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What I learned in 2012


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This site is no longer being updated so head over to Seamwork to get all the latest patterns, tutorials, video classes, and more.

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This year can be summarized in one word for me: re-centering.

Let me back up a bit. The year before this (2011) was a really exciting and challenging time for me. I released my book, which I’d spent almost two years working on. Business was growing, and we were constantly fighting to keep things running smoothly.

At the end of that year, I felt I’d accomplished so much, but I also felt myself stretched as thin as possible. Do you know that feeling? When you can just feel the seams are almost about to come apart, your edges are worn, but you just have to keep holding it together?

This, I’d told myself, is the life of a small business-person. Oh well.

Now, I’ve never been the single-minded workaholic type, not in my heart. I do love working hard on things I believe in and love, but I also really value my freedom, and I like a lot of variety in my life. I have a hard time being creative if I don’t have a lot of other inputs and some time to relax. Most of us mere mortals are probably like this.

So in 2012, I made some changes so that Colette Patterns reflects the way I want to work and live. It isn’t so much about slowing down (in fact, I’m working on two brand new types of products for this year, which I’m extremely excited about), but refocusing my energy and making more conscious choices.

Stuff I’ve Learned

Here are some things I’ve learned this year. Most of them are really obvious, but I still had to learn them for myself:

  • Say no. Do it with kindness whenever possible, but do it. I am a people-pleaser by nature, so this has been tough.
  • Value your work. When someone asks you to work for free, politely decline unless you actually truly want to do it. If they mention all the fabulous promotion you’ll get out of it, that’s a huge red flag. Refer to this graphic, which pretty much sums it all up.
  • Integrity is important to me. I’ve learned that the most important quality in the people I choose to work with can be summed up by the word “integrity.” I like working with people who honor their commitments, keep their promises, and value other people and their time. Kenn and I were talking about this the other day. Things like “honor” and “integrity” sound like such old fashioned values to our ears today, but they’re qualities that we both really cherish.

    I’ve been lucky to work with a bunch of people that fit that description, so I thank them most of all for teaching me this.
  • My life is not your life. Like so many of us, I have a tendency to compare everything I do to what I see others accomplishing. I find this a self-destructive and rather pointless tendency in myself. Since other people tend to put their best face forward, it always leads to feelings like inferiority, fear, or resentment. So silly! My life is not someone else’s life. My business is not theirs. My goals are not theirs. My job is to always do my best, period.
  • There’s no substitute for meeting people face to face. Doing all the events this fall was super. I especially loved how it strengthened my friendships with the fabulous shop owners who do so much to support us. Really getting to know people is so much more valuable to me than meeting tons of people for a few seconds at a place like Quilt Market. I’d like to do more of this.

Stuff I Did

Let me also take a second to recognize all the cool things we did this year, especially since so many of them were behind the scenes:

  • Moved into a much larger and swankier studio and set it up really nicely. I really owe you guys a full tour.
  • Built a mini photo studio within it, with studio lights.
  • Brought Kenn in to work almost full time. He has done an amazing job streamlining our logistics so you all get your orders faster.
  • Added some amazing new retailers to our family, including Liberty of London and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
  • Created our first companion guide for a pattern, which I think is a really cool way of supporting sewers on more complicated sewing projects.
  • Got most of our patterns available as digital downloads (still a work in progress).
  • Went on the road and met tons of you in person, including some really lovely shop owners.

I’d also like to take a moment to once again thank Caitlin, who put a lot of work into this company and was there with us from almost the beginning, working at my kitchen table. It was sad to see her go. I’m sure her tiny little new boss will be a bit more demanding.

This leads me to 2013…

My number one goal for this year is to make Colette Patterns a fun and rewarding workplace for other people too. More and more, I’m realizing that creating really great jobs and a great team of people is something that’s valuable to me, and a big part of what I want to get out of this company. That means I need to step up and learn how to create that sort of workplace.

