Editor's Note: Kitty Stein is taking a short leave from writing her monthly column. In the interim, Ethel Mahon has kindly agreed to fill in. This article is an excerpt from her latest work, The Encyclopedia of Fabrications, due to be published later this year.
I am gorgeous. I can be very delicate and yet so hard to get a pin into. I could be a fine iridescent sheer that requires special handling or every seam and hem will show. A designer can picture me draped over a graceful decorative rod when I have absolutely no drapeability at all. I could have a permanent crinkled finish and can be envisioned as soft billowing draperies; and my special pleating process will be pressed out if ironed incorrectly. And I love to run from the blind hemmer, no easy stitches for this bad boy!
Oh, and you don't want to line me with just anything; I am fussy and will stand apart from non-compatible linings. I could be an outrageously expensive plaid and have just enough of an off-printed pattern to make matching a nightmare. I could be rich, lush velvet, but watch out, if your presser foot is not adjusted properly it will cause tracks on my face. I may even require hand stitching, and if you try to iron me you might crush my delicate pile as I tend to nap, so extra care must be taken when cutting.
I could be a crewel, watch those feet! You might get tangled in my embroidery threads! And just try to match my seams! I could be a nice medium-weight casement, but I am known for not being very stable, kind of like a dieter I shrink and grow depending on the fiber content and the weave. Sometimes I just need to hang around for a few days until I stabilize, taking up your limited space and fabrication time.
I could be flame retardant and require stainless steel pins; for the regular ones, I tend to eat. I could be railroaded upholstery; good luck making draperies out of me, time to get creative! I could be a tightly woven sheer, but don't try pulling my thread! I will break every three or four inches and make you want to pull your hair out! And don't turn your back, I might slink right off your table!
What am I? I am fabric. I am not just any fabric; I am an up-chargeable fabric!
THE WORKROOM MAGICIAN
How many times has a designer imagined something wonderful out of the fabric from hell? And how many times have you made the job work? If you are like the majority of us, you have worked extra long and hard to make the fabric work with the treatment they wanted. You have pulled, angle cut, hand sewn, adjusted your sewing machine tension a dozen times and played with matching the seams as near perfect as you could. You have tried the hemmer, the straight-stitch machine and finally completed the job by hand. And what is your just reward for all this extra trouble? Usually nothing . . . unless you know to up-charge for these items.
Hello! How can you make money in this business if you are not rewarded for your time and knowledge? We are worth being paid for the extra trouble.
Many workroom owners are very familiar with fabrics. However, newer more complex fabrics are being created every day. If the fabricator actually can touch the fabric and see how the motif is going to fall, he or she usually can come pretty close with the yardage estimate and advise the designer as to how her chosen fabric will make up in her chosen treatment.
In most cases the designer and her client will meet to pick out styles and make the fabric selections prior to any contact with the workroom. Then the designer will bring the fabric, her work order and sketches to the workroom and just expect them to "match the picture."
Workrooms are not miracle shops, although some I have seen come pretty close. We can't always make what the designer wants. When I get a fabric that is obviously wrong for the chosen treatment, I try to explain why it won't work. If the designer insists I make the treatment as previously instructed, I require her to sign off on the job stating in writing that she will not hold the workroom responsible for the end result. We then complete the job following the designer's directions and charge accordingly.
All price lists should explain that prices are not carved in stone; they actually are guidelines to help the designer with her estimates. If creating your window treatment takes you longer due to the fabric properties, you should be compensated for it. If workrooms don't charge enough to cover the extras or charge for working with the more complex fabrics, they can't afford to stay in business.
How many times has a designer
imagined something wonderful out of the fabric from hell?
And how many times have you made the job work?
And what is your just reward for all this extra trouble?
It is the designer's responsibility to pick the right fabric for the right job. I wish it were mandatory for all designers to spend a full day in a busy workroom to see firsthand the problems we have with some of these fabrics. I am sure it would increase their understanding and acceptance of the need to up-charge for difficult fabrics. It might also help them to realize they should consult with the workroom before selling the fabric.
So our job as fabricators is to educate our designers, explain to them what the fabric is capable of. Teach them to understand why some jobs need to be up-charged. A couple of excellent books for reference are: The Guide to Textiles for Interior Designers, by Jackman & Dixon and Window Treatments, by Karla Nielson. (Window Treatments is available through D&WC magazine by calling  833-9056 or online at www.dwcdesignet.com.)
Another place for invaluable information is Kitty Stein's Web site (www.workroomconcepts.com). Check out some of Stein's guest columns: LaVelle Pinder has done some articles on "Fabric Considerations—Part I and II," it is a must-see for both designers and fabricators.
Education and the understanding of fabrics will make the job easier and more profitable for us all.
Ethel Mahon started her workroom business in 1980 as a one-person business. Eventually her husband, Harold, joined her in the business, which now occupies 10,000 square feet. Mahon is a board member of the Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA) and president of its Jacksonville, FL, chapter. She has taught seminars to consumers and designers and has authored and published The Designers Workroom Companion, a book of measuring instructions and calculation charts. Her next book, The Encyclopedia of Fabrications, will be released this year, it will be used by the WCAA in its newly developed Workroom Certification Program also to be launched this year. For more information, visit Mahon's Web site (www.workroomprofessionals.com) or e-mail her at Ethelem@mediaone.net.