In this week's episode of The Sew Much More Podcast: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech (air date February 27, 2019) Ceil DiGuglielmo and Susan Woodcock talk about essential tools and workroom layout. The topic for this episode was requested by Kathy Healy, from Rochester, NY. Thank you, Kathy, for such a great idea!
It can be intimidating for new workroom owners to know what equipment and tools they need to produce professional quality window treatments, and what they can wait to purchase. The Basics
According to Susan, the most important tool is the worktable. "You can get started without an industrial machine, boiler iron or other tools, but the worktable is absolutely essential".
A typical worktable is 60 x 120 inches (or 5 feet x 10 feet) but you can customize it to your space. If you can make it longer, that’s even better! You will find a 12 foot long table to be necessary for the long-length panels that are so common now. The worktable is padded with an underlayment for pinning, a layer of dense batting and then canvas is stretched and stapled over the top.
Canvas with a printed grid is available from The Workroom Channel. Susan really likes the table grid but she adds..."I will always measure anything that needs to be 100% accurate but the table grid gives guidelines for turning hems, squaring Roman shades, and cutting lining and interlining. What a time saver".
Important Workroom Tools
To have a sewing business you need things to sew with! A sewing machine, scissors, and iron. This basic set-up is one of the appealing things about starting out. It’s not a huge investment.
A good, basic industrial sewing machine will serve you for years, and years. Buying a used machine is a great idea. You can’t wear out industrial machines. You can replace needles, feed dogs, plates and motors. Go ahead and buy the best you can afford. If you plan to sew mostly cushions and slipcovers, buy a walking foot machine first. Otherwise, a good industrial straight stitch will serve you well. You can see the machines at Workroom Tech in the video tour below:
One machine that Susan recommends is the direct drive, electronic machine. "I have the Brother S7200 series, but Juki makes this style of machine, too. You have so much control". This style of machine has an auto thread cutter, auto backstitch and auto foot lift, plus other features. "It’s the best investment I ever made", Susan shared. The new version of this machine is the Brother S7300 Nexio.
You can get started with only a straight stitch, but you can improve efficiency and the quality of your product with specialty machines. If you make a lot of drapery panels, then a blind hemmer is a wonderful machine to have.
An industrial serger, also known as an overlock machine, will do a better job than a domestic machine for finishing heavy fabrics used in upholstery and slipcovers. Susan shared that she uses the serger to finish top edges of dust ruffles and to prevent fraying on pillow cuts.
Scissors and Shears
Susan and Ceil are fans of KAI scissors. "My best scissors are the KAI 7250" Susan said, "they are sharp, well balanced and cut all the way to the tip of the blade". She also has several pair of the KAI 5250 which fit better in her tool belt and feature a very comfortable ergonomic handle. Susan recommends the KAI high leverage shears for clipping corners, and cording. A pair or nippers is handy at the sewing machine. (Source Wolff Industries)
Because of Susan's style of fabrication, with a lot of hand sewing and very little steaming and ironing, she has never invested in a boiler iron. But for a workroom that is using an iron all day, you need something with better quality that delivers constant steam.
There are huge benefits to using a boiler iron system like the ones from döfix No Sew, Inc. With a boiler iron, the water is heated in a tank and then fed through a hose to the iron. This gives you a lot of steam without a hot soleplate, and it doesn’t have to be filled over-and-over again. It’s most practical to have the iron on a ceiling track with a balancer. This puts the iron above the worktable and you can easily push it aside. That’s the Cadillac of irons!
A boiler iron system is a big investment. For workrooms who would like some of the features of a boiler iron without investing in the system, Susan recommends the Reliable Velocity iron. It’s somewhat like a boiler iron where it heats the water inside the iron, providing even steam with lower heat settings. You can use this iron with the fusible tapes if you use them occasionally. (Source Home Sewing Depot)
Tools for Measuring
It would be difficult to sew anything without rulers and tape measures. A 60 inch ruler is ideal because it's the same width as a common worktable. Some workrooms use 72 inch rulers but Susan finds them to be cumbersome and uses them occasionally. She recommends you buy at least one clear, quilters ruler that is 3 inches x 24 inches, or 6 inches x 24 inches.
