A simplistic definition of standards of quality is: that which makes the product or service the best! Many times quality has to be compromised because it may be impossible to offer the best in all areas of a product.
Take, for example, interlined drapery panels. These panels would offer the best appearance and longevity of face fabric, but would make fast production impossible. If the British method of fabrication is practiced-putting the interlining down inside the face fabric hem-then dry cleaning is impossible as fabrics would likely shrink differently creating a major problem. So when determining quality standards, specific situations must be evaluated on their own merits and needs.
THE FIRST STEP
I believe three rules are necessary when establishing quality standards:
1. Satisfy your customer. First, be sure you have the right customer! You are selling a luxury product so discount department stores are not your competition. That being said, refuse to provide products or service below your established standards. Everyone who sees your work will judge your skill and abilities by what they see. You certainly may offer higher than your standard, but only for a higher price.
Listen to your customers. If they are taking you into a higher quality bracket, go for it and make the higher profit. As time goes on, you may completely adjust your quality standards to an even higher level where you are attracting a higher income bracket customer and leaving former customers behind.
2. It must be salable. Tailor your quality to your market. If you are marketing to the lower end of the luxury-seeking customer, then you cannot afford the time to offer them the handwork, interlining, etc. that the highest end customer expects.
Also, remember that perfection can be costly to you. It has cost me much over the years. Sometimes, we get carried away with making something absolutely perfect that doesn't really matter to the appearance or the function of the product or to the customer. It's very hard for the true perfectionist to get paid for the time and effort perfection actually costs. We're not in business to give away something that wasn't necessary to begin with.
3. Continually make every effort to produce the best product. None of us will ever know all there is to know to make the perfect product. Education is an ongoing project. Reading trade magazines should be your No. 1 priority. You not only will keep up on new products, but also on new rules and regulations in the industry such as safety standards. (December 1998)
Join the Window Covering Association of America (WCAA) and help establish a local chapter in your area for the maximum return on networking. Use the Internet, not only to acquire information but to network with others in the industry through e-mail lists. Read books, attend trade shows and seminars and listen to your customers.
The quality standards I have adopted have been compiled from my 20-plus years in the industry. I have learned many the hard way: it didn't suit the customer and I had to redo it. Much has come from reading, seminars, networking and being a perfectionist. While perfection can be costly, it also can be an asset for outstanding quality.
Following are some of the standards I believe are necessary for minimum quality in custom window treatment fabrication:
• Use a contract with terms and conditions. This is essential for both retail and wholesale businesses! (Retail businesses can contact SewStorm Publishing,  232-5403; for more information on wholesale contracts call Kitty Stein at Workroom Concepts,  667-5939.)
• Use printed work orders and forms that are thorough and customized to your business to avoid mistakes. (For help, see Minutes Matter,  824-1954, or "Order In The Workroom," by Kitty Stein available through D&WC's Interior Fashions University Bookstore,  833-9056.)
• Inspect all fabrics for flaws and do not use flaws unless approved by the customer. Inspect with and without a light.
• Sew straight seams with no puckering.
• Remove all loose threads or tails.
• There should be little to no obvious puckering in topstitched sewing, as when topstitching a band. Thread, needle size and tension must be correct. Iron-on hem tapes and double sticky tapes can reduce or eliminate this problem.
• There should be no puckers, ripples or twists in covered cording. Unroll cord straight off the roll and not off the top. Hold properly by pulling on the bottom of the casing and pushing fullness into the top of the casing. Cord feet may help.
• When cording is applied to fabric, the fabric must lay flat and smooth without puckering. Sew with cording underneath.
• When connecting cord casing as on a pillow, seam the ends together in a diagonal seam.
• After cording is applied, you must not see any stitching at the junction with the body fabric.
• Ready-made twist cord that is stitched into a seam must be applied without the lip/tape showing on the right side. Sew with a regular presser foot on top of the cord with the cord under the fabric. Or use iron-on hem tapes along with sewing.
• Connect twist cord so you cannot see the connection.
• All prints must be matched at the seams unless you can't. Some prints cannot be matched perfectly. In these cases, each job must be evaluated as to whether a mismatched seam will be noticeable. You might need your customer's approval not to match.
• Prints must be centered and repeated precisely in all sections of the same treatment and in all treatments in the room.
• The tops of all print draperies in the same room must match.
• The print must be straight on the buckram in pinch pleated draperies.
• Any shapes or scallops must be uniform in size and stitched evenly.
• All spaces, such as those between pinch pleats or shower curtain grommets, must be equal.
• Do not put a seam in the middle of a treatment unless you have no choice.
• All stripes and plaids must be straight and centered if possible. It's probably not possible to get a printed horizontal stripe straight. For that reason, horizontal stripes are not suitable for some treatments.
• Seams must be hidden wherever possible. In pinch pleats place the seam beside a pleat. In box pleats, make all seams in the back pleat out of sight.
• Cut swags on the bias unless you can't. If the face fabric must be cut on the straight, then cut the lining and interlining on the bias.
• Use odd numbers of units on a window if possible.
• Cover all boards with fabric, usually lining, or paint them.
• Drapery panels should have approximately double 1 1/2-inch side hems. Do not seam the lining to the face. The drapery will not hang properly.
• Standard custom drapery panel fullness is 2 1/2 times the finished width.
• Use weights at corners and seams in draperies.
• Panel lengths should be straight and even across the bottom.
• Face fabric hems should be blindstitched or hand-hemmed and not straight stitched.
• Abide by the safety standards for corded treatments, i.e. drapery traverse rods and soft shades.
• Be willing to pick it out and do it over.
• Inspect everything before it goes out the door, especially if someone else fabricated it!
• Deliver on time!
• Guarantee your workmanship and accuracy! Take responsibility for your mistakes!
These guidelines will help get you started composing a set of minimum quality standards for your workroom. Establishing a written set of standards makes good business sense. First you can show it to your customers to educate them on what they are paying for, and second, you can use it to train employees.
Work on building and enhancing your quality standards and be sure you charge enough for all the extra effort, education, skill and determination it takes to establish and maintain good custom quality. Customers usually expect to pay top-of-the-line fees for top-of-the-line quality!
Send additional quality standards you believe are important to Kitty Stein:
fax: (540) 667-3170
With enough response, additional articles on this topic will follow.
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.