Using the right tool for the right job obviously is very important - not only for hanging sheet rock, but for any task. Wouldn't it be great if the window coverings industry had special tools available to make our jobs faster and easier? Well, good news! Several wonderful tools of the trade now exist to assist in tasks ranging from measuring to fabrication and installation. Some have been used for a long time and some have been introduced only very recently. You'll be pleasantly surprised how inexpensive they are, and how easy they are to find.
String It Up
Let's start with a really inexpensive tool that's very easy to find and is so miraculously versatile you won't believe how many ways it can be used. Believe it or not, it's string! Any stable string that does not stretch will do. The nylon cord used to string fabric shades is ideal. It's readily available - you probably already have some - and does not stretch at all.
What do you use this miracle product for? It is difficult to measure around an arched shape with a typical steel tape measure. The tape doesn't want to bend, especially if using one of those really nice one-inch wide tapes that are great for running up the wall for high measurements. A string, however, will follow an arch or any other odd shape very easily. Simply measure the amount of string used and voilá, you have a perfect measurement.
The string technique also can be used to measure how much fabric is needed for casual over-the-pole swags made of one piece of fabric. Tape the string onto the wall at the height the pole will be installed (or drape it over the pole if it is already installed). Masking tape works well for this application. Especially nice is a new masking tape that is blue. It is strong enough to temporarily hold the string in place but will not harm wallpaper or paint. It can be purchased at any hardware store or building supply.
Drape the string into as many swoops and at whatever size is desired, taping it in place as you go. You need not cut off the string; it can be reused over and over. Simply mark wherever you want the treatment to end with a small piece of masking tape, which can be removed later. Take the string down from the wall (or pole) and measure it to determine how much fabric is needed. Isn't that really easy?
Would you believe this same string is also a good selling tool? By arranging the string into the number and size of desired swoops it acts as a visual aid to demonstrate to the customer how the treatment will appear. You may want to try large swoops combined with small ones. The customer can easily tell if she or he would be pleased with the suggestion. (Note: There are several more great applications for string in the workroom.)
Some window coverings professionals like to use beaded chain weights in place of string. It also is a very effective tool because of its draping qualities.
In all of the other situations for which string is not appropriate, a good steel measuring tape is critical. Kirsch, Sturgis, MI, has developed a tape designed just for our industry. The increments are only in 1/8 inches, which is the smallest increment typically used. There are no lines for smaller increments to clutter the tape, which makes it easier to read. The one-eighth measurements also are marked as to exactly what they are. You don't have to think, "Well, that's one line past the half mark, so that's 7/8-inch, right? Or is it 5/8-inch?"
There are no foot measurements on the tape either. Window coverings professionals always use strictly inches, so many carpenter's tapes are inconvenient because they indicate both feet and inches. In this case, the user constantly has to convert back to inches, again leaving room for error. Another handy feature of the tape is that it also shows the decimal equivalents of each fraction. You do not have to convert to decimals when they are needed for ordering purposes. Some companies require decimal measurements for their computers. This tape does everything for you except hold itself up to the window!
Another tape with fascinating features handy for our industry is dubbed Digitape[TM]. This unique tool is electronic. Its large digital display allows the user to easily read the exact measurement to the nearest 1/16-inch from the top of the casing. The user pulls out the tape, just as with a standard tape, and either can read the printing on the blade or the measurement displayed in the readout. Both the tape itself and the internal components are designed for rugged use.
At the touch of a button, the Digitape can display feet and inches, inches only or centimeters. Another touch of the button changes the measurements from outside mount to inside mount by including the size of the casing into the measurement. Many professionals are not aware of this trick to acquire the most accurate inside measurements, and now there's an easy-to-use tool that does it!
Another feature especially handy for hard-to-reach or dark areas is the memory button. When pushed, it automatically locks the measurement into the display window. You can then bring the tape to within eyesight or into better light to read the measurement. The tape is available at hardware, industrial and building supply stores.
One Word: Plastic
Remember all those television commercials explaining how plastic affects all of our lives in so many ways? Well, it's true, and here's another way. Making templates of odd-shaped windows can be a real chore if trying to use paper or fabric. Often you cannot find anything large enough, and if you do it can be difficult to hold it in place. I recommend using construction-weight plastic. It is available from building supply companies and many hardware stores.