I’d also like to do more face-to-face stuff this year, particularly in Portland. I’d particularly like to start some sort of discussion/support group for other women with small creative businesses here (so if you’re reading this and interested and already run a business, let me know in the comments!)

I hope you all have a beautiful and fulfilling new year!

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 33


I agree with everything you’ve said but Saying No and Valuing Your Work are two really important factors to me. In my other life as an editor, I am often asked if I’d like to read someone’s manuscript for them. You know, for free. In my own time. The best reply is, ‘Sure. Shall I email you my rates?’ That sorts the wheat from the chaff. It’s really important not to give your skills away for free, because then they’re not appreciated and not acted on. Have a lovely NYE, putting yourself first!


I try to remember that many people are just desperate for help, and don’t realize that it’s not appropriate. I can definitely see how that would be a problem for a professional editor, since I’m sure a lot of people have only a vague notion of how much work it is to “look over” a manuscript!

Sarah Frances

Hi Sarai,
That is a really inspirational post. I have gotten up early on New Year’s day and now sitting here with a cup of coffee thinking of ways to contemplate 2012 and plan for 2013. Reading this post has really helped me clarify how I want to approach the next 365 days. Further to this, what you have achieved is truly inspirational – you must be incredibly proud of what you have built and the global commununity you have developed. I live in Brisbane and the sewing community here is limited but love reading Colletterie, receiving your snippets and being directed to other people’s blogs. It makes me feel part of something bigger, rather than just my trusty sewing machine in my spare room.

Happy New Year!


Aww, thank you so much! We are hoping to travel to Australia in the coming year (just a vague plan), so perhaps we will see you at an event in Brisbane sometime!

Nicole Prevost

Good on you for finding your stride this year. I’m still looking, I feel, but am eagerly anticipating this new year. I’m definitely interested in a support/discussion group. Keep me posted! –Nicole


That would be great, Nicole!


I have been quietly following you for some time now and I have to say I love your blog. This post being one of my favorites. I’ve been thinking about opening a creative business and I would definitely join in with dicussions/support group concerning women and small business.

Happy New Year!


The work for free flow chart really made me laugh (and made me feel a little better for saying “no” more often this past year). I would love to participate in a discussion/ support group for women and small businesses. That’s a fantastic idea. :) Happy New Year Sarai!


What makes that chart funny is how familiar each of the scenarios is! Particularly the old ruse of promising “exposure.” Once you realize what a common carrot this is in trying to exploit people (or at least not pay them), it’s much easier to say “no thank you.”


Thank you for such a wonderful post. So very honest. I congratulate you on all that you have learned and all that you have achieved. Integrity and honour are old fashioned but so important. My little girl is ten and has both and intuitively knows when someone is lacking these and stays away. Everything else you say is completely true and you can only move ahead in leaps and bounds because you have worked it out. I wish you every success in 2013.

Kate McIvor

Thank you Sarai! Your book and your life have inspired me. I am just beginning my journey to create a wardrobe that fits both body and soul. I hope to meet you someday. Kate

Kate @ M is for make

Happy new year Sarai, I can’t believe how much work you and your team have done in a year, congratulations to you and wishing you a great 2013, Kate x

Blondell, the Sassy SEWer

If your looking for a group of people who run sewing and design businesses, try Association of Sewing and Design Professionals. I’m a member of the Baltimore Chapter. ASDP has been a great source and the group can relate to the challenges/victories of running a sewing and design business. I love them!


Thank you for the tip, I’ll look into it!


Happy New Year, Sarai! The points you are mentioning in this post are so true! I feel like in some situation (especially the ones involving important decision making) My Life in not Your Life is a huge project stopper. Being conscious that you are DIFFERENT (no best or worst) but just different in your ambitions, lifestyle, goals can create a big impact on you life.


Yes, this has probably been the biggest realization for me, although one that I think I will always need to remind myself of.

I think that because we live in a very competitive, capitalist, consumerist society there is a tendency to see happiness as a zero sum game. If someone else is successful, that means there’s less for me. This is absolutely not true. Happiness isn’t a limited resource.


