exhausting myself, working for other people, that I usually don't have the energy to make a lot of progress for ME with my sewing projects. Ok, enough griping.. ;)

    But it is so nice to see someone with such a successful business also be so relaxed and able to incorporate things she loves in her daily routine. I will remember her story as I strive to find that balance myself. Thanks for sharing her story, Tilly!

  8. I LOVE Colette Patterns, its just nice to buy a pattern that is cool and fresh and exactly what you want with out having to do a hundred adjustments on an old one.

    This post was so inspiring, I recently quit my job to pursue my dream in fashion design and sometimes it is hard to stay disciplined and build a work day when you work for yourself. I am refueled after reading this interview to get back to work because Sarai Mitnik is just the kind of business women I aspire to be!

    Thank you so much again!!



  9. I love everyone on the Colette Patterns team so this was a delight to read! I had no idea Sarai was a runner, knitter or vegetarian!

  10. Wow! sounds fantastic...sewing (tick); running (tick); ... Sarai sounds a super organised and disciplined person - definately inspirational!

  11. Amazing! Sarai is simply an amazing person!

  12. A really, interesting, inspiring post. I love the fact that she works hard but doesn't put the business ahead of her own happiness, a fantastic way to live your life. x

  13. Great post - and I love that Negroni's are a cocktail as well as a men's shirt pattern :)!

  14. Thank you so much for this beautiful interview: it was lovely to learn so much about the life of one of my sewing heroes!

  15. I always love this feature, Tilly; such a great idea!

    I am a huge Sarai fan...got the book, love the cats, admire her work/life balance & the running.


  16. Oh my, I LOVE this! Absolutely fascinating and makes me incredibly jealous!!

  17. Wow, definitely inspiring! This sounds like a dream life - enjoyable, hard work, with a great balance of non-work life.

  18. Thank you for this really inspiring interview. It's definitely given me food for thought as I try to achieve a better balance. As I'm thinking about starting running too, I'm already having ideas about how I can fit that in.

  19. I just have to echo the word everyone else has been using: inspiring! It is always nice to see how people in creative careers go about their day, but it's rare I find one that I identify with (and covet!) so closely.

    Thanks for the great post!

  20. What a wonderful glimpse into Sarai's life. I love the structure she has in her day. When I think about it, I likely have a structure to my day (which similarly starts with a run and is ruled by lunch in the middle of the day), but I wish my structure included more evenings with friends during the middle of the week. Instead, it ends with me leaving work around 8 pm, coming home frantic for dinner, eating and then collapsing. After reading this I think I need to slow down and seek out more time with friends! What an inspiration Sarai is. I think she's done wonderful things for the online sewing community. I wish her much success. I should do my part to help her out by making another Beignet here sometime soon!!

  21. Great post! Really inpirational!

  22. Sarai is such a talented lady and leads a truly inspiring life. It just goes to show that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything. I particularly like how she works hard, but still makes time to be healthy and socialise!

  23. Wowsers, sounds like she lives such a full life! I hope I can live a life that awesome someday! (Gotta get my act together!)

  24. I just wanted to say thanks for all the lovely comments everyone! Reading what everyone has to say, I feel like I should point out that I definitely have my ups and downs, and there have been times (sometimes months long!) when I work way, way too hard. But I'm getting better at recognizing unhealthy habits like that.

    Also, I know some people can work constantly and be perfectly happy, but I've never been that way. I need lots of time to recharge, which is one reason why distance running has been so good for me.

    So I guess it's all about finding what works for you. :)

  25. great post! I love reading about successful business owners and how they keep their lives organized, sane and fun.

  26. this is great! thank you for the interview tilly. i love sarai's studio - it seems so organized and easy to use. i wish mine was as neat as hers!

  27. Hey! That sounds like the life for me!

  28. I'm so jealous of Sarai's sewing space.

  29. What a fantastic and inspirational interview! Thanks Tilly and Sarai :) I'm super curious about the mentioned project management software...

  30. adorei a entrevista amei as fotos.parabéns
    muito,muito inpirador

  31. This was absolutely awesome and a real inspiration for me. Thanks for sharing!

  32. Like many here, I'm truly inspired too! Having left my day job recently to start my own ventures, i often struggle with not having enough hours in a day. Hopefully I'll be able to get a hang of things in time and be as productive as Sarai! :)


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