"One of my own little quirks is to have an 8 inch ruler in my toolbelt", Susan said, adding "I cut them from yardsticks and they are more practical for drapery work than the 6 inch rulers you find in the sewing notions, or as give aways. I use it as an iron and to set drapery pins when I don’t have the pinsetter handy. I honestly can’t work without one"! Keep several sturdy, 25 foot tape measures in the workroom, and for measuring windows. Soft tapes are used for measuring cushions, bedding and slipcovers.
Notions and Small Tools
You will need the usual sewing notions including pins, hand sewing needles, marking pens, pencils and chalk, I recommend the glass head pins from Prym. Table clamps are a helpful tool. Use worktable clamps to hold fabrics for measuring and cutting. The ones shown below are from Wawak.
A pneumatic staple gun is equal to the industrial sewing machines. Yes, you can get by with an electric stapler, but it’s just not as durable and efficient. "I think the intimidating part is that you need to use an air compressor", Susan said, "but it’s not that hard to learn, and the prices are reasonable". For a small workroom, you can purchase a new air compressor and staple gun for $300 to $400.
You will keep these tools for years and years. It is well worth the investment. Be sure to purchase a long-nose staple gun. That works much better for cornice boards, and upholstery projects.
Other Handy Tools
A common tool used by workroom professionals is a fabric stapler. Not to be confused with a staple gun. Susan finds this very handy..."I use it to staple together valances before board mounting, or securing fabrics before sewing or serging. It’s easier to staple than to pin".
A button and grommet press performs a specific job. Wait to buy this tool for when you get a project where it is needed. Order the size cutters and setters you need for that job. The Rowley Company press can be used for both grommets and buttons.
Another tool that can make a big difference in a one-person workroom is the Draw-Matic clamping bar. It’s not something you need to purchase starting out, but if you work alone it helps you to be more efficient and accurate so it is a good investment in your business.
(Source Unique Expressions)
Workstands are another tool that many workrooms couldn't live without. "We made some using speaker stands from an online music store", Susan said. If you want to make your own, look for stands that have a flat top plate so you can attach a piece of plywood to the top. Or, you can buy the Workroom Valet work stand which has the clamps attached to the top plate. (Workroom Valet Source Home Sewing Depot)
Workstands are fantastic for board mounting valances, especially if you have two. They are essential for hanging shades so I can check function and level the shade cords. You can make a pinable board that you can clamp to the work stand for draping swags.
Workroom Set Up
Setting up your workroom is like setting up your kitchen. You want to have things at-hand that you use a lot, and you want to create a good workflow. For example; you will want the sewing machine that you use the most to be the most accessible with the fewest steps to that machine from the worktable.
You can gain a lot of insight from commercial workrooms, even if you are a one-person operation. Take the time for view the "Real Workroom" tours" by The Workroom Channel on Youtube for ideas and inspiration.
Think about your work flow. If you are making cushions do you serge first, then go to the sewing machine? Then you should set up a long table between the two machines so you can slide the serged cushion pieces over to the next machine, or place the machines so you can swivel around in your chair to start sewing.
You can add gutters and tool aprons or bins to the worktable to store most used tools and supplies like rulers, marking pens and scissors. You should wear a tool belt, too!
Create storage anywhere you can; every nook and cranny is valuable! Use bins with lids, and shelving units. Adding labels to bins and boxes is a big help. At Workroom Tech, there is a set of cabinets that was purchased used and stores most of the sewing supplies.
If you have an unfinished ceiling then take advantage of that space! You can put up rods, chains, brackets and hooks for hanging just about anything. It doesn’t have to look pretty. It can be as simple as installing a rod on hooks above the sewing machine for rolled goods like welt cord.
You don’t want to store fabrics on end. That can create permanent wrinkles so it’s good to find a place to store bolts flat. Under the worktable is a good spot for that.
There's more to share but that will have to wait for another podcast! If you are starting out with a workroom business, check out the Introduction to Sewing Soft Furnishings class at Workroom Tech where you can see and try the tools and supplies shared in this episode of the podcast.