Draperies & Window Coverings is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Wow! A quarter century! And I have been there with them from the beginning watching them grow. I have no idea how I first started receiving the magazine, but I and my business partner and some of our associates attended the first World of Window Coverings trade show in 1983. I still have a copy of that magazine and program! My, how things have changed!
That first trade show offered fewer than 90 vendors and 15 seminars.
The show floor was dominated by mini-blinds and verticals and there
were no seminars for workroom fabricators. The show was definitely
geared to the retailer with Steve Bursten teaching “Recruiting
and Training Salespeople.” I remember being very much in awe
of the information he offered.
The shows have changed; the seminars have changed; many things have
changed, but some aspects of our industry have not.
INFORMATION AND EDUCATION
When I started in this industry, there was almost no information
on window coverings fabrication to be had. Forget asking your competitors.
They would not share anything. The public library had no books on
window treatments. Sometime before 1976, I had acquired a book,
“Curtains, Slipcovers, and Upholstery,” copyrighted
1962, from which I made my first pair of pinch pleated panels out
of casement of all things! I was trying to make a little money sewing
in my home and these were for a customer. Even at that time, I was
like most every custom fabricator in the industry. You first say,
“Yes I can do it!” and then figure out how! That has
In 1976, I went to work for a local department store altering ready-made
draperies and occasionally making pinch pleated draperies. In one
instance, a customer returned sheer draperies because the seams
showed and she wanted us to hide them. We had no idea how to do
that. A local decorator, who did no sewing herself, was called in.
She couldn’t help us. I worked there two years before I started
my own business and those panels were still hanging there when I
I learned by taking existing treatments apart, or by examining those
that were already made. I’m sure this is still true today,
but that was about the only way I had to learn, which is not true
Early in the ’80s my partner and I took a correspondence course
that helped immensely in our sadly lacking education. That company
no longer exists. Other than that course, there was no formal education,
not even at local trade schools. I once tried to get the head of
the trade school to offer classes in making draperies but had no
success. Sometime in the ’80s, I did teach a class for interior
design students at our local community college. I literally had
to write the textbook, which the college printed for the students.
I never did publish that book.
When D&WC magazine showed up, I was ravenous for information.
Seminars were the next step on the education path and now they cover
all aspects of our industry. We also have several certifications,
the Custom Home Furnishings Academy, the Window Coverings University,
the Window Coverings Association of America and more that are less
known. All of this information is good—very good—but
one thing has not changed: How do we get the new people in this
industry to find and drink from these wells? While we do have more
savvy people starting businesses, I’m sure that if there were
a way to find all the businesses that are really out there, their
numbers would be overwhelming and they would be undereducated.
Of course, one cannot talk about information without discussing
the Internet. Twenty –five years ago, it was unheard of. Even
10 years ago, it was just beginning to get some real attention.
Today, it offers instant information and is a part of taking care
of business every day. If you don’t have Internet access and
a Web site today, you will not be able to compete in business.
To go from no information 25 years ago to having the world at your
fingertips has to be the most dramatic change in our industry. But
there may be a down side and that is too much information. While
you can find almost everything on the Internet, you could spend
hours researching only one thing; e.g. tiebacks. If you Google “tiebacks,”
you get about 500,000 responses. Try “how to make tiebacks”
and you get about 162,000 answers. Narrow it to “how to make
smocked tiebacks” and you have a reasonable number of about
The current populace suffers from instant gratification and getting
those responses in a split second is gratifying, but you could spend
hours wading through it. Probably due to the lack of information
when I started in this business, I have collected window coverings
books for years and have an extensive library. If I want information
on how to make a smocked tieback, I find it much less time consuming
to go through my books. In most cases, I know which ones may have
what I’m looking for. And on the financial side of research,
tiebacks do not generate that much income to spend hours online
researching. The vastness and speed of the Internet tend to make
you forget the economics involved.
FROM DOS TO WINDOWS
The first industry trade show in 1983 offered one seminar on computerization.
I did not take that seminar as I didn’t see the need to have
a computer. However, it wasn’t long after that I and my partner
started searching trade shows for industry specific software for
our business, which by the late ’80s we could not find. However,
we did make a contact at a trade show with someone who wanted to
arrange custom programming. So we invested in our first computer,
DOS-based, and a dot matrix printer. The custom programming did
not work out and all we used the computer for was to write fabrication
By 1995, my retail business had been dissolved and I was back home
with a wholesale workroom working by myself. However, I was doing
more speaking and writing for D&WC and SewWhat? Newsletter.
Because of that, I also needed to be connected to the Internet to
interact with the industry folks who were there. I needed to stay
abreast of the current state of the industry. The need for word
processing and communication had grown so I made the jump to a Windows
95 computer and a black and white laser printer.
