With the possible exception of the telephone (to get all those orders!), the worktable is the most important piece of equipment in the entire workroom. Granted, many types of industrial sewing machines and high-tech equipment are very helpful in improving production time, but none is more important than the workroom table. Even with my multitude of problem-solving experiences in the window coverings industry, I would never attempt fabricating professional treatments without a professional workroom table. It's just too inconvenient and too inefficient!
Properly using a professional workroom table can more than double your production, which of course would greatly increase your profits. Sound good? Let's take a look at the most common type of professional workroom table and how to use it efficiently.
Building the Table
A professional workroom table can be built by making two frames using two-by-fours and placing a plywood surface on top of the frame. The legs usually are made of four-by-fours.
The most common mistake is making the tabletop the same size as the frame without creating a lip or overhang. This type of table is difficult to use and very inefficient because clamps cannot be used on the table lip to hold fabrics or treatments in place. To assure having every fabricating advantage, create your tabletop with an overhang of three to six inches on all edges. Keep your clamps handy by attaching a holder directly to the table within easy reach.
Space always is at a premium in the workroom. Just like closets, there's never enough so we want to use the space as efficiently as possible. At a bare minimum, build your table at least four feet by eight feet, the size of one sheet of plywood. This will not be wide enough to hold 54-inch fabrics and will not be long enough for many of your cuts. But, if this is as large as your workroom space will accommodate, it is much better than having none at all. To provide temporary extra width or length, additional pieces can be hinged onto the table and pulled up when needed.
The next best size is five feet by eight feet. It will accommodate 54-inch fabric, but still will be too short for many of your cuts. An even better size is five feet by 10 feet. It will handle most of your drapery cut lengths, but is still too short for many bed treatment cuts that have a pattern repeat. The most usable size with the least effort is five feet by 12 feet. It will accommodate 118-inch wide fabrics folded in half and is long enough for almost all cut lengths.
Putting casters on the legs of your table will increase its uses. Two tables can be rolled side by side to create a surface large enough to hold a bedspread completely flat. If room permits, two tables can be rolled end to end to simplify the fabrication of extra-long draperies.
Because the workroom table is so large, it actually can waste the greatest amount of space. This problem can be eliminated by designing storage space under the table. By adding a built-in shelf, anything stored under the table would move with the table when it is repositioned. If the table will not be moved, other types of storage units can be added such as cabinets or drawers.
The height of your table is critical. To be as ergonomically comfortable as possible, make sure the table height allows you to bend at the hip joint rather than in the small of your back. This will greatly reduce back strain and fatigue. The exact height necessary to accomplish this is determined by the length of your legs. Simply experiment to determine what is best for you. (Hint: For my height of five feet, seven inches and my leg length, my tables are 35 1/2 inches high overall.)
The second most common mistake is not providing a pinable surface. The plywood top is too hard to push pins into. Adding another surface on top of the plywood that is soft enough to pin into easily provides many additional advantages. Pins can be pushed straight into this softer surface at any location to hold fabrics, patterns or treatments in place. Swags can be dressed while hanging from the edge of the table with pins.
Insulation board of various types can be used as the pinable surface. Be careful that it does not crush too easily. My preference is a product called R board. It has a thin outer shell of fiberglass, which keeps it from crushing, but the pins slide in extremely easily. Again, experiment and see what works best for you.
The tabletop is next covered with a padding. I used 1/4-inch thick foam (such as rug padding) for many years with much success. However, I recently made three tables for my new workroom school and used a padding designed especially for this purpose by the R.H. Rowley Co. I was very impressed with its quality.
Next, the table is very tightly covered with a heavy, untreated canvas. It can be purchased from local awning companies, but make sure it does not easily stretch. The canvas can be pulled tightly over the tabletop with the use of a gooseneck web stretcher available from any upholstery supply center. Once pulled taut, the canvas is stapled to the underside of the tabletop. This table can be used for cutting, measuring, tabling, pressing and just about any other workroom task.
The third most common mistake is not placing lines on the table. Many people waste a great deal of time constantly measuring cuts, hems, finished lengths, the folds in jabots and on and on. By drawing lines on the canvas across the table every one inch, the user almost never needs to pick up a steel tape measure or straight edge again. You can immediately tell where to cut the fabric and if it is straight. In an instant you know where to press in the hems.
By placing special colored lines at frequently used spacings, the table can eliminate even more steps such as measuring the side hems or turning common sizes of rod pockets. By using additional lines running the length of the table at one-inch intervals (creating a one-inch grid), the user can immediately tell if a Roman shade is straight not only across the bottom, but on the sides as well.
Lighting and Wiring
Being able to see well also is an important consideration in getting the most out of your table. Run four-foot by eight-foot fixtures down the center of the table lengthwise and you will never be working in your own shadow.
Having easy access to electricity is a must. Overhead drapery tracks with heavy-duty carriers can provide a very efficient method to suspend extension and iron cords out of the way while remaining within reach. An electrical outlet also could be placed on the edge of the table framing just below the table surface.
To assure the most efficient fabric cutting on your table, use a fabric holder. Several types of clamp-on styles exist, but you could build your own. It can be as simple as adding two-by-four posts at the leading end of your table. Place additional blocks of two-by-fours on the inside of these supports. U-shaped cut-outs in the blocks hold poles that can be made of inexpensive electrical conduit. The poles are run through the center of the fabric roll and placed on the supports. Several rolls of fabric can be hung on this fabric holder, as long as they are not too high to reach!
If your table has casters, the fabric rack can be designed to be portable. Build the frame separately from the table making A-frame supports for stability. The same U-shaped blocks of wood are used for the desired number of poles.
By eliminating many steps, such as constant measuring or laying out a straight edge, a properly designed professional workroom table with lines and clamps can be the least expensive method of increasing productivity and eliminating unnecessary errors. Why not take the time to design one to suit your needs? You'll love the added profits!
Cheryl Strickland is owner of Professional Drapery Seminars. She is an internationally-acclaimed speaker with more than 20 years experience in the window coverings industry. She is the publisher and editor of Sew WHAT?, an international monthly newsletter for professional drapery workrooms. Strickland also is the author of A Practical Guide to Soft Window Coverings and the Designer's Sketch Pad, which are available through Draperies & Window Coverings magazine.