Dressing ourselves isn't the only thing that causes early morning headaches. Have you tried dressing a casual over-the-pole swag made out of one big piece of fabric at 8 a.m.? Believe me, it can be a nightmare, and it doesn't get any easier at three in the afternoon or midnight!
What's happening? You're at the customer's home. You're on the ladder holding a huge piece of fabric. It's hot up there! (It's always hot up near the ceiling, even with air conditioning, right?)
You start playing with the fabric and finally get the first cascading side looking pretty decent and start on the first swag-like swoop. After much tugging, pinching and poufing (while desperately trying not to fall off the ladder) it too looks pretty good. So you get off the ladder, move the ladder over, get back up on the ladder, start dressing the second swoop, pull too hard on the fabric and mess up all the hard work you just did on the first swoop.
What do you do now? Some of us scream. Some cry. Some curse. Some go get a drink. Some send the customers to go get a drink, because what have they been doing all this time? Watching your every move, of course! Don't you just love the way they tilt their heads back and forth with puzzled looks on their faces and mutter, "It doesn't look anything like I thought it was going to." And you only just started!
Take the Right Steps
Let me share a very special five-step process for dressing these trouble-makers that will make it so much faster and easier you might actually like doing them. Using this technique will allow anyone to dress one-piece pole swags: the designer, the workroom or the installer.
Step One: Get off the ladder!
Step Two: Get out of the customer's house!
Step Three: Mark your fabric and your rod into even increments.
Step Four: Dress the swag at waist height.
Step Five: Use narrow two-sided tape to hold the fabric while dressing.
How can you accomplish all of these steps? By dressing the treatment before going to the customer's location. Every other treatment in our industry is dressed before we take it to the installation site with the only exception being swag holders, which must be physically mounted before the fabric is inserted. (If I could think of a way to do these ahead of time, too, I certainly would!)
Why are we trying to dress this huge piece of fabric on top of a ladder (where it's always hot) and in front of the customer? I don't know, let's stop.
Just getting off the ladder will save you more than half the time it's taking you now. You'll no longer take time to climb up and down the ladder or constantly move it around. And, of course, it's also much safer.
Dressing the treatment at waist height, rather than high on the wall over the window, provides a comfortable, easy-to-reach position. The only provision necessary is being able to support the actual pole used for the installation.
Supporting the pole can be done in several ways. If in the workroom, the rod can be set on temporary brackets mounted onto an accessible wall. Or, the rod can be clamped onto two workroom stands. If in the designer's or installer's home, the pole can be set on the back of the two chairs. If in a basement/utility area, the rod can be suspended from hooks in the ceiling using chain or rope. Be creative; the only criteria is holding the pole at a height convenient to you personally.
The fabric should be pre-marked to indicate the center, where each side tail begins and the location of each swoop. This can be done using tailor's tacks (colored thread), safety pins, clothes pins, chalk or any other temporary marking technique you choose. Mark the center of the rod with a marking pen or small piece of masking tape. Also mark the location of each swoop. For instance, if using three swoops, mark the rod into thirds and at the center.
Place eight to 10 inches of narrow two-sided tape onto the top of the pole where the fabric will lie over it. This terrific trade secret will keep the fabric from slipping around while you're dressing the swoops.
Starting in the center and working out to each side, match the marks on the fabric to the marks on the rod. Flip the fabric around the rod in the desired configuration (front to back or back to front, etc.) No more having 10 inches of fabric too much on one end and not enough on the other; it will come out perfectly every time because it is all pre-marked.
Once laid on the pole, start pulling the fabric into the desired shape. You'll be amazed how much easier it is when it's not sliding all over the place. When the fabric is in the correct shape, attach it to the rod using one of three methods:
Staple the fabric directly to the pole if it's wood.
Staple the fabric into Graber's wooden Swag Strips, which are placed into the opening on the back of metal D-shaped pole rods.
Pin the fabric into Kirsch's Swag Adapters, which also are placed into the opening in the back of the rod.
The treatment should then be wrapped in plastic and transported just as a typical swag on a board would be.
Know When to Fold 'Em
To fan-fold or not to fan-fold, that is the question.
It's still an ongoing controversy among professionals as to whether the fabric should be fan-folded before placing it on the pole. When I tried this technique, I encountered three problems:
1. The piece of fabric is so large it's hard to find a convenient place to work. One suggestion was running it from the bedroom, down the hall, to the dining room and shouting to your folding partner on the other end of the fabric when you are ready to fold the next fold. Or, you could fold it on a workroom table, one table-length section at a time.
2. It is a very time-consuming process.
3. By the time I finished tugging on the fabric to form the swoop, you couldn't tell it had been fan-folded to start with. Obviously, I ceased using this technique.
I have had many other workrooms tell me that they refuse to dress over-the-pole swags unless they are fan folded first. So, my suggestion is to try both ways and choose which you personally prefer.
Another solution for one-piece pole swags is to cut them into smaller pieces. Cut a piece for each side tail and one for each swoop. Gather the ends of each piece and apply it individually to the pole, overlapping the ends. Besides being physically easier to work with, this technique eliminates two other problems that occur when the treatment is made from only one piece of fabric: The print would be upside down on the second side tail and each alternating swoop would be of the fabric used as the lining of the treatment.
Another method leaves the fabric all in one piece. In involves sewing darts at the end of each swoop to remove the excess fabric. This excess fabric occurs because one side of the fabric drops down from the pole only a small amount, while the other side swoops down much farther. To determine the exact amount of excess fabric to place in the dart, measure the top and the bottom of the desired swoop with a string.
I have had several designers tell me that even though one-piece casual pole swags are so popular, they could not sell them because their installer refused to put them up. Now, no one has to lose out on the sale because the treatment can be dressed using this five-step trade secret by the designer himself or herself (or their workrooms if they prefer) to assure the exact desired look is acquired.
I feel I should warn you there is one drawback to this problem-solving method. Because it is pre-dressed before installation, it now takes you only a couple of minutes to attach to the customer's wall. They're going to want to know why you charged so much when it's so easy! "You just threw the fabrics on there, right?"
Cheryl Strickland is owner of Professional Drapery Seminars. She is an internationally-acclaimed speaker with more than 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.