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30-Minutes with Workroom Tech: Episode 27 / Workroom Myths and Misconceptions

Ceil DiGuglielmo and Susan Woodcock recording a podcast together

On episode 27 of The Sew Much More Podcast: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech, Ceil DiGuglielmo and Susan Woodcock talk about common workroom myths, and misconceptions. For anyone new to the workroom industry, it can be confusing and intimidating to sort through all the information available, and to know what is a standard in the industry, or not. The goal of this discussion was not only to debunk myths, but to explore the difference between a myth and just another method or idea.

Listen to the podcast recording using the link below. Oh, and by the way... this podcast is actually 40-minutes long. There was a lot to cover! Listen here: Workroom Myths and Misconceptions

Workroom Fabrication Myths

1) Match the fabric content to lining content such as; a cotton fabric should have cotton lining, and a polyester fabric should have polyester lining.

False. You do not need to match fiber content on face fabrics and linings. In fact, using both a polyester face fabric and a polyester lining can create static, or prevent a drapery from hanging properly. A cotton or poly/cotton blend lining material works well with all fabrics.

2) There is a self-healing blackout.

False. A hole is created when sewing a 3-pass blackout, whether that is hand sewing or machine sewing. It will not "fill in" on it's own.

3) You must always cut swags on the bias.

False. You can cut swags on the straight, or on the bias. A bias cut will drape more smoothly but a straight cut is needed for stripes, or directional prints. The swag pictured below is cut on the straight.

This swag is not cut on the bias so that the fabric can be running up and down, to match the jabots.

4) The wrinkles will fall out. No, not really. In some cases a fabric will look less wrinkled after it's been hanging, but fabrics like linen can have permanent creases that will not fall out, even after being steamed. It really depends on the fabric.

5) You must use distilled water in irons.

Yes and no. If you are using a dofix boiler, it does not require distilled water, but some hand held domestic irons might specify to use distilled water. Always follow the manufacturers instructions that come with your iron.

6) Always cut the fabric on grain.

For some fabrics, you can pull a thread to get a straight cut on-grain, or across the weave or weft. This can be very helpful for sheer fabrics, silk, linen and other straight weave, solid fabrics. You may encounter a printed fabric that has a little bit of a pattern drift. In that case you can adjust your cut to the pattern on styles like gathered bed skirts, valances and pleated draperies - anything with fullness, and cut slightly off-grain. Flat styles like roman shades may need to be cut on-grain to keep them square. In that case you should send a photo of how it will look to the client for approval before cutting.

7) Hems and headings must always be made with a doubled 4 inches of fabric.

False. Hems and headings can be adjusted to the project. For example; a short, cafe curtain can have smaller hems and headings, a two-story drapery can have larger sized hems and headings. You can also adjust the size of bottom hems to make it easier to sew, especially hand sewing. Set your own standards.

8) Buckram should always be used with pleated draperies.

True and false. Buckram is traditionally added to pleated draperies to create a stiff heading. This gives an even edge across the top, helps the pleats to hold their shape and it can be creased in the spaces to help draperies fold back evenly when traversed. But many people omit buckram to create a softer look with less structured pleats. Both ways are correct!

Buckram is used in drapery headings.

9) Always change the color of thread to match the fabric.

False. In a busy drapery or upholstery workroom, the most common colors of thread used are neutrals like white, ivory, tan, taupe and gray. These colors match well enough to be used for sewing inside seams and joining fabrics. The only time a color match for thread is needed is when top stitching; sewing pleats; machine sewn trims; and where the stitching will show.

10) Never rip fabric.

False. It can be convenient to rip a piece of lining off the bolt, or to rip double width sheer fabric. But not all fabrics rip evenly, and when tearing or ripping fabric you will have a distorted edge that will need to be trimmed away. Always plan extra length when ripping fabrics so you can trim away excess. Before ripping or tearing a fabric, test to make sure it will tear evenly across the width.

11) Draperies must always be fan folded before delivery.

