Many business owners, no matter their field, make the mistake of not telling their employees precisely what they expect from them and how to achieve the required results. In the case of a drapery workroom business, sewers probably are taught the basics on how to create a product, but not the extra essentials that put quality into the custom work.
Business and management books stress the importance of training when hiring a new employee. It is far cheaper to invest in the time necessary to thoroughly train an employee rather than to continually fix the problems created by an untrained employee or to hire a replacement and go through the process again.
The best way to give a new sewer a solid foundation on which to create products is to take the time to train her or him from day one. Support that training with written documentation of your company policies covering what you consider quality sewing and display samples of right and wrong techniques. It is just as important to know what won't be accepted as what will.
The following is a suggested list of rules to inspire you to put together your own.
1. All fabrics must be inspected for flaws, and flaws are not to be used unless approved by the owner/supervisor/customer. While I do not advocate taking on the responsibility of finding all the flaws, I think you should do what you can to find the flaws and work around them. Even after the cutting process, sewers should keep a wary eye out for flaws throughout the production process and attempt to reduce their impact if at all possible.
Have some samples of flaws handy to make it easier for a sewer new to the drapery industry to find them. Some flaws in some situations are acceptable. It would be a great benefit to you to help your sewers analyze flaws before you dictate a resolution to the problem.
2. All fabrics must be right side up and right side out. It is really your responsibility to put a swatch of the fabric on the work order so that it can be seen correctly. You also might want to point out that companion fabrics may look alike in the small swatches on a work order. Therefore, the sewer must be careful to pull the correct fabric.
3. No loose threads or tails. Emphasize to your sewers the positive impact a clean, neat product has on the customer.
4. Sew straight seams with no puckering. It would be helpful to demonstrate how to feed fabric through a sewing machine to facilitate straight seams and reduce puckering. All seams will display some degree of puckering just because the thread is displacing the fibers in the fabric. Show what is possible and what is not acceptable.
Also, explain that it is not acceptable for the fabric to pucker on one side of the seam and not the other. This means more fabric has fed into the puckered side and, therefore, will be short at the end of the seam.
5. There should be no obvious puckering in topstitched sewing, e.g. topstitching a band. Explain that with additional layers of fabric, and when using fabrics of different weights, the potential for puckering is greatly increased. Be sure to show an example of what you consider an acceptable topstitched band.
6. Covered cording must be applied without puckers, ripples, or twists. Demonstrate how to cover and apply cording so it is smooth and straight. Having an example of what you expect and what you won't accept will help tremendously in explaining this technique.
7. When cording is applied to fabric, the fabric must lay flat and smooth without puckering. This is one rule that may be broken deliberately in some cases. Explain what you expect, when and why you actually might want the fabric to pucker. Again, having samples will speak volumes to illustrate your point.
8. Ready-made twist cord that is stitched into a seam must be applied without the lip/tape showing on the right side. While explaining this, be sure to show what it looks like when it is connected as in the perimeter of a pillow.
9. All prints must be matched at the seams. Of course, this is one rule that we have to break more than we would like. Explain circumstances that might dictate breaking this rule and show samples of how perfectly matched you expect the seams to be.
It also would be good to have examples of prints that just will not match perfectly no matter what you do. Explain when you might not accept such prints.
10. Prints must be centered and repeated precisely in all sections of the same treatment and/or all treatments in the room. For example, all pleats in a box pleat valance should have the same centered design and all swags in a room must have the same design in the center top. Showing pictures of good and bad examples would have a great impact. Ready-made photographs in mail order catalogues may give you some unacceptable examples.
11. Any shapes or scallops must be uniform size and stitched evenly. Achieving precision is so much easier when drawing shapes on paper than it is when sewing around shapes. Explain techniques for sewing, turning and pressing to get smooth curves and uniformity in size. Showing a sample of a curve with little corners poking out here and there will better illustrate what you don't want.
12. All stripes/plaids must be straight and centered. Explain how difficult this is to achieve with horizontal stripes and exactly what you would accept as straight. It probably will be necessary to illustrate a number of treatments as what may be accepted in one, may not be accepted in another.
13. Seams must be hidden wherever possible. Explain where seams can be hidden, e.g. a box pleated valance, and where they can't, e.g. a cornice.
14. Constantly examine your work. This is really a very important point. Explain the importance of checking and rechecking whenever you start any procedure from cutting a fabric to sewing a seam to pressing. If a mistake is made and is caught early enough, it will reduce the rework time and possibly make the problem correctable.
In some cases, if you go too far, you may be talking replacement rather that correction. Rework is costly and must be kept to a minimum.
15. Use appropriate heat setting on iron. Only a handful of people in this industry can say they never have shrunk sheer fabric. If your sewer has never worked in this industry before, it is paramount to explain how the iron can shrink fabrics. Provide a complete explanation of the iron's use and limitations, especially if you use an industrial iron.
Also show a sample of fabric that has been shrunk by an iron. This will insure that if it does happen, it will be recognized immediately and might be correctable.
16. Fabrics do have limitations. Explain the differences in fabrics and what their limitations are. For example, some are so soft they will pucker no matter what you do to them.
17. Be willing to pick it out and do it over. Many times, rather than trying to figure out how to make something work, it is far better just to pick it out and to do it over. Explain that this not only is an accepted, but necessary technique of sewing.
All of these "rules" are examples of what will make sewers excellent custom drapery fabricators. These rules are not to be confined to your own employees. More workrooms are farming out products to other workrooms these days. Take your list of quality standards to the workrooms you are considering. Discuss all the quality issues that would pertain to them as a subcontractor. Your list is an excellent means of communication and understanding. You even may want the workroom to sign your list as a contract that they agree to your fabrication standards.
If you will take the time at the very beginning of a relationship, whether it be hiring a sewer or farming out jobs to another workroom, to clearly and accurately explain what you consider quality sewing, the over-all training and learning time will be reduced and both of you will benefit. The sewer or subcontractor will have more confidence in doing the job and there will be less rework. You will have more confidence in the sewer or workroom from the beginning.
Even if you already have sewers and subcontractors working for you, it's not too late to discuss your standards of quality fabrication with them. When you hired help, you wanted the best. Tell them exactly what you need and expect and you will have the best help you can get. Remember, train to gain!
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.