Friday, March 28, 2014

"The Colette Sewing Handbook"

Some of you may know I work in a library. It's a wonderful job and one of the perks is ordering for our library pretty much anything I would want. I recently requested some sewing books and will be reviewing them as I go through and read them. "The Colette Sewing Handbook" by Sarai Mitnick is one I have wanted to have in my hands for a long time. I was not disappointed. I am sure many of you have this book and certainly have heard of it but I am late to the game. I am in a situation in my studio where I have so many sewing books that it is rare I buy one any more. That's where the great library position comes in. We can just order them for the library and I have them at my disposal pretty much whenever.

The author of this book also is the founder and designer of the wonderful "Colletterie" sewing blog and "Collette" patterns. Her prior life in the tech world and as a specialist in User Experience makes a wonderful foundation for the her more recent years as a pattern designer and author. I found the "user experience" of reading this book very positive and enjoyable.

Mitnicks style is methodical and thoughtful as she carefully unfolds the knowledge needed by a beginner sewist to have a great wardrobe and a positive sewing experience.  She tackles the fundamentals with the goal of your sewing project being successful AND satisfying. Can we have more nobility like this , please?  This  book , with its signature soft colors and clear photos has a calming effect and you definitely want to sit with a cup of tea or wine to really savor the contents. I did!

photo courtesy of

The book is organized around five concepts,

  • a Thoughtful Plan
  • a Precise Pattern
  • a Fantastic Fit
  • a Beautiful Fabric
  • a Fine Finish
  • Bringing it all together
I personally gained much from reading through Chapter Two, a Thoughtful Plan. To quote Mitnick in the start of that chapter, "My approach is to focus on quality over quantity." She advises how to find inspiration, edit for your own style and dressing for yourself, your lifestyle  and your shape. She helps you develop a plan and make a croquis, all in that one chapter and there are seven chapters in all. At the end of the book you will find a glossary, index and a size chart.

 There are projects and patterns supplied with the book and with each project skills build freshly as well as upon previous skills learned. Each sewing project has a "skills checklist" with page numbers you can quickly refer to. Tools and supplies needed are very clear. I like Sarai's fit explanations and the proof is always in the garments. They look fabulous on the models. Unrelated to sewing but important to me, I really like the diversity of the models used in the book. It is refreshing and emphasizes how an updated classic can look wonderful on everyone if fit and skill are practiced with care. Thank you, Sarai, for that. 

If you are a new or more novice sewist, you will really enjoy the projects and patterns in the book. The inclusion of the five patterns makes this a true bargain for just the price of a great book. If there is a young budding sewist in your family this book would make a fine gift and set the person on the path to quality sewing. You all know how I feel about the garbage out on the internet that our next generation of sewists is being seduced with.   This is the information we want our new sewists to get. Sarai Mitnick presents it in a youthful, non threatening, methodical manner. As for more experienced sewists, buy this book for the patterns and savor every moment of your reading. It's really that lovely as well as informative and encouraging.....Bunny



  1. We must be on the same page today (no pun intended). I just pulled that book out to review how to sew an invisible zip. I have made a couple garments from the book and it is very well written. I bought it when I was a newbie sewist, but still go back to it again and again. Can you recommend a book on how to fit garments? I am struggling with a 1949 pattern for the Sew For Victory challenge. I wish I had a book to show me how to remove excess fabric from the back bodice in the shoulder blade area.

    1. I am a big fan of Nancy Zieman's Pivot and Slide method which you can find in Fitting Finesse. But she has a newer book which I understand is the same info but better illustrated. Hope this helps.I also love how people go to Pattern Review and the experts all chime in and you can watch as the suggestions are taken and the sewist achieves a beautiful fit. It's an amazing resource.

    2. Thank you. I'll check out Nancy's books. Yes, Pattern Review is a great source of help.

  2. I have this book and I really enjoyed reading it, The patterns are a tad young for me, but her explanations and illustrations are first rate.

    spelling police here-Colette has only one L, not two.

  3. I cherish my copy of this book, not only for the pretty clothing but for her writing. I hope she continues with another book using new patterns.

  4. I often see a book (sewing and otherwise) reviewed that I think I might like, but then before making the investment and adding it to our houseful of books (not exaggerating), I review it for myself by ordering it from our library network. So wonderful that your library has you for ordering books! Every sewing reference book I have checked out has been good, including this one!

    1. The ones I found in our library when I started working there left a lot to be desired. Our former director was forced to retire at 82 and held the position for 53 years. I never would have gotten to pick any books under his tenure. Luckily we now have a wonderful new director, female, who encourages us to contribute with our choices. So we are "building" , as they say in the sports world.

    2. I have enjoy her blog, but find that her patterns are a little young for me for the most part. Like you I have a lot of sewing books but this sounds like a lovely book to give a new sewer, if only I knew one!

  5. I have this book, and I also really enjoyed Sarai's writing. I have never tried any of the patterns, though, because they are too young for me, too.

  6. Be sure to check the Flickr group for Colette patterns. While most garments are shown on 20- & 30- somethings, you may be pleasantly surprised to see them on more mature ladies, as well! Right now, I love these on my college-age daughter, but I won't be surprised to find me making many of them for myself soon!

  7. Thanks for posting this. I am old school - it drives me nuts to watch certain TV programs where the motto seems to be "get it No pins, no pressing, no matter how sloppy the thing looks, just get it done." No emphasis at all on quality or pride in workmanship. Drives.Me.Nuts. I am happy to see that there are still books that emphasize fit and using basic skills.

  8. I love many of the simple patterns in the book and made the "Pastille" dress for a wedding last year ( I did find an error in that pattern, but you could still follow it. It was a matter of written instructions vs. illustrations. For the most part, though, I agree with you that it's a great first pattern collection for a novice sewist.


Engaging commentary:

For the Love of Challis!

 Moving onward and upward from that last garment!!! Who doesn't love a good challis? We put up with it's incredible ability...