Saying no can be so difficult, but is vital to living and working the way you want to. That working for free graphic says it brilliantly! Congratulations on all you’ve achieved this year and for finding your centre again and have a very Happy New Year! (and if you do come to Australia, I hear Adelaide is a lovely place ;-))


I have family in Adelaide, so it will definitely be on the list!

Beverly Miller teaforjove

This was the best end of year review I’ve read yet. Thanks for a wonderful product and website.


I have read your blog from the near beginning and love your patterns. That said, I find your post very intuitive. Your talents and creativity are your hallmark, your brand and you have worked very hard to achieve your success. Achieving success as a small business owner is certainly a growth process as you clearly illustrate. Bravo for all the growth this year. I would love to see a tour of the new studio space. I tend to feel that ones work environment, when tailored to process, provides amazing insight into the design and finished product. May you have a happy, healthy and productive 2013!


Totally agree on there is no substitute for meeting people face to face. While the online sewing community is so warm and welcoming, meeting the people behind the blogs, or even other sewists is really the motivating factor for me to be creative, it’s just a different energy. I moved to a new place recently and I thought I wouldn’t be very lonely because of social media and blogging, but I was so wrong, I didn’t even feel like sewing or blogging! It was only when I started going to a local sewing studio and connecting face to face, that I actually felt like translating that experience online.


Love the chart! I tell people that “freelance” doesn’t mean that I work for free! Good for you for choosing to be deliberate in your work choices. Hopefully your travels will bring you to Dallas/Fort Worth soon.


Love this recap. I can hear the wisdom in your words! Good luck creating new space for yourself and others in 2013. If I lived in Portland, I’d take you up on your get together offer!


What a beautiful post to read, and brilliant year for you and Colette Patterns. Congratulations! Can’t wait to hear more about this 2013 surprise :)


What a great recall. I look forward to what Colette Patterns has to offer in 2013.

Oh, I wish I lived in Portland, I am really interested in starting my own business.

Leslie Cumming


Love the recap and 2013 ideas. Love the idea for the small business support group. Let me know and I’m happy to join and/or help get going!

Happy New Year to you and Ken.



Loved reading this post. Particularly the part about learning to say “no” – one of my 2013 resolutions! It’s been a pleasure following your progress with Colette Patterns, and really excited to see what you have planned for 2013. x

Lisa m

Hi. I own a quilt shop. Would love to join a support group to share ideas, etc.


Happy New Year! Those are all great lessons, especially “My life is not your life.” The comparison trap is so insidious, and poisonous, that it’s really important (for me!) to remember that.

I run a small business in Portland, and I would LOVE some sort of discussion/support group. Just last night I was listing to Grace Bonney’s (of Design*Sponge) podcast, After the Jump, in which she discussed the importance of having a support system like that. I was thinking about how with all of the creative businesswomen here, we should have some sort of group. It would be great if we could all learn from one another’s wisdom and business savvy. I can glean a lot from reading your posts online, but nothing substitutes for that face-to-face connection. Here’s to more meetups in 2013! :-)


This was a wonderful post, and so relevant this time of year. It’s so nice to know there are others out there who think like me. I admire people who are super motivated to be successful in their working lives, but for me that’s just a small part of who I am and how I want to spend my time. Part of it has to do with the introvert in me. I spent 25 years working hard as an investment advisor and raising my boys, and now that I’m retired I want to spend time crossing things off of my 25 year “to do” list, most of which are creative endeavors. An online support group would be awesome.

Melisa Hart

Count me in on a support group. I own a small fabric store in New Mexico and have been planing on making finding good business support groups a priority this year. And thanks for creating a wonderful product that I can always confidently recommend to my customers and build classes around.


I loved reading this…so well put together. Congratulations on setting a wonderful example for other women in small business to follow! I look forward to reading future posts!!!


Strong lessons and good ones to have behind you! Jessica Hische has some other great, inspirational advice for helping clients while maintaining a strong sense of self-value here:

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