In a workroom, producing window treatments then getting the work out the door as fast as we can is how we make money. There are many factors to consider when trying to speed up production such as reducing wasted time and effort, but cutting corners on quality is not one of them!
Mistakes are one of the biggest causes of lost time in the workroom. Besides not getting paid for your mistakes or the work you must do to correct them, mistakes cost you income and destroy even the best production schedule. The antidote for mistakes is to avoid them through preplanning.
To begin, use your own custom forms that cover all possible questions for estimating and work orders. These forms will reduce mistakes because you won't leave out or overlook critical information. Your familiarity with these forms also will reduce information retrieval time.
Forms are only as good as the information you put in the blanks. Making an "educated guess" is something to avoid. When you are dealing with how long it will take to make a new creation you have no choice but to guess, but it's another matter if you are figuring yardage. I recently talked with a workroom that made an educated guess on yardage for trim. When the project was fabricated, they were three yards short. The replacement cost of the trim was astronomical, and the replacement time unacceptable. The only choice was to rip out and redo several treatments in order to make do with the yardage on hand. That took several days.
The lesson learned was to take time in the beginning when preparing the estimate (or when checking the yardage of a furnished work order) to lay out the job, get an accurate yardage count and then add more. Many times, this process has to be done anyway so it's not an extra step.
Cuts need to be calculated in the office, which is necessary to check yardage anyway. Then when the work order reaches the cutting table, the cuts should be recalculated as a double-check.
Do not start a job until all materials are in your possession. Stopping in the middle of a job, putting it away, getting it back out and refreshing yourself on the specifications is time for which you won't be compensated. Besides, if that missing part of an order decides to show up wrong, or maybe never shows up at all, the whole job could be changed. I know many of you out there are smiling right now because you identify with this scenario.
Yes, it takes a strong constitution to stick to the rules and it takes time to do all the checking, but that's far less time than redoing or stopping production due to unanswered questions or errors in cuts and yardage. Putting a job aside and coming back to it later is a big time waster.
One of the greatest time-saving tools you can invest in for your workroom is an inspection machine that will count yardage and reroll the fabric. (These machines will be addressed in an upcoming article.)
Generally it takes two people, or should, to do a good job of manual inspection. Time yourself to see how long it takes you to unroll, check and reroll fabric and multiply it by two people. You can see immediately what a machine operated by one person can save you. Knowing as soon as a fabric comes in that it does or does not have flaws will enable you to stay closer to your production schedule.
The right machine can measure the exact location of flaws so that you can mathematically determine if you can cut around them instead of taking time to lay out the entire project. Having these measurements keeps problem-solving in the office and not in the workroom where it will slow down production. Ultimately, the pre-inspection process can be a tremendous public relations boost with your clients.
When you have checked all your paperwork, it is time for cutting. If you have adequate storage space, it is a good idea to cut at least a week's worth of work. For really unusual jobs, or those requiring a lot of creative planning and cutting, it is better to cut and immediately sew all at one time. However, for all the straight work (e.g. pinch pleats, shades, etc.), cutting all the like jobs together will save much time because you won't have to rethink how to cut each job.
Pre-cutting also can work as an incentive. If you cut what you must get done in a week, then you are more likely to work hard to get to the bottom of the pile. If you cut just a little beyond a week's work, then what a feeling of accomplishment you'll have if you get that done in one week, too!
Another important time saver is to use commercially available patterns. Even though you'll probably have to alter the patterns, you won't have to reinvent the overall proportions. The time you save by not starting from scratch and working out all the steps will be reinvested toward increasing production.
You can sew fast if you have fast, efficient equipment. Industrial equipment definitely is the way to go.
For some equipment, there are different levels of efficiency. There are several pleat markers on the market. The least efficient and the least expensive will require the greatest thought and time from you. The most efficient, and probably the most expensive, should require minimal effort from you. Again, your time saved goes to increase your production.
Arrange your workroom to eliminate as many physical steps as possible. Line up the machines in the order they are needed. Also have tabletops to the left and -- if possible -- in front of each machine. These tables will hold the work while you sew and enable you to slide it from one machine to the next without picking it up or carrying anything.
Have all your supplies at the work station where you need them. You can place them on shelves under the tables or suspend them overhead.
Yes, you can produce quality, custom work using mass production techniques. For example, if you have more than one job calling for swags, cut them all at the same time. Sew them all at the same time. Turn and press them all at the same time. Drape them all at the same time.
During no part of this process have you reduced the quality of your work, but you have saved a tremendous amount of time.
There are several things that come into play that affect a person's ability to sew faster:
* Familiarity: Just knowing how to make something increases speed. It is wise to have all directions written down to be read completely before starting to sew.
* Repetition: The more times a person repeats something done the same way, the less thought time is required, and therefore the greater the speed.
* Frequency: The more often a procedure is repeated, the greater the speed. Of course, frequency is hard to come by in custom workrooms, and that makes it difficult for new employees to get faster quickly.
* Personality: Some people move at double-time in everything they do. Others go at a much more relaxed pace. Genuine interest, observance and alertness are important not only to detect problems sooner, but to discover shortcuts. Perfectionism must be tempered. Being too perfect in areas that never will be noticed, much less appreciated, can be very costly.
* Incentive: Most people work much faster and smarter if there is a reward at the end. But the reward must be what that person wants badly enough to want to work for it. Even as business owners, just getting the job out on time may not be enough incentive to work faster. However, if you promise yourself a new outfit or maybe a vacation for a set volume of work, you'll likely work faster to get there.
Now that you have pre-planned, organized and prepared to sew faster, turn on that answering machine! All the preparation in the world will not help you sew faster if you are being interrupted constantly. You don't just lose time, you also lose your thought pattern and your enthusiasm, which will take a tremendous toll on your output.
I know many of you cannot avoid some interruptions, but try to block off a set time every day, even if it is only one or two hours, during which you can sew undisturbed. For that period of time, your production will excel. Just knowing you've made good time will give you a mental lift that will help you deal more effectively and efficiently with the interruptions the rest of the time.
This is so important. When you work long hours without a break, your mental alertness slows as well as your physical speed, both of which lead to mistakes and increased sewing time. Some companies in Japan and France even have nap rooms for their employees! Believe me, only a 15-minute nap can super-charge your batteries so you can keep up with the Energizer Bunny.
Also, I encourage you to take one day out of the week for rest and relaxation. You need this refreshment to maintain or increase your productivity.
Read books and trade magazines, attend shows, network and get on the Internet. All of these are outstanding resources for the latest equipment and shortcuts in production.
Sewing faster is not just a matter of moving faster. It requires an investment of time and maybe money, and a determination to be thoroughly prepared for the actual sewing procedure. If you commit to planning, your production output will increase and so will your profits!
Get ready, get set. Go!
Kitty Stein is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.