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My writing process for The Colette Sewing Handbook

If you’ve ever wondered how a craft book is written, well… I don’t know how anyone else does it, but I can at least tell you how mine was written.

I’m someone who likes really big projects. I like planning them out, organizing all the moving parts, then focusing on the little details until everything fits together. Creating the patterns is a bit like this, but a book was really the ultimate big project for me.

First, a word on time management. Writing a book while running CP was basically like having two full time jobs. It was intense! I decided early on that I needed to be very careful with my time, so I divided my week into two relatively equal parts. I spent half the week on Colette Patterns and half on the book, more or less. Weekends were pretty much cancelled for the duration of the time, which was hard. That’s why I’m going on vacation soon!

Concept & Outline

The whole project started when I was contacted by a publisher. I’d been thinking a little bit about writing a book, so the timing was perfect.

One of my concerns about the idea of writing a craft book is that it wouldn’t totally reflect my own aesthetic. You know, you hear stories from writers about their ideas getting muddled, and I knew enough about publishing to realize that the publisher has a lot (perhaps total) control over the look and feel.

But the editor with Krause (Vanessa, who became my wonderful editor on the book) told me she was interested in letting my own look shine through, and even suggested using my own crew for the photography. I decided to go for it, and she was true to her word. My creative input was highly valued through the whole process and I think that as a result, the book looks different from other craft books out there. I really feel it’s me.

Vanessa and I worked on a concept together, and I came up with the idea of having the five fundamental areas that I feel are so easy to overlook in sewing: plan, pattern, fit, fabric, and finishing. I used that basic idea to create a structure for the book, outlining all the content of the book. I also sketched out my ideas for the patterns that would be included, roughly one for each chapter.

From there, Vanessa created a page plan (shown above), showing roughly what would appear on each page. It was so cool to see the whole book worked out like this early on! It really gives a sense of what the book will be like. We went over it, and both made changes.

Writing

I began writing the actual manuscript around April 2010. I had a series of deadlines that extended to January 2011, so the book was turned in in chunks, a few chapters at a time.

I also had to keep track of every single image in the book, so we’d know what to shoot for each page. I kept a massive spreadsheet listing every single image, each one numbered and described for later, when we did photography.

Drafting

At the same time, I drafted the patterns for the book. I had to create these much more quickly than usual because of the schedule, so I had to get a little creative.

Pattern testing takes about a month, and I only had a few months all together to do 5 patterns, on top of all the writing and running CP. So I only did limited pattern testing before turning them in, but knowing they wouldn’t go to print for some time, I planned more thorough testing for later. I did a much more thorough test round with a big group of seamstresses before my final deadline (tricky, tricky).

Photo Shoot

In October, it was time to shoot the “beauty shots” for the book. These are all the pretty photos in the book that aren’t part of the step-by-step techniques. So mostly the shots with models and pretty props.

I talked a little about the photo shoot before, but to recap these were all shot in Portland. I worked as Art Director, with my friend Chelsea Fuss as stylist and my other friend Lisa Warninger as photographer. We worked off of the shot list I’d created (that massive spreadsheet I mentioned before) so we’d be sure to get every single image we needed.

Photo shoots are a lot of hard work, but they’re one of the most energizing and fun parts of the whole process. I love watching Lisa and Chelsea work.

Step-by-step shoot

I then flew to Cincinnati, where Krause is located, to spend a week shooting all the step-by-step shots for the book.

One thing you may not realize is that we had to create stuff for every shot in the book in advance. That means that if I wrote three steps for sewing in an invisible zipper, Caitlin and I had to create three different zipper insertions, each showing a different step, so that we would be able to quickly photograph the whole thing. If you think about this, it makes total sense. If we’d sat in the photo studio sewing each step, we would have been there for weeks!

In practice, this meant creating every single step out here in portland, tagging and labeling it, then shipping it all to Cincinnati. Crazy, huh?

Editing

Finally, we hit the editing stage. This is more or less what you would think, but probably a bit more intense. I read and re-read the book (and of course made Caitlin read it too), while Vanessa and I sent changes back and forth. We made illustration changes, text changes, and even reshot a couple images. Finally, everyone signed off on the thing and it went to print!