Some workrooms fan fold draperies, and some do not. Fan-folding helps to create even folds that fall perfectly from each pleat. It also makes a drapery easier to package and transport. But, large, multiple width draperies can be very difficult to fan-fold correctly. If a drapery is not fan folded evenly, it will be difficult to remove the creases and retrain the drapery. Another option is to fold at the seams, so each width is folded in half lengthwise.

Grommet draperies are easy to fan fold

12) You can’t use drapery lining for bedding.

False. Drapery lining is not harmful for use as bedding. Double wide linings can be a great solution for lining duvets and coverlets with no seams. Linings can be pre-washed so that a bedding project is washable (if the face fabric is also pre-washed).

13) All pillows must be lined.

False. Whether to add lining to pillows depends on the fabric being used. You will want to add lining if a) the fabric has a backing that will keep the pillow form from being inserted properly; b) if the fabric is thin and needs extra body; c) if the fabric stretches or is cut on the bias; and d) if it is a light color and the pillow form will show through.

14) All inside seams on pillows must be serged.

Whether to serge the inside edges of pillows depends on the fabric. Certainly if a fabric frays, it would be beneficial to serge the edges.

15) Cord safety standards are voluntary.

This is a misconception. The cord safety standards were voluntarily created by the window coverings industry but following the standards is not voluntary, and should be practiced by custom workroom businesses. More information about cord safety and compliance with industry standards can be found on the Workroom Tech podcast and blog, episode 5 and episode 7.

16) Low bulk drapery fabrication is not “high end” (as well as blind hemming, fusible products, unlined, etc.) There are many different views on the definition of "high end". It is based on region, individual workroom fabrication methods and experience. There are not "high-end" fabrication industry standards. A more affluent customer can afford higher quality and more time consuming fabrication methods like hand sewing and adding interlining, but that doesn't make the method "high end". There are many clients who would be labeled as "high-end" but who are more interested in the end results, than the time it takes to make the product.

17) You must always have an odd number of pleats.

False. Many people feel that an odd number of pleats on pleated draperies and box pleated valances looks better, but it's not a rule. Any number of pleats can be used and should be determined by the size of the window and the amount of fullness allowed, and the look that the client prefers. If you are alternating pattern motifs, then it can be more pleasing to the eye to have an odd number so each end matches.

18) You always should pleat to pattern.

False. Pleating to pattern looks great with many fabrics, especially geometric prints, but it's not required for all printed fabrics. A repeating pattern across a drapery, or in the folds of a shade does not appeal to some people. When working with patterned fabrics, consult with the client about their preferences.

Two examples of draperies (made by Janice McLaughlin in class at Workroom Tech) are shown below; a blue and white geometric print with euro pleats and pleated to pattern, and an all-over floral print with french pleats which is not pleated to pattern.

Euro pleated drapery that is pleated to pattern
French pleated drapery that is not pleated to pattern.

Interior Design Myths From a Workroom Perspective

1) Valances and top treatments should be 1/5th the length of the window.

False. The length of valances and top treatments are based on the style, window size and current trends. A scale drawing using measurements taken on-site will help you to determine the best proportions for the project.

2) Grommet draperies are low end and look cheap.

This is a misconception. Just because you can purchase grommet draperies at retail stores, does not make the style "cheap". Grommet draperies can be beautiful. This style always falls in even folds, and when made with extra fullness can be absolutely stunning. Look at the work of Barry Dixon Interiors for examples of luxurious grommet draperies, like the window coverings pictured below. (Source: Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Magazine)

Beautiful, layered grommet drapery.  Designer: Barry Dixon Interiors Published in Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Magazine 2011

3) Blackout will completely block all light at the window.

False. The sun will creep around edges of shades and draperies. The only way to completely block all light is to layer a drapery, shade and board mounted top treatment on the window, or to use a style of blind that can be installed with side tracks.

4) When using decorative hardware on tall windows, the hardware should really large.

The size and proportions of the hardware is not necessarily based on the window size. The current trend is to use smaller scale hardware, and not large, chunky styles. Use the best hardware to meet you clients design aesthetic, not based on window size.

5) Traverse draperies can hang perfectly straight.

