You must examine your own personal production techniques and product mix to determine where you could use help. Ask yourself, What procedures are particularly time consuming? What processes are taking most of my production time? If you are gathering or ruffling by hand but you only have to do it once a month, that is not where you should begin your search for increased efficiency. On the other hand, because you are cutting fabric almost daily, that would be a good place to consider an efficiency investment.
Besides increasing efficiency, you also should consider what tools could reduce or eliminate stress on your body. The healthier you are and the healthier you stay, the more productive and efficient you will be.
Following are some tools and equipment you may want to investigate further.
A hand-held electric rotary knife can replace scissors and the rotary knives that require special mats on which to cut. One of these little cutters can be used on any surface and can cut stacks of fabric up to 1/2-inch thick in straight lines or in intricate shapes.
Just being able to stack your fabric and cut it all at once can save a bundle of time. For example, if you have to fabricate five interlined swags all the same size, you could stack all the rectangular cuts with the linings and interlinings placed appropriately with the face fabric the way they will be sewed. Lay the pattern on the stack and cut the whole stack of 15 layers at one time!
These cutters also are much kinder to your hands and arms than scissors and manual rotary knives. So not only will they save you time, they will keep you healthier. There also is a battery-powered cutter on the market.
Many workrooms now specialize in top treatments, which usually involve a lot of stapling to boards. A pneumatic stapler is air-powered and not only is much faster, but is much easier on your hands than even an electric stapler. Pneumatic staplers will require an air compressor. Be sure you don't get a compressor that is too small and must run all the time. They are very noisy! Also, be sure the nose of the staple gun will get into corners easily.
There are many brands available, but your best bet is to ask upholsterers what they use. You also can check with upholstery supply companies. Be sure you get the staple gun first so you know what kind of air compressor to buy.
If you are doing lots of stapled top treatments (and especially cornices), then this machine is a must. Depending on your volume and product mix, it may be an investment that even should precede some of the basic sewing machines.
FABRIC INSPECTION EQUIPMENT
Let me emphasize that fabric inspection is very important, and it is essential to inspect fabric over a light. In most cases, daylight will be coming through the finished window treatment once it's hung and flaws will be highlighted. There are various ways you can devise to inspect fabric.
First, you need a way to mount bolts of fabric to easily roll out the fabric and to reroll it if necessary. Consider any of these methods:
• Mount brackets on a wall to hold the fabric bolt so it can roll off onto your table.
• Use a table clamp that attaches easily and quickly to your worktable such as Rowley's Table Clamp Fabric Dispenser.
• Build a moveable rack that can hold several bolts of fabric. That way, you could leave the lining and interlining on the rack for easy access. (See D&WC, February 1996, page 32.)
Second, you need a light. Install a simple fluorescent shop light on the wall under the brackets holding the fabric bolt, in your table, or on your moveable fabric rack. Be creative. If this is something you can't do or can't have done, then consider purchasing an inspection machine¬although almost all inspection machines also are cutting machines.
If you do not purchase an inspection machine, consider investing in the Rowley Table-Top Fabric Measurer. Besides inspecting the fabric, you must know if you have the correct yardage, and you may need to measure between flaws to determine if the fabric is usable.
CUTTING AND INSPECTION MACHINE
These machines combine a light for fabric inspection, measuring capability and an electric cutter. They also will mechanically unroll and reroll the fabric¬that feature alone will save you mountains of time!
The most reasonably priced inspection and cutting machine I have found is the portable model made by Morgan Mfg. & Engineering. Even if you were to use it only as an inspection machine, it still is far less expensive than inspection-only machines made by most other companies.
A cutting machine can save you a wealth of time, but be aware that it may not give you a perfectly square cut. In a small custom workroom, ensuring square cuts is sometimes a priority depending on the products and fabrication methods used. The only model I've used enough to determine its accuracy was not accurate enough for my business. So as you shop keep in mind whether the bulk of your work must be perfectly square and discuss this need with the salesperson.
There are several models of cutting machines on the market. When shopping, remember the greater the investment, the greater the efficiency and increased production. Know what growth you plan for the future of your business before you decide which machine would be best for you.
INDUSTRIAL IRON WITH TRACK
A ceiling track for your iron is a necessity even if you are using a home iron. Keeping the cord off the table will save you from constantly moving it then straightening the fabric that has been messed up by it.
The simplest track you can design is to use the most heavy-duty drapery track you can get with ball bearing hooks to hold the cord. Beyond that, you can find very nice, efficient tracks from döfix and Kwik-affix. Another feature these companies offer is a balancer that actually keeps the iron off the table allowing you full use of the tabletop without having to move the iron around. You may be able to find a balancer in your local hardware store or from a sewing machine and iron supplier.
The first reason for investing in an industrial iron, aside from the fact that it won't automatically shut off on you, is because it will last longer. Home irons are made for occasional use, not daily use. The second reason is efficiency. Amazingly, just the fact that industrial irons sit flat on the table with the cord coming out the top of the iron is much more efficient than a domestic iron that must sit on its heel with the cord laying on the table. I determined this through my own testing. I also learned that the push-button control for constant steam is more time efficient and enables you to do a much better job of pressing. On top of that, the larger water reservoir will eliminate time-consuming and annoying frequent refills.
The first step up into industrial irons would be the gravity feed irons that have a water bottle that hangs above the table. Sussman is the most popular brand, but the Naomoto is considered the top of the line. The next step up would be the boiler irons. They require a bigger investment, but they are more efficient. If you plan to frequently use a lot of the iron-on products available, then the boiler iron is essential. Most iron-on products can be applied much faster with the boiler irons and some can only be applied with these irons.
SINGER 20U OR COMPARABLE
This is a commercial straight stitch and zigzag sewing machine. As long as you have a domestic machine that zigzags, this machine may not be essential depending upon your product mix and frequency of use. While not as fast as the industrial straight stitch, it is much faster and more heavy-duty than a domestic machine. It also has the versatility of using specialty feet.
You can use the zigzag feature for three main functions.
1. Zigzag over cord for gathering.
2. Sewing rings on shades. If you do a large quantity of shades, the speed of the machine and the efficiency of the knee pedal to raise the presser foot could make it a very worthwhile investment.
3. Tacking pinch pleats. For this feature you need to have the presser foot bar raised permanently for a higher take up in order to get the bulk of pinch pleats under it.
If you need the other zigzag features of this machine and you don't do a great volume of pinch pleats, then buying it could eliminate the need for a pleat-tacking machine.
Industrial rufflers demand quite a hefty investment, so unless the main product you offer is ruffles and gathering, I would recommend the Johnson Ruffler. While not an industrial model, it can do a very nice job of ruffling and will be faster and more uniform than using shirring feet on a straight stitch machine. It's also available in a portable model if space for an additional machine is a problem. Even the table model costs much less than you would pay for a nice, domestic sewing machine.
SELECT THE INVESTMENT
Each workroom is unique in the products it offers and in the fabrication procedures it uses. Equipment that will dramatically increase production in one workroom may have virtually no effect in another. It's up to you to evaluate your needs for what you do. To do this you must be alert and inquisitive. You first must be able to see where your operation could use improvement. Then you must stay educated on what products, equipment and services, within and without our industry, are available to increase your production.
Each of us only has 24 hours in every day. The faster you can produce products, the more products you can produce per day or the fewer hours you will have to work per day. In other words, if you commit to achieving maximum efficiency, the greater will be your income and quality of life. Don't you think that's worth an investment?
Kitty Stein, WCAA, is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 18 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.