I muse say, after all the work, I am so utterly thrilled with how the book came out. I know I’m more than a little biased, but it really is the book I dreamed of creating, and that makes me really proud.

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On , Yamie said:

WOW! Thanks for giving us an insight into how your book was created. I have ordered your book and am waiting anxiously for it to arrive!

Yamie x

On , Kerry said: | verykerryberry.blogspot.com

Such an interesting glimpse into your book development, although I guess this is just a fraction of the blood sweat and tears that went into it. I am hoping my copy will be waiting under the tree for me

On , Kerry said: | kestrelfindsandmakes.blogspot.com

Thanks, I really enjoyed reading about the process and how you approached it. I am also hoping that I’ll get a copy for Christmas – it’s on my list! :)

On , mjb said: | meagangracie.wordpress.com

I love seeing the pictures of you working on it while you’re all dressed up! It’s a lifestyle for you :)

On , didyoumakethat said: | didyoumakethat.wordpress.com

I am exhausted reading all that! I hope you scheduled time for the odd crying fit and opening a bottle of wine! You’ve achieved huge amounts. Caitlin sounds like a saint, also.

On , Andrea said: | stitchparade.com

I just picked up my own copy last week and once I started reading it, couldn’t put it down. There is so much great information in the book, and so beautifully laid out. Thanks for a great book – of course you should be proud!

On , Lisa S. said:

It’s taking every ounce of willpower in me to avoid raiding my husband’s stash of Christmas gifts and start digging into your book. I just can’t wait to get started. I already have some fabric set aside to make the skirt!

On , Laura said: | madeinoxford.wordpress.com

Fascinating stuff. It’s easy to think that these things just sort of ‘happen’ without really considering the depth of hard work that goes into such an awesome project. The book is top of my Christmas list, so I’ve got my fingers crossed!

On , Rebecca said:

This is great! I am currently working on a book (a music book), but I love seeing your process! I am very happy you decided to write this book because I love it! Thank you so much!

On , yellie said:

Inspiring!

On , Amanda D. said: | sewinintherain.blogspot.com

That looks like great fun, although definitely a lot going on at once! I’ve worked on similar projects with multiple components over a length of time, so I know how exciting it is to see everything come together. And how hard it is to finally sign off on it – I feel like there must be something I missed :) Can’t wait to receive my book!

On , Sally said:

This book is by far the best sewing book I’ve ever seen, it is so…yummy! and I just love the lay out and the idea of building skills one project at a time, it makes a world of difference!

On , Debbie said:

Thanks for sharing all these “behind the scenes” stories with us – I am waiting for my book to arrive, but already I feel very close to it – I can’t wait to have it in my hands and enjoy all your hard work. You are amazing and a great inspiration for our craft. Thank you.

On , Amanda said: | symondezyn.wordpress.com

Thank you for the insight as to how it all came together – as a graphic designer, I can relate to the process of going from concept to final creation and it’s a wonderful feeling :) Cheers!! I am still waiting for my pre-order but I anticipate it will be amazing :)

On , Marie said: | quirkythreads.blogspot.com

Thanks for sharing. I love the book and it is lovely to see the behind the scenes stuff too.

On , Tilly said: | tillyandthebuttons.com

Fascinating! Thanks very much for sharing the process behind putting the book together. I’m kinda obsessed with strategies for project management and efficiency so – combined with my love of sewing – this post was such a joy to read!

On , Carla said: | tinyangrycrafter.blogspot.com

Thank you so much for sharing! It was very insightful to see how everything went together. =D

On , Melissa Stramel said: | melissaslilaclane.blogspot.com

Hi Sarai. We met at market, you probably don’t remember. But I was the hopeful author. Can you e-mail me? I have some questions to ask you . . . lots.

On , Casey said: | elegantmusings.com

Having been in the loop a teeny bit during the pattern testing process, it’s so neat to read about the rest of the book-writing experience! One of my goals in the near future is to shop a book proposal around, and seeing all the work that goes into the actual book is really awe-inspiring! Again, congrats on the publication–it’s a gorgeous book!

