Since it is generally human nature to spread out and occupy all the space we have, we are very likely to place new equipment in the easiest spot to clear out. However, if you don't plan the best location for the new acquisition, you very well may defeat its purpose, assuming it's one of efficiency.
If at all possible, your worktable should be an island by itself so you can move all around its perimeter. Sometimes, you may have to give up that luxury in exchange for extra table length. If this is the case, consider adding a drop leaf to the table so you can have the length when you need it. Also, consider adding wheels. For a small workroom with one or two people, only one table, padded and covered with canvas, is necessary. It can be both a work surface and a pressing table.
Regardless of the type of iron you use, you should install a track system over the table. The purpose of the track system is to carry the cord from the iron and to allow you to iron over the whole table. You can buy a track system or you can make your own using heavy-duty drapery ceiling track and carriers with hooks. Once you have had a track system, you will have a hard time trying to iron without one.
Usually the best arrangement for sewing machines is to line them up along the wall or walls. The machine table should face the wall, and the machine head should face toward the room. As you add sewing machines or other equipment to your workroom, consider your work flow. Each machine should be placed in a lineup where it is needed most often and requires the least number of footsteps.
All machines should have added table space surrounding them. While I realize the following dimensions may not be possible in all workrooms because of space, they at least will give you a starting point. Between the wall and the machine table there should be 10 to 30 inches of added tabletop along with a 15-inch extension for elbow room in front of the machine where the operator sits. There also should be added table space, up to 30 inches, in back of the machine to hold the fabric as it comes through the machine. Try to allow an opening of 30 inches or more to sit between the machines.
For the first machine in the lineup, the extended tabletop between the machine and the wall at the end of the room should be as long as possible. This is so you can lay out as much as possible of the length of the fabric panels for sewing.
Having the tables built around the machines like this, makes it so much easier to handle the bulk of the drapery fabric. You can slide the fabric easily from one machine to the next without picking it up and carrying it to another machine.
Since you cut fabric at your table, fabric should be stored close to it. The best place is on a shelf under the table. Another option is a set of racks to hold fabric bolts. If you don't have room for shelves or racks, try to mount at least one rack so it's accessible to your table to make it easier to inspect and cut fabric. This can be done by simply mounting a 1 3/8-inch wood pole with wood finials on the wall, or purchasing the Table Clamp Fabric Dispenser from R.H. Rowley Co. You also can build a rolling rack on wheels to hold several bolts.
Fabric inspection is absolutely essential. If an inspection machine is not feasible for you, try mounting a light somewhere for inspection. You can take a regular fluorescent shop light and recess it in a box in your table or build it into a rack.
A drapery workroom uses a multitude of supplies and they must be stored where they are needed as much as possible. You can build shelves under the elbow table extensions at the sewing machines to hold some of the supplies you use there (rings, drapery weights, bobbins, etc.). Hang chains with brass rodding or wooden dowel cross bars over the machines to hold cording, zipper chain, etc. Do the same thing over your worktable. Hang peg board on the wall for tools, patterns, yardsticks, etc. Add shelves wherever you can for supplies.
If you have the wall space, there is one other storage idea. I call it a step rack to hold valances until they are delivered. Install a two- by four-inch wall stud against the wall about every 30 to 40 inches. You need at least two of them. Then, starting close to the top, mount a one-by-four about 12 inches long horizontally into the stud using an angle iron. Next, drop down four to six inches below that and mount another one-by-four, this one approximately 10 inches long. Continue down the stud reducing the length of each one-by-four by at least two inches. When you are finished, you have a rack on which to hang valances over the tops of each other taking up very minimal space.
As you plan your workroom area for today, keep the possibility of growth in the back of your mind. Don't reduce your efficiency with what you have now because of what you might or will add in the distant future. Just keep in mind that what you do now may be a temporary arrangement and you don't want to make it too costly to change later.
The key to an efficient workroom layout is to concentrate on reducing footsteps and movement, which saves time, which saves money, which makes more money for you in the end. And that's what it's all about.
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.