Many tools exist that are designed specifically for the workroom. Some tools actually are made for other industries, but are applied to window treatment fabrication in ingeniously inventive ways. Some tools are very simple and inexpensive, while others are more intricate and costly. They all have one thing in common: They increase productivity and profits.
Threading difficult-to-reach needles and loopers are a nightmare. But the chore can be turned into a simple job by using a super-fine needle threader. One threader, offered by Clotilde, is so fine it wouldn't even show up in a photograph.
Another tool for hard-to-reach areas is a bent-handled dentist's mirror. With one of these you can see under or behind areas previously inaccessible. Difficult areas can easily be reached using long-handled bent tweezers available from a wide variety of notions suppliers. And to light up those hard-to-see areas I recommend the Mini-Mag light. It is very small but powerful and can be purchased just about anywhere.
Pins wouldn't seem very exciting, but the most exciting discovery I've made recently was pins. I have used heavy-duty pins, T-pins, long pins and short pins. But I've never liked any pins as much as I like the wonderful pins imported exclusively by Sherri Horner at HKH Designs, San Francisco, CA, who discovered them in Europe. They are long, sharp and strong. Their multi-colored heads make them easy to grab. I even liked them when I had to pick them out of the carpet at the drapery school.
Several things can be used to hold pins while you're at the sewing machine. The tool I like best I found only a couple of weeks ago. It is a magnetic bowl designed for automobile mechanics. It's critical they don't loose any little nuts or bolts as they work on a vehicle, so they drop them into this bowl. The magnet in its base is so strong it can be attached to the side of the car (or sewing machine in our case) and the contents will not spill out. I tried one, and when I snapped my wrist hard enough to make the pins fall out onto the table, all I had to do was pull the bowl away and the pins jumped straight up back into the bowl.
Pins are great, but sometimes fabrics can be held together in a faster way. It may sound odd, but you actually can staple fabrics together using a fabric stapler. Staples don't distort fabrics as pins do sometimes. I especially like staples for holding pleats in place at the top of a swag until it can be stitched. A staple remover also is available to quickly and easily remove the staples.
No workroom can survive without specialty sewing machine feet. Two popular ones are a cording foot and a ring foot. Cording feet come in various sizes with a groove in the bottom. The groove rides over the cording while the foot keeps the stitching directly against it for a fast, perfect stitch. All industrial sewing machine suppliers carry them.
A custom-designed ring foot also is available. On this foot a groove is formed in the bottom to fit shade rings exactly. The foot keeps the ring from sliding around while it is being sewn on. This makes the job faster and more enjoyable. It also helps prevent the needle from hitting the ring, breaking and throwing off the timing of the sewing machine.
Wonderful pens have been designed for the sewing industry. One with blue ink disappears with water. One with purple ink disappears after being exposed to air. Black-light pencils create marks that can be seen only under a black light. Some lighting suppliers carry black-light bulbs that screw into a regular light socket. A black-light marker can be used to draw a stitch line, which then can be seen under the light at the sewing machine. The specialty pens can be purchased from a variety of notions suppliers.
Sewing straight and quickly is a snap with magnetic seam guides, which also are available from a variety of notions suppliers as are self-adhesive guides.
In the Workroom
All these beneficial tools are great, but they won't do any good if you can't find them when you need them. Keeping all of these tools at hand is another way to increase productivity and reduce aggravation. Using an apron is the answer. You can design your own out of canvas or other heavy fabric. It is easy to customize the tool aprons available from all hardware and building supply stores by stitching in the size of pockets you need.
Most workrooms create patterns from lining or brown paper. Using construction-weight clear plastic is even better. You can see through the plastic to lay the pattern exactly in the desired position over a printed fabric. It comes in widths up to 40-feet wide.
Permanent and easy-to-use patterns for shapes that are used frequently can be cut from Plexiglas. The Plexiglas is rigid making it very easy to draw around in a matter of seconds. Common sizes of pillows are a great application for this trick.
When working by yourself and trying to reach the other side of a wide table with a pencil, tape the pencil to the end of a wooden dowel or yardstick. Immediately your arm is a yard longer. This trick saves a lot of steps by not having to walk around the table so often.
Space always is a commodity in the workroom. One way to effectively expand the work area without moving the walls is with the Workroom Stand offered by Patterns Plus, Fort Meyers, FL. It holds any type of treatment and folds down to a very small size for storage. Every workroom should have at least one; they not only add valuable work space, but make working with cornices and many other treatments much easier.
Finding a place to hold bolts of fabric can be a problem. The heavy-duty rack offered by Cary Welding & Fabrication, Sanford, NC, assembles in minutes and is very sturdy. Some models are accessible from both sides.
Struggling with the bolt of fabric while trying to cut is really difficult and time consuming. A home-made bolt rack is another great stress-reducer. It is easy to make with two-by-fours and plywood. I put a shelf on mine -- you can never have too much space. By using casters on the legs, it can be rolled to other tables or out of the way.