The thickest plastic (usually six mils) does not stretch and is clear so you can see through it to what you are trying to do. It's a dream compared to feeling through the brown paper that comes rolled around fabric that so many of us have used for years. Hold the plastic in place using masking tape and making a template becomes a snap to do. Mark the desired shape with permanent fine-point markers. Construction-weight plastic is offered in rolls up to 40 feet wide by 100 feet long, so it will accommodate just about anything you need to measure.
Oval tables and bow windows are almost impossible to duplicate in the workroom from measurements only. Making a template is a must in order to duplicate the curve exactly. This useful plastic not only solves this problem, but also is great for making patterns of odd-shaped chairs for cushions.
Don't we just love bay windows? Measuring all of those angles and dimensions can be a nightmare! I'm pleased to share with you a tried-and-true inexpensive technique for acquiring those tough measurements, and to introduce two new products that make this task so easy you'll feel as if you're cheating.
Several protractors are available to easily measure the angles of a bay. A handy cardboard version is available from Kirsch. Another one is available from the R.H. Rowley Co., Gastonia, NC. Not only does it measure the degrees of the angles, it also shows how much each treatment will interfere with the other as they meet at the angles based on specific return sizes. The Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA) offers a metal Angle Devisor, which quickly and accurately measures the angles of bay and odd-shaped windows. Using a sliding motion, the devisor's arms pivot to correspond to the angle and can be locked into place with a screw. The angle measurement is read directly off it center scale.
Many builder's supply stores carry fancier and more expensive tools for measuring angles that also are easy to use and very accurate. Check out your local supplier to see what models it carries.
Another method of working with bay angles is by making a template of the angles rather than measuring them in degrees. Template making can be done by using two five-by eight-inch index cards. One is placed against one wall and moved completely into the corner. Another is placed against the adjoining wall and also moved completely into the corner. Staple or tape the two cards together to form an exact template of the angle. I do not recommend using business cards for making templates. They are too small to be accurate.
One of the new bay measuring tools, the Bay-Master from PR Designs, Tollhouse, CA, takes the basic card idea and transforms it. Two rigid acrylic forms are riveted together to allow them to pivot. The pieces are placed into the angle and pivoted until the sides touch the two adjoining walls. The overall shape of the tool as the sides swing out can be traced to make an exact template of the angle.
The top layer of the form is clear and has several lines printed on it to indicate a variety of return sizes. Where the lines cross each other is where two treatments with those returns will run in to each other at the corners. By measuring between that spot and the same spot determined at the opposite bay angle, you can determine the exact measurement of the face of the treatment. The Bay-Master includes a rectangular acrylic template to represent the outside edge returns.
The Bay-Master also can be used to simplify the challenges of corner windows. The company also offers the Bay-Master II and the Arch-Master, which adjusts to measure the curve of arches.
The second new measuring tool is radical in concept, while remaining pleasantly simple to use. The Bay-Pro from Sandie's Stitchery, Ortonville, MI, is completely adjustable, consisting of three connected measuring devices. The center section telescopes to extend to the back wall of the bay and locks into place with a finger screw. The two end measuring devices are attached to the center section by joints that allow them to pivot to the exact angle of the bay corners. These sections also lock into place with a simple turn of a finger screw. Each end also can telescope to measure the entire width of the two bay sides.
Each of the three sides are top read. The measurement increases as the sections slide open, but the measurement is read in the center where the pieces overlap each other not at the end.
With all the moving parts able to be locked into place, the unit doesn't just measure everything, it actually becomes a template of the entire bay. The Bay-Pro then can be left in this shape until taken to the workroom or to the installer for bending the rod, cutting the board, etc. It represents the measurements of the three sides, the degrees of the angles and a template all in one.
Isn't it great having people that invent products or ideas that make our professional lives easier and more profitable by saving time, increasing productivity and decreasing errors? Just think of all the extra time you'll have on your hands and all the things you'll be able to do. If you know of more tools of the trade not mentioned here, or have developed one yourself, I'd like to hear about it. Write to:
101 Strickland Terrace
Swannanoa, NC 28778
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