Over the past two-and-a-half years, Strickland has helped more than 200 students through her school, and many more through nine years of leading seminars she has produced through her own company and those she has led through the seminar program developed by Draperies & Window Coverings beginning in 1989. "Through that association I've had so many people approach me who were interested in fabricating window treatments and wished I could teach them. I decided to open the school realizing the tremendous need for hands-on training," she says.
In the past, including Strickland's own experience, anyone interested in opening a professional workroom had only two choices. One was to work for someone else, if they could, to acquire the knowledge. "If that was the intentionŽto go into business for themselvesŽthat choice isn't really fair to the employer," Strickland says. The other choice? "To jump in, hold their breaths and hope they could swim. Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn't," she says.
An important reason for starting the Professional Drapery Workroom School was to help others avoid that long, drawn-out struggle of having to make a lot of mistakes, hoping to survive the mistakes and feeling the frustration of guessing how treatments are made, Strickland explains. The school takes those who already have mastered sewing and teaches them professional and efficient window treatment fabricating and provides them with guidelines for quality work and business practices.
No matter the level of experience when they enter the school, at the very least students come away with a few tricks of the trade and faster ways of making custom window coverings. In some cases they learn much more. "It's thrilling to be able to be a part of seeing these people who are wishing and hoping they can have their own businesses and work for themselves, then see it come true," Strickland says. "I really do enjoy the teaching. I'm honored to be involved in this whole process," she says.
The classes at Strickland's school are limited to eight students each and follow an "intensive four-day" format. "I want them to learn absolutely as much as they can while they are here," Strickland says. By Friday, "the students become very good friends," she adds.
The first level window treatment class is a good example of what students can expect. The participants learn hands-on fabrication and workroom techniques for rod pocket treatments, pleated draperies, Roman shades, balloon shades, fabric selection, swags and jabots. Over the four days the students create seven treatments, all of which they take home to use as samples to follow in their own businesses.
Meanwhile, Strickland works in tricks of the trade so students can learn efficient fabrication and run more profitable workrooms. She also reviews guidelines for what quality work entails. But that's not all, the class also covers important business issues such as proper equipment, workroom layout, work flow, pricing, hiring, contracting out and how to sell custom work.
Teaching these business skills is an important part of the course work. "We're trying to make it an integral part of the school," Strickland says. "We could do a bang-up job of making sure students have the hand skills they need then send them out into the world, but if they don't know how to market themselves or price their work, they will flounder," she says. "The focus of all our classes at the school is how to make professional treatments with high standards of quality, but efficiently enough to ensure high profitability," Strickland explains.
The school's second level window treatment class covers advanced shades and treatments including sunbursts, soft cornices and advanced swags. It even includes swag pattern theory. Students analyze a treatment to learn how it was made so they can create their own patterns, Strickland explains.
The school also has two levels of a slipcover course, but there are plans to expand the curriculum beyond these subjects. Strickland currently is formatting level three classes for both window treatments and slipcovers and is working to begin level one classes on cornices and headboards, which will comprise cutting, building and covering small headboards and cornice boards; bed treatments, including quilting; and installation. Strickland says many of her students want to be able to install their own creations, and many others have spouses, sons or daughters who plan on joining the company as installers.
Strickland couldn't possibly teach all of the classes herself. The school's faculty includes Kitty Stein, a 20-year veteran of the workroom field who also teaches the window treatment classes, and Joanie Johnson, who leads the classes on slipcovers. "The best thing about them is their sharing attitudeŽsharing and caring. They really care about the students and really enjoy sharing their knowledge and skills," Strickland says. "I'm very blessed to have them working with me, and look forward to expanding our faculty," she adds.
Designed to be all-inclusive, the school's fee includes lunch, snacks and all the rods, boards, fabrics and supplies the students need to make the treatments covered in class and a manual that provides step-by-step instructions and can be used as a resource to equipment, supplies and sample books. "The only things we tell them to bring is a smile, their questions and, if they have a special pair of scissors, they can bring them too," Strickland laughs.
The School and Its Students
This year the Professional Drapery Workroom School opened in a brand new facility: a 5,000-square-foot building in Swannanoa, NC, minutes from Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and about two miles from Strickland's home. The new building was constructed on property adjacent to the former furniture warehouse Strickland had been using for the school.
The new building has room for three classrooms-one of which is bigger than the entire building where the classes were held previously. This classroom is used for the window treatment courses and includes eight full-size worktables Strickland constructed herself. The school uses only professional equipment, which includes almost 30 sewing machines, various cutting machines, steam irons, tools and supplies-some of which have been provided by industry manufacturers. "There are lots of industry people who have recognized the value and the importance of a professional school like this and are helping to support it," Strickland says.
A second classroom is used for teaching slipcovers and will be used for the cornice classes; the third will be used for installations. When completed, the installation classroom will have portable plasterboard walls with window openings for students to practice on, but Strickland envisions something unique for the room's permanent walls. The plan is to have the walls divided into three-foot sections of brick, plaster, poured concrete, cinder block, rock and tile so students can experience drilling into most of the surfaces they are bound to encounter in their businesses. There's even a bay window.
And just who are Strickland's students? They range from those who have no experience in the window coverings field to a woman who had 34 years of experience. ("More years than I have!" Cheryl laughs.) Many are women who want to work at home to be with their children yet have a business of their own, but Strickland has had students who were nurses, teachers, an installer who wanted to get off the ladder, even a former sex therapist. There are designers who audit the classes so they can learn how to work more efficiently with their workrooms, and students who will return to jobs as workroom managers.
A number of international students also have attended. Strickland says there have been students from Japan, Bermuda and the Caribbean, Canada, and a man originally from Columbia who plans on returning there to open a workroom. She has received inquiries from Russia, India and New Zealand and expects more requests from around the world through her World Wide Web site: www.draperyschool.com.
Most of Strickland's students are from one-, two- and three-person workroom operations who feel alone out there, but become part of something by the time they leave. "It's scary having a business of your own," Strickland says. "We establish a network of students. They can continue to call each other and reinforce each other," she says.
The drapery workroom school is just the latest of Strickland's accomplishments. Long before she started her own seminar business Strickland had set on a course that is yet to be completed. She learned to sew at the age of nine, and held her first job in the design field at a retail store at 19, and later at a Fort Lauderdale, FL, workroom. She then joined her mother's business, Drapery Arts, which grew from a small basement location to a large building with a showroom, office and 2,000-square-foot custom workroom. Her nearly 17 years in the family business taught Strickland most of what she passes on to her students today.
For the future, Strickland plans to continue adding subjects to the school as she gets suggestions and input from students and the industry at large. One idea is to team with industry manufacturers whose products require slightly different or new techniques-iron-on products and quilting, for example. "This way they train others without having to set up their own schools," Strickland says.
Another goal is to have the school accredited through the continuing education program at a North Carolina university or community college. Strickland envisions programs for low-income residents, the hearing impaired and even inmates from a nearby women's prison to teach them a marketable skill and self-esteem. "Workrooms are screaming for skilled workers," she says.
Strickland already has started work on yet another plan. "Personally, I would like to develop a television show," she says. The show, as she pictures it, would feature hands-on techniques for do-it-yourselfers with segments for professionals showing new designs ideas and problem-solving techniques. The show would be videotaped at the workroom school, of course, because sharing knowledge is what it's all about.