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Sneak Peek: Fall patterns, from inspiration to design

Many of you have said that you’re interested in hearing about how we decide on what patterns to make. In other words, how do I go from inspiration to concrete ideas?

I thought I’d use the upcoming Fall patterns as an example, and tell you a little about my design process.

Last week, I shared some of the vintage inspiration that led to the latest pattern collection. But there’s a lot more to coming up with new designs than the initial inspiration.

In designing patterns (or anything else for that matter), you have to understand your constraints. Now, constraints sound like a bad thing, but I think most designers would tell you that they are actually a huge source of creativity.

I’ve often thought that this is one of the things that separates designers from fine artists. That’s not to say that artists don’t have their own constraints, but dealing with them isn’t a necessary part of the artistic process. To me, it is fundamental to the design process.

In other words, when I’m coming up with patterns, I have a lot to think about besides inspiration. Such as:

  • Sewing skill level: In other words, how hard will a particular design be to sew? This is a big one for me right now, because I’m trying to round out my offerings with patterns anyone can sew, from beginners on up. For the Fall patterns, I decided to introduce three more beginner patterns to keep balancing things out.
  • Number of pattern pieces: This is somewhat related to skill level, since more advanced patterns can be more complex. But overall, the fewer pattern pieces a design has, the easier it will be to sew. Since the Fall patterns are designed to be easy, I tried to design them without a lot of fussy pieces. This means keeping the designs fairly simple, though I have to balance that with making sure they’re still interesting.
  • Body flattering: My customers come in all different body types, so my designs should be flattering on a wide variety of people.
  • Creative opportunities: Another thing I think a lot about in designing patterns is whether they afford creative opportunities for you all. Can you use two fabrics to add visual interest? Are there some interesting details you can add? Are there fun related tutorials I could add to the blog?

    Two of the Fall patterns incorporate contrasting fabric, and all of them can be modified in countless ways.

  • Fabric choice: Will customers have access to they types of fabric that the patterns will work best with? I always try to imagine the designs in widely accessible fabrics like simple cottons. That isn’t to say I don’t design drapier things, but it is something to keep in mind.

    For the Fall, I designed a cigarette pant that will be ideal in a fabric with a bit of stretch. So I had to think a bit about what that might mean to you as customers, since it narrows fabric choice a bit.

  • Garment types: Separates, dresses, outerwear? I think about what seems to be selling well and where the holes are in the current offerings.
  • Customer requests: I take customer requests to heart. Many people have asked for trousers, for example.
  • Number of patterns to introduce: I have to decide how many patterns to release at once as well! This is balance of finances (in other words, how much inventory I can support) and how many I can reasonably put out in a season. Three seems like a good number for now.

As for my actual design process, I am a visual thinker. As many people can attest, when I’m thinking through a problem or creative idea, I often have to whip out a notebook and pen and write or sketch.

So my design process involves a whole lot of sketching. I sketch, I take notes. I think about my constraints above, I crumple up paper, I start again. Repeat until I finally have something that just clicks and seems right.

I’m curious if other people work this way? Do you sketch tons of ideas? Do you think much about practical considerations? Or do you work more directly from your inspiration?

A related post you might be interested in:

Fall Pattern Inspiration: Inspiration for the upcoming patterns for Fall 2011 (in case you missed it).

Sarai Mitnick


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.


Claire (aka Seemane)

August 11, 2011 #

Very interesting post – thank you for sharing!
Maybe it’s just my computer, but I cannot see any images – there are big spaces left for them it seems, but no actual images? I’ve refreshed and reloaded the page – but no joy
(Posted this comment at 12:50 UK time – in case the pictures appear later on after my comment LOL!)


August 11, 2011 #

I can’t see any of the pictures either…and I’m definitely on the edge of my seat to get a sneaky peek of the Autumn patterns!!!!


August 11, 2011 #

Me too!


August 11, 2011 #

Same here. I’ve tried reloading the browser but still no pics. Looking forward to seeing them.


August 11, 2011 #

Oh I thought it was something wrong with my internet connection that meant the pictures weren’t visible. I was interested to read all the things you have to take into account when designing patterns – look forward to the pics when they appear!


August 11, 2011 #

Oh no, pictures aren’t showing up for me either :(

elle :: everything reminds me of you

August 11, 2011 #

me too…. :-(


August 11, 2011 #

NO sneak peek here, either. ;)


August 11, 2011 #

How’s that for a teaser, huh?

Sorry about the missing images. They’re fixed now.


August 11, 2011 #

Yes! Cigarette pants! Sarai, you read my mind! But please please post some pictures… I can’t wait to see the lovely new designs!


August 11, 2011 #

I think the same way! Even as a fine artist, I still had to write ideas and concepts out with words. My painting teacher thought I was nuts! haha :) Super excited to see the new fall patterns. Thanks for sharing this!


August 11, 2011 #

Woo-hoo cigarette pants!


August 11, 2011 #

I’m very excited for the cigarette pants — I was hoping that’s what was ahead based on your post a while ago with the Audrey and Marilyn photos!

