Cheryl Strickland, founder of the Professional Drapery Workroom School, later the Custom Home Furnishings School, Swannanoa, NC, and well-known industry speaker and educator died April 2, 2008, following a long battle with cancer.
She leaves behind an extended family throughout the window coverings industry and a legacy of education, sharing and pride in a job well done. It’s the sharing that stands out the most.
Those who knew her found her a larger-than-life personality. There never was a question whether Cheryl was in the room. In fact, her presence often preceded her.
PRIDE AND JOY
Cheryl’s work has been well documented in the pages of Draperies & Window Coverings, a relationship that spanned nearly 20 years. She, her business and her school were subjects of no fewer that three D&WC cover stories dating back to before my tenure, which began in 1993. For several years Cheryl wrote a monthly column for us, “The Big Picture.”
Throughout all our conversations and interviews, the idea of sharing was an important and recurring theme. “I take great joy in sharing my knowledge and information with other people,” she once told me. “If there is a technique I can teach them, or a problem-solving solution I can pass along that would help them time-wise, profit-wise or just plain relieving stress-wise, then I take great pride and joy in that.”
In founding the drapery workroom school in 1995 Cheryl’s goal was to help workrooms, a segment of the window coverings industry she felt wasn’t being adequately addressed. She wanted them to become respected professionals. Cheryl wanted to help others avoid that long, drawn-out struggle of having to make a lot of mistakes, hoping to survive the mistakes and feeling the frustration of guessing how professional treatments are made.
But that was not all. The school also covered important business issues such as workroom layout, workflow, pricing, hiring, contracting out and how to sell custom work. “We could do a bang-up job of making sure students have the hand skills they need then send them out into the world, but if they don’t know how to market themselves or price their work, they will flounder,” Strickland told us. “The focus of all our classes at the school is how to make professional treatments with high standards of quality, but efficiently enough to ensure high profitability.”
THE SHARING CONTINUES
The school was a natural progression if you knew Cheryl’s ambitions and were familiar with her energy and drive. Cheryl learned to sew at the age of nine, and held her first job in the design field at a retail store at 19, and later at a Fort Lauderdale, FL, workroom. She then joined her mother's business, Drapery Arts, which grew from a small basement location to a large building with a showroom, office and 2,000-square-foot custom workroom. Her nearly 17 years in the family business formed the background for what became her independent business of presenting seminars started in 1988.
Cheryl joined the trade show and seminar program developed by Draperies & Window Coverings the next year. Through that venture she gained national recognition, and it was her success at leading seminars that gave her the idea to expand her efforts into a full-time school. “Through that association I’ve had so many people approach me who were interested in fabricating window treatments and wished I could teach them. I decided to open the school realizing the tremendous need for hands-on training,” she once said.
The school’s success led to many further plans, which included publishing a monthly newsletter, SewWhat?, and starting the Custom Home Furnishings Industry Educational Conference and Trade Show in 1997. I have the fondest memories of attending one of those early conferences. It was held at the Ridgecrest Conference Center near Cheryl’s home in Swannanoa. At the time, it was her largest conference ever with 400 in attendance, including my wife and just-turned one-year-old daughter (she’s now nine!).
That show is the direct predecessor of today’s D&WC Designer & Workroom Conference and Trade Show, and like it Cheryl’s school also continues on today. The Custom Home Furnishings Academy is owned and operated by Margie Nance, a former instructor and director of education at Cheryl’s school.
It’s clear to see Cheryl Strickland’s legacy will survive well into the future. Anytime someone in the custom window treatments industry asks, “How did you do that?” and gets and answer; or asks, “Where I can I go to learn more about . . .” and gets an answer; or “What do you do when . . .” and gets an answer, it’s Cheryl sharing through all of us.