Most professionals in our industry are familiar with using silicone spray to lubricate traversing rods. But using silicone spray on "sticky" fabrics allows them to glide easily through the sewing machine. This trick eliminates the difficulty of working with foam-backed, rubber-backed, vinyl and other fabrics that otherwise stick to the sewing machine or each other. Spraying silicone directly onto a sewing machine needle helps it push through heavy fabrics.
Sometimes wrinkles that occur during fabrication cannot be ironed out. If the treatment has folds or fullness that would not look right pressed down, using a steamer is the solution. Although many types of large streamers are available for on-site jobs, a small hand-held steamer is enough for many situations. A hand-held travel steamer originally designed for clothes can be purchased at some department stores or by mail order.
Long straight edges and T-squares are very handy for drawing lines and squaring fabrics or treatments. The local building supply outlet usually carries them.
Calculating and marking pleats in draperies can be a time-consuming and sometimes confusing task. Peggy Knight, Nashville, TN, has invented a product that helps simplify this task called the Magic Pleater. A chart determines the number and size of spaces required for a given finished width. The Pleater then is used to accurately mark the pleats and spaces on the fabric.
Making a pattern for specific sizes of swags also can be time-consuming and confusing. The Parkhill Swag System offered by United Supply Co., Charlotte, NC, eliminates the need for making a pattern. The adjustable template and simple instructions show how to make any size swag. The system also includes a pleated jib that can be used to perfectly fold cascades in seconds.
Even something as simple as a box made out of scrap plywood to hold rolls of buckram can make a difference in the workroom stress level and production speed. The rolls also can be hung from the ceiling on rope or on a chain fed through a scrap piece of conduit.
An electric rotary cutter from Eastman Machine Co., Buffalo, NY, is so powerful it can cut through more than 30 layers of fabric at one time. (I've done it!) It also is great for preventing carpel tunnel syndrome because the user does not have to constantly open and close the hand.
Many useful power staplers exist, but a hand stapler offered by Black & Decker is very easy to use. Called the PowerShot it is engineered with a unique spring that makes it easy to shoot. The stapler doesn't bounce as many other hand and power staplers do, which keeps the staples from going all the way into the wood.
Most people use their fingers to turn screw eyes into shade boards. The last difficult turns are done using a screwdriver as a lever. We actually had calluses on our fingers from doing so many. Now this problems has been eradicated by a screw eye driver invented by R.H. Rowley Co., Gastonia, NC. Screw eyes now can be placed in seconds with no calluses.
Most rodding can be cut with a hacksaw, but it's usually a difficult task. Special cutters made just for this task save a lot of time and aggravation.
I've saved the most important tool for last. It's the workroom table. Most commonly it is five feet wide by 12 feet long. This size easily accommodates 54-inch wide fabric in lengths long enough for bedspreads. At an absolute minimum, a four-foot by eight-foot sheet of plywood is recommended. Casters on the bottom of the table legs make it so you can roll it out of the way, or roll two tables together for working on extra large treatments.
The most important and useful aspect of the professional table is its lines, which are drawn across it with permanent marker in one-inch increments. The lines are used to measure, to turn hems and tops, establish finished lengths, square fabrics in seconds and myriad other important tasks. A lined table is truly the most efficient way of saving time in the workroom.
Combining fabric clamps with the lined table multiplies its use. Any treatment can be clamped to the end of the table, smoothed out and easily measured using the lines on the table. It takes only seconds to press in hems because careful measuring with a ruler is eliminated. Fabric clamps can be bought from a variety of suppliers. For large applications, quick-release clamps designed for wood working are really handy. Any building supply store carries them.
When clamps just aren't enough or you need to hold fabric in place that's not long enough to reach the clamps on the edge on the table, weights are the perfect solution. Professional four-pound weights are available from supply sources, but I made a weight using the leftover pieces from the table legs. I covered it with flannel interlining so it won't slide. By adding an inexpensive handle from a building supply it is easy to lift with one hand.
Treatments can be ironed directly on the workroom table by covering it with padding and then tightly covering that with canvas. Canvas can be purchased locally from awning companies, but make sure it is untreated and does not stretch. Tightening the canvas on the table so it does not stretch is a must. If it is not tight enough, the canvas can shift throwing off the lines. A great tool for tightening the canvas is a web stretcher used by upholsterers. It is inexpensive and is worth the price even if only used once.
If you decide not to use any of the other great tools of the trade featured here, promise yourself you will at least build a good table with lines. You will thank yourself every time you use it.
Take a few minutes, step back and look at your workspace from a different perspective. Invest in the proper tools now, the return will be much more than what you paid.
Send your ideas for time- and stress-saving tools to me so I can share them with others, and we'll all be as stress-free and productive as possible.
Cheryl Strickland is owner of Professional Drapery Seminars.
She is an internationally-acclaimed speaker with 20 years experience in the
window coverings industry. She is the publisher and editor of Sew WHAT?, an international
monthly newsletter for professional drapery workrooms. Strickland also is the author of
A Practical Guide to Soft Window Coverings and the Designer's Sketch Pad,
which are available through Draperies & Window Coverings magazine.