On , Vanessa Lyman said:

This probably will be no surprise to you all, but Sarai was pure joy to work with.

A funny thing happened after the step-by-step shoot. I would be at home sewing something and think “Now, how did Sarai say to match up stripes/add width at the waist/add a lining…?” I eventually brought a copy of the manuscript home. And used it. Often.

Sarai wrote a fabulous book, and I’m thrilled to have been part of it. Can’t wait to see what everyone sews from the patterns!

On , Vanessa Lyman said:

Fun timing with our posts, eh?

On , Robin said: | gmail.com

The book is absolutely beautiful and you should be very proud! I pre-ordered on amazon and it was a great surprise when it arrived. Although I am of a different generation, I still connected with your point of view and I can see myself creating unique garments from your patterns that suit my aesthetic perfectly.
Well done!!

On , StephC said: | 3hourspast.com

Wow! What an encouraging, thorough, and interesting post! Thank you so much for this, it helps me know how to plan! :)

All About Grainline ~ A Grainline Primer + Giveaway from Sarai Mitnick, Colette Patterns « Sew,Mama,Sew! Blog

[...] a wonderful book, and it so clearly reflects Sarai’s aesthetic and skill (we enjoyed this recent post Sarai wrote about the book writing process, and you might too). Add it to your holiday wish list [...]

On , Francesca said:

Wow. What impresses me most of all is how you managed to do all that and continue with CP at the same time – and produce a gorgeous winter line alongside! Impressive.

BTW – love the pink lipstick look on you for a change:)

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Thanks! I actually wear pink lipstick quite a lot… I wonder if I just take more photos in red?

On , Margie said:

I have a copy of your book and LOVE IT! I have to admit I haven’t had time to make anything yet (working on Christmas right now!), but this book has a radiance to it that I haven’t seen in any other book out there. It truly is a gem. Bravo!

On , Melina Glasson said:

Hi Sarai, I’m going to join the others in saying I received your book in the post from amazon.com last week and it’s beautiful! Reading this post, I was shaking my head and thinking “you had nothing to worry about- the book reads and looks like you!” It’s also pretty clear that a lot of love and hard work went into it too. The only thing I’m a little miffed about is the deal you have on at the moment pairing a few extra patterns with the book, but admittedly I’m thinking of buying another copy anyway… In closing, loved the ideas, messages and feel of the book, I’ve already used your advice to help plan my summer wardrobe. Thank you for making such a lovely book and congradulations on how well it turned out.

On , Laura B said:

I’ll be getting your book just as soon as I can fit it into my budget…I’m really looking forward to it. (Hope I don’t have to wait until June!) In the meantime, I’ll keep obsessively following the blog and learning from you.

On , Lavender said: | threadsquare.wordpress.com

Thank you for the behind the scenes long view – much more than a peek! I love learning about all the planning and organization that goes into large projects. Can’t wait to open this up in a few weeks :)

On , Alexandria said: | bluefeatherstyle.blogspot.com

I love the book, I read it while at Fancy Tiger in Denver and I can’t wait to receive my order in the mail! I’d love to know where that gorgeous pen in the photos above is from?

On , Debbie E said:

Wow Sarai! It looks like it was a lot of work! I am asking for the book for Christmas and hopefully Santa will come through for me! Love your blog!

P.S. hope you enjoyed Cincinnati during your stay here.

On , Josephine said:

The amount of work involved is staggering! You should be proud of yourself!
I’m a very new visitor to your blog – I heard of your work via Not Martha. I couldn’t click over here fast enough! I bought myself a sewing machine a couple of years ago after not having used one since high school (15 years ago). After some initial experimentations, it’s sat dormant. However, I’m hoping to get your book for Christmas and breathe some life into it (and my wardrobe)!

Congrats Sarai!

On , Elle Dechene said:

So wonderful to receive your book (and two patterns) for Christmas, it was even better than I had expected. Many thanks for all of your fine work.

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