My husband and I just returned from being a vendor at the Custom Home Furnishings Industry Conference and Trade Show (CHFI) in Greenville, SC, in September. We met and talked with many wonderful people, making new friends and reuniting with longtime friends. While many conversations were memorable, there was one about technique that I felt needed to be addressed.
ALL RIGHT OR ALL WRONG
A lovely lady whom I had met years ago via an e-mail list expressed concerns
about what industry novices are being taught today. She was concerned that the
new people are being taught to “glue everything.” Sometimes—many
times—sewing is the most acceptable method and offers the better result.
I had to agree on the latter, but I do not know what specific situation prompted
If you have read my more recent articles, you know I believe there are many right
ways to create a window treatment. When I am giving advice or instruction on
technique, I always try to state that this is only one accepted method. Each
project dictates its own custom needs for handling and fabricating.
Along this same line of thought, I received an e-mail this week asking me which
was the right side of blackout lining. Believe it or not, there is no absolute
right or wrong side to this lining.
Back in the ’80s, thermal suede, a translucent blackout-type lining, was
popular. At that time we purchased this lining from Rockland Industries. We had
asked them which was the right side. They said it didn’t matter. Therefore,
we chose the rubber/suede side to be the right side simply because the feed on
our serger made tracks on that side. With the fabric side as the wrong side,
the feed showed no track marks.
All was fine and well until a customer had a designer-friend who checked out
her new draperies. She told her we had put the lining in backwards. Does this
scenario sound familiar? We had to get a signed statement from Rockland Industries
saying that either side could be used as the “right” side.
Of course, if you use a colored blackout or thermal suede lining, then the colored
side (the fabric side) would have to be the right side. Otherwise, why use it?
Are you getting the idea that there are a lot of gray areas in custom work?
Another issue that came out in the conversation above is the fact that this person
referred to the novices and herself as “seamstresses.” I just looked
in my latest version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary software and seamstress
is defined as: “a woman whose occupation is sewing.” That definition
covers a multitude of occupations. I consider myself a seamstress only in the
sense that I know how to sew or use a sewing machine.
I call myself a window treatment fabricator. The first definition in the Merriam-Webster
dictionary for fabricate is: “invent, create.” I deliberately do
not call myself a seamstress unless I need to avoid confusion as when filling
out governmental forms. In my mind, those who are educated in the sewing of window
treatments have gone beyond being a seamstress. I like to relate it to doctors.
There are many kinds of doctors. The title tells you nothing about a person until
you know his or her specialty. A person may be a cardiologist or a doctor of
philosophy. You certainly do not want the latter if you have a bad heart!
Those who create window coverings are specialists. They are educated. Part of
that education is determining the best way to fabricate every job.
SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS: TO WHOM DO YOU LISTEN?
OK. You probably can agree with the preceding discussion at least to some extent,
but how do you know you are getting the “right” answers to your questions?
We just discussed this recently, but there is another point to be made here.
Those of us who have been in the industry for 20 or maybe 30 years had no choice
but to learn first by trial and error. Yes, we veterans can save the newbies
from some of our grief, but not all. In this world it is still necessary to learn
some lessons the hard way, but that does not mean that the inexperienced needn’t
use some good old common sense in researching information.
I also have heard by more than one professional that they were greatly disturbed
by the fact that newbies are too often taking the advice of other newbies instead
of the tried-and-true advice of the veterans. This is where the inexperienced
can learn some very hard lessons.
If you are new or newer to this industry, learn the backgrounds of those from
whom you receive advice. Questions posted to e-mail lists and forums generally
receive many diverse responses. Don’t be tempted to take the advice of
someone who is also very new just because you like them or it sounds easier or
it’s what you wanted to hear. Put the veterans’ advice at the top
of your list of solutions. That does not mean they always will be right, but
the odds are in their favor.
So you take someone’s advice and fabricate a job. Did it work? Did it not
work? What would you do differently the next time and why? This is the on-the-job
education everyone goes through. Is it valuable? Of course! Much more so than
taking a college class and making an “A.” There are very few jobs
that any of us do that we would not want to improve upon. That is what learning
is all about. This is the value of life’s experiences.
Do yourself a favor and write down what you have learned and the way you intend
to do this treatment the next time. Do write down what doesn’t work as
well as what does. If you forget what doesn’t work, you may end up trying
it again with the same poor results! If you are one who says, “Oh, I won’t
forget that!” this is probably true only if your mistake cost you a lot
of money. Those events should be few and far between. It’s the multitude
of little things you learn that are extremely important.
It’s in the little things where you make that decision about whether to
glue or sew. It’s in the little things that you learn that a double, one-inch
side hem instead of 1 1/2-inch side hem can cause a problem unforeseen until
executed. It’s the little things that become universal in their application.
The “Tip of the Month” on our Web site has almost always been our
most popular page. The little things do matter a lot! You can find a book or
pattern almost anywhere to tell you how to make most treatments, but you rarely,
if ever, find a book that offers you options on finishing techniques. This is
why our Window Coverings Institute on our Web site will be offering a series
of on-line classes in universal techniques.
The professional will experiment when there is good reason to think a different
method may be faster or offer a more professional product. Don’t you think
Thomas Edison had a library of documented failures before he got his inventions
right? And let’s not forget that we have sticky notes thanks to a mistake—it
was a failure on another project and a very wise person saw a new valuable product
instead. How could we live without them now?
Knowing the right technique and using it at the right time is what makes you
a professional fabricator. The longer you are in the business, the more there
will be to remember. Your own encyclopedia of fabrication how-to and techniques
that are kept updated will be more valuable than you ever could imagine. Be sure
to add information that you learn from someone else’s experience or a good
tip from any resource just in case you need it later.
Here is your shopping list of items you will need to create and keep your own
Encyclopedia of Knowledge:
CD-RW drive for your computer so you can write and save onto CDs and be able
CD-RWs with cases
a copier, a scanner, or drawing software to include graphics
a three-ring notebook
a three-hole punch or plastic pages
Keep a backup copy of your book off site. Now schedule time in your planner task
list to write instructions—after every job.
Kitty Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 26-year veteran
of the drapery workroom industry. Having owned drapery workrooms
as one person and as a company of nine, she is now president of Workroom
Concepts a consulting firm offering educational resources to the
industry on its Web site (www.workroomconcepts.com). Her experience
in both the retail and wholesale window covering arenas has contributed
to her success as a business consultant. A professional speaker and
writer, she has authored several industry products including Order
in the Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications and Price
Your Work with Confidence, available