In the last 11 years, I was one of the first to invest in a Palm
Pilot PDA. Most professionals are now relying heavily on their cell
phones, unheard of 25 years ago, to enhance and assist in their
businesses. I have lost two computers to viruses and now have three
Windows XP computers, all of which have personalities and ailments!
I have five ink jet color printers! I have had to learn far too
much about computers, but one must keep up with the changes.
FROM PAPER TO SOFTWARE
I published Order in the Workroom in 1994, which still is paper
master forms for internal workroom operations. However, we now have
fabulous industry software that enables you to estimate quickly
and present beautiful color drawings to your customers.
I discovered the anxiety of learning new software. My first software
with my Windows 95 computer was basic Microsoft Word and then I
made the jump to QuickBooks Pro. Various other special software
The initial marketing for computers raved about saving paper. I
have yet to see that come to fruition the way I would like it to
be. While paper takes up storage room, computers can lose information
by hitting a wrong key or through viruses, Trojan Horses and Worms
of all things! Storage media (CDs) only last so long and can become
corrupted at the most inconvenient times.
Computers are supposed to save us time, too, and they do if they
are working properly. However, my computers have been temperamental
and have misbehaved at the most inopportune times causing me much
lost time and mental anguish. Then, of course, you must back up
all your files. This takes time and taking the backup media to and
from the bank safe deposit box takes time. There was a time I could
just leave the computer alone for a while and it would back up everything
to a tape. It was neat and simple. Now I have too many files that
constantly change on too many computers and even backing up to external
hard drives is time consuming.
Computers have become absolutely essential to any business and almost
as important in our private lives. Unfortunately most, if not all,
computer owners will confess to having a very real love/hate relationship
with their computers!
25 YEARS AGO WE DIDN'T HAVE:
• Fax machines and e-mail
• Motorization, which is becoming more standard
• So many residential oversized/multi-story windows and home
• Interlinings and multiple interlinings and more than one
to choose from
• Numerous ways to embellish soft treatments
• Double-sticky tape and iron-on tapes and linings
• Numerous trade shows every year
• Industry suppliers who are our one-stop sources for all
• Big Box competition
• More than a pinch pleat or rod pocket headings to choose
from for panel headings
• Anything fancier than a swag and cascades for top treatments
• Patterns! What a blessing they are!
• So many choices of hardware for hanging a pinch pleated
• So many people stepping up to teach, share and create industry
• Standard terminology. The Window Coverings Association of
America (WCAA) has established standard terminology for better communication,
but getting the whole industry on the same page will take a bit
• Numerous books, videos, CDs, and DVDs to help us learn anything
from fabrication to business practices
• Ways to communicate with sympathetic and knowledgeable peers
in the industry to relieve the loneliness of sole proprietorship
• WCAA bringing more continuity to the industry and encouraging
• So much information you really need to know from the start.
TODAY WE STILL HAVE:
• The same basic sewing machines and drapery machines that
will still get the job done for the small workroom. Some of these
machines can be computerized, but they still perform the same basic
operations. However, there are more elaborate machines for larger
• Not enough cohesion in the industry to define and identify
a truly capable and educated window coverings professional, whether
retail or wholesale
• Not enough skilled seamstresses and fabricators
• Not one or even two complete, comprehensive resources to
provide all the basic information one should know before starting
a window covering business
• Many ways to fabricate the same product
• Reluctant peers who refuse to share their knowledge with
competitors, although it’s certainly not as bad as it used
• Reluctance to consider change and to try out new ideas,
• Lack of sufficient startup capital and unrealistic expectations
of when you truly start making money
• Insufficient business knowledge
• Lack of marketing and advertising knowledge
• Reticence to charge what you and your work are worth
• Interior design educational (college level) programs that
do not adequately educate about window treatments and thus require
wholesale workrooms to do the educating
• Optimistic entrepreneurs ready to go into business doing
what they love
D&WC and the whole industry have come a long way! There have
been many changes, good and bad. Companies have come and gone. However,
there is one thing that has remained true whether today or 25 years
ago for anyone to stay in this business and be successful: To succeed
in this industry you must be passionate. You must be passionate
about window treatments, but more importantly, you must have the
passion to stay on top of all the changes and new technology.
The elegant custom detailed window coverings you fabricate hide
the amount of knowledge needed to make them and run a business.
Only your enthusiasm for your work can reveal part of your passion.
The part that isn’t visible is your insatiable hunger to learn
what’s new and what will benefit your business and your customers.
Why don’t you feed that appetite now and go check your industry
Kitty Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 29-year veteran
of the drapery workroom industry. She has owned both retail and wholesale
drapery workrooms as one person and as a company of nine, and she
is the founder and past owner of Workroom Concepts, a consulting firm
offering educational resources to the industry. Her experience includes
professional speaking and writing for two industry trade magazines.
She currently owns Kitty Stein & Co., which supplies industry
vendors with the industry-specific products she has authored including
Order in the Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications, and
Price Your Work with Confidence, available through D&WC.