It’s interesting, I’m an architect and my design process works best with defined constraints as well. I never thought about it as one of the difference between fine art and usable designs, but you are exactly right. Designers have to work within the constraints of making actual usable products, whether they be clothing or buildings, and fine artists seek to push the boundaries of their imagination without having to worry too much about “how is someone going to build this?” Excellent post!


August 11, 2011 #

Yes. I think artists have constraints as well, but they’re different ones. For example, any medium is a constraint: you can do certain things with paint, other things with dance, still other things with sculpture. If you’re a photographer, your camera is a tool, but also a constraint.

But I think a designer has to engage with their audience in a very different way. Personally, I think good design comes from a genuine empathy and understanding of your audience, and that is where all the most wonderful creative constraints come from.


August 11, 2011 #

This is soooo interesting. I’ve never thought of “constraints” helping with the creative process; definitely makes me think of my own process for getting the creative juices flowing. Thanks for sharing such an informative and engaging piece.


August 11, 2011 #

Caitlin you are awsome!!! Yesterday you told us about a book you wrote and today you tell us that you will have a new pattern with cigarette pants!!!! Wow!!!!! These are lovely news, thank you!


August 11, 2011 #

I think you meant to say Sarai. ;)

Caitlin is awesome too though!


August 11, 2011 #

i love hearing about & seeing your process! all of the parameters you have to take into consideration… i’m not sure i’d ever get anything done…

with myself as the only parameter, i pretty much fly by the ample seat of my pants. sometimes i’m inspired by the fabric, but it could also be a building or a a color scheme on the street, and it pretty much always turns out different than i thought it would. even when i draw it up first :)

by the way the new blog looks GORGEOUS!

Alicia C.

August 11, 2011 #

I find that I only sketch out inspiration and designs that REALLY excite me, that I’m afraid of forgetting. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I took the extra few minutes to sketch or write down EVERY idea that hits me. Would I feel more inspired? Be more productive? Still new to sewing, I then run my ideas past my mother who adds in her practical considerations. Since my skills are not yet on par with my design ideas, unfortunately I have yet to actually sew anything I’ve designed entirely myself.


August 11, 2011 #

Interesting… right now, I’m reading this book by the choreographer Twyla Tharp, and one of the first things she talks about is being prepared for creativity. One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is to write down all the ideas I can. You never know when you might need them again!


August 11, 2011 #

What an inspiring post! It’s wonderful to hear your process. And, I spy a bow blouse in your sketches. I have been dying to sew a bow blouse for months and months. I can see that and the skinny pants being staples in my wardrobe. I’ll throw in a Beignet, too, for good measure. Can’t wait!


August 11, 2011 #

Love seeing the sneak peek into your process, Sarai! You work very similarly to me when coming up with new ideas. For me, constraints have always been a big jump starter for brainstorming; I find I’m always much more overwhelmed when I don’t have perimeters. For some reason have a checklist of things a design has to include is far more creatively appealing to me than having free reign. I think it’s perhaps because I’m terribly practical and a bit of a problem-solving sort. ;)

Though on the flip side, I can be very much influenced by vintage garments I see and use those as direct inspiration for projects. But usually I’ll put some sort of spin on them, and nine times out of ten opt for materials or techniques that suit my lifestyle and needs.

Can’t wait for the official pattern release! ;)


August 11, 2011 #

Is that a tie neck blouse I see??!! LOVE it! The pants are fabulous, too! I can’t wait for the patterns!

Sara Upshaw

August 11, 2011 #

Agree with GracieLouDesigns. I am soooo excited to see a tie-neck blouse. I have been searching and searching for one I like and, although the Burda one is somewhat appealing, I’d rather follow a pattern with seam allowances and plenty of instruction. I think I might be able to rock a cigarette pant too… especially after Jillian Michael’s finishes with me.


August 11, 2011 #

Ha! If anyone can make you work the cigarette pant, it’s Jillian.


August 11, 2011 #

What an interesting post! Definitely food for thought when designing my own garments. Thanks for sharing.


August 11, 2011 #

I never used to think sketching was that useful until I starting attending art school. Even so, it was hard to get used to keeping a sketch book that wasn’t required. Now, I carry one with me at all times (along with a variety of drawing tools) and find myself sketching whenever an idea pops into my head.


August 12, 2011 #

Great post! I am also excited re the neck tie blouse and the trousers….. I can’t believe how many gals wear dresses….. Especially in sewing blog land anyway…. Maybe it is just me…??? But I live in trousers….. All different lengths…:) only ever seem to wear a dress these days for special occasions….
Also wonderful to see more sleeves…. :) very excited about that!


August 15, 2011 #

Perhaps I missed it but when do you suppose the fall patterns will be available? I am working on my fall wardrobe now and would love to include some new Colette patterns in the line up!


August 16, 2011 #

Jeri, they are at the printer right now! I expect them to be available around the end of the month.


August 16, 2011 #

Awesome! If they are anything like the sneak peeks I will definitely reserve some budget for them.

Also, any chance you are going to offer them in sizes larger than 18? I am new to sewing clothing and with a super curvy figure (48-43-53) I am struggling to learn how to grade up patterns.