The last few entries I've written for MOD blog have been focused on ready-to-wear designers in Portland who sew with knits. As a designer myself, I can attest to the distinctive set of challenges imbued in knit textiles. One of the Portland based designers I admire most for her use of knits is Alyson Clair, and I have been waiting anxiously for the Colette Patterns book, The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits: Professional Techniques for Beautiful Everyday Garments, in which she collaborated to discuss techniques for sewing with knits. The book has been wildly successful so far, selling out almost instantly in most retail locations and has stepped to number one on in the sewing section.

I had the honor of interviewing Sarai Mitnick, founder and creative director at Collette Patterns, about The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits: Professional Techniques for Beautiful Everyday Garments.

The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits: Professional Techniques for Beautiful Everyday Garments
  • The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits: Professional Techniques for Beautiful Everyday Garments

How did Colette begin? What is the origin story, and how has the business grown into what it is now?

I started Colette Patterns in April 2009, so we're about to celebrate our 5 year anniversary.

I'd been working in the corporate tech industry, but I was beginning to burn out. I wanted to do something more creative and really build my own business from scratch. I'd been sewing my own clothing since I was a teenager, but really had a hard time finding the kind of patterns that appealed to me.

Also, since my background is in product design and usability, I saw a lot of room for improvement with sewing patterns. They are essentially the same as they were 100 years ago in many ways, and I thought there were ways to make the process of using them easier and more pleasurable.

Sarai Mitnick, founder and creative director at Collette Patterns
  • Sarai Mitnick, founder and creative director at Collette Patterns

I spent about a year developing the company and products before our initial launch. At that point, I quit my job and moved from the San Francisco bay area to Portland. The company has grown quite a bit since then.

How many (and what type of) products does Colette offer?

We consider ourselves a small specialty publishing house, and our main product is sewing patterns for women who want to make their own clothing at home. We also have a small line of menswear/unisex patterns, and a few ebooks that help teach skills to go along with those patterns.

I also have a book I wrote with a large publisher, The Colette Sewing Handbook. This new book, The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, is the first full-length paperback book in our own line as a publisher.

How big is the team working at Colette?

We're currently four full-time people, along with help from many contributors and contractors. Apart from me, my husband Kenn runs the back end of things, including our web site and all the operations and logistics. We also have a designer and pattern developer and a graphic designer.

When did The Colette Guide To Sewing Knits release?

We released the book on April 15th, 2014. It's available both as a paperback or as an ebook.

Why did you choose Alyson Clair to help with this book?

Alyson and I developed the idea together. She was interested in creating some patterns with us. I loved the idea because Alyson has so much expertise in creating knitwear.

Alyson Clair
  • Alyson Clair

We quickly realized that we wanted to help pass on that knowledge in more ways than just through patterns. Together, we developed the concept and created the book. It was an ideal collaboration!

What can be found in The Colette Guide To Sewing Knits?

The book covers all aspects of creating clothing from knit fabric, including materials, equipment, and techniques. We show how to work with knit fabric, even if you don't have special equipment like a serger.

Alyson also covers so many options for finishing knitwear and adding special touches and embelishments. It really opens up another world of sewing.

What are the challenges of sewing with knits, and what types of machines are recommended to mitigate those challenges?

Knits fit very differently than your typical woven fabrics. The structure of the fabric itself is totally different, which is what allows a knit to stretch. It also means that they need to be sewn in a way that allows for stretch. In other words, if the fabric stretches, the seams must stretch too.


The most common way to address that issue is to use a serger to do most of your sewing. A serger is a special machine that finishes and edge while creating a seam that stretches. Another common machine is a coverstitch, which creates the neat hems you'll see on the bottom of a t-shirt.

But we also wanted the book to be valuable to people who don't have a serger or coverstitch machine, or who want to dip their toe into knits without buying new equipment. So Alyson covered several techniques that can be used with a regular home sewing machine to substitute for a serger.

What are the benefits of sewing with knits?

Knits are extremely comfortable and easy to wear, which is one reason they are so popular. Most people wear knits nearly every day, in one form or another.

They also happen to be very quick and easy to sew. The construction tends to be simple. You don't need darts or complicated seams, because the fabric easily conforms around curves. And you don't need to do all of the pressing that woven fabrics require while sewing. It's easy to make a knit dress in a matter of hours.

Where can The Colette Guide To Sewing Knits be purchased?

The book is available on our website,, or can be purchased through Amazon or independent retailers such as Modern Domestic.

Are there any other exciting things on the horizon for Colette this year?

We'd love to expand our range of publications in the future, and experiment more with digital publishing! Things are changing so fast in this area, and it's a fun arena for us to play in.

It's so interesting to me to take a product that is as old-fashioned as the humble sewing pattern and find ways to bring it into modern times through technology. I love teaching these tactile, hands-on skills using these new tools.

patterns from the book
  • patterns from the book