Many fabrics perform very well, and there are fabrication methods that can help fabrics to marry together, and hang vertically with better control. But fabric drapes, and moves... and isn't always going to hang in straight vertical folds and may flare. It's good to help clients understand this when planning and selling a project.

6) It shouldn’t cost as much to alter old window treatments as making them from scratch.

False. Altering existing window treatments may cost more because the workroom has to spend a considerable amount of time evaluating the available yardage; taking apart the old window treatments; and pressing and preparing the fabric. The client should have the old window treatments cleaned before deliver to the workroom. There could be a cost savings to the client because the fabric is being reused - but the workroom will need to charge more for fabrication of the window treatments than if a new fabric had been selected.

7) You can’t mix window treatment styles in the same room.

False. It is often the best design choice to use one style of window treatment on some windows, and not others in the same space; especially open floor plans. The kitchen area might have roman shades, and the dining area draperies. Or, valances can be used for a window over the kitchen sink, but not other windows. The key is to tie it all together with coordinating hardware and fabrics.

Business Misconceptions

1) As a workroom, you have to do retail sales to make a profit.

Many to-the-trade workrooms who are subcontracted by interior design professionals are extremely successful. Retail workrooms can add profits from consultation fees, and selling hard treatments and fabric but that doesn't make one business model more profitable than another.

2) You have to discount your prices when you work with an interior designer.

This is a misconception. As a workroom, you should set your prices based on your hourly rate. When working with a retail client you will add for the extra time and risk of working one-on-one with a customer, so the price increases for retail customers.

Book recommendation:

Price Your Work with Confidence by Kitty Stein, available from Sew Easy Windows.

3) “Can’t raise my prices because…”

There are so many excuses. Fear of losing work. Fear of complaints from customers. Fear of being "too expensive". In the end, it's all about fear.

4) Being self employed means you can take off whenever you want!

That's a big misconception! Being self employed means you will be working more hours than you ever expected. You do have the power to create your own schedule - which is a great benefit of self-employment.

5) Shipping costs are too high to pass along to the customer.

This is a misconception. Although shipping costs have increased and may seem like a hardship, it's part of the process of running a business. It is not the responsibility of the workroom to protect the client from increased shipping costs for items like custom hardware or pillow forms. Give clients an estimate of what the shipping costs will be, and let them decide.

6) You must have a printed price list for products and services.

It is not necessary to have a printed price list if you create custom quotes in a timely fashion. A pricing guide with averages can be helpful if you work with an interior design firm that would like to have ballpark pricing for quick quotes - but that should not be considered as a final quote.

7) Custom workrooms shouldn't subcontract to other workrooms.

False. Subcontracting to another workroom can be a great idea. Whether it's a speciality job like theater curtains, or you use another workroom to finish parts of projects to help your business stay on schedule. Be sure to get references and examples of work from the workroom you are going to use, so that it meets your quality and standards. If you subcontract a project and there is an error, or the fabrication is of poor quality, you will need to take responsibility for correcting the issue.

8) If I share information with other workrooms they will steal my customers.

This is a misconception. Ceil and Susan shared during the podcast that there are many more rewards from sharing with others, than the opposite. Creating relationships with other workrooms can be very beneficial personally, and professionally.

9) My business must be successful because I work nights and weekends.

Business success isn't about how many hours you work. It's about how much profit you make for the hours you work. It is very important to have balance in your life to be successful, and time off so that you will not burn out.

10) Clients think that they are my only customer.

This is a myth, but it's a good myth. If your clients feel like they are your only customer - you have hit the jackpot of client satisfaction! That's actually a compliment. On the other hand, some people can be demanding of your time and services in a way that can be disruptive. Workrooms can set professional boundaries and deliver great customer service at the same time.

11) As a workroom owner, you have to do it all.

False. Don’t feel as if you are a failure if you structure your business to spend work hours doing what is most profitable and satisfying, and makes you feel accomplished. Use outside contractors or part-time employees for tasks that are not your strengths – or just don't provide services that are not a good fit. Customize your custom business!

Thank you to workroom owners who contributed ideas for this podcast!

If you have a topic or idea that you would like to learn about - please contact Susan Woodcock at

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