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SewForward: Creative Crossroads Newsletter June 2021


SewForward is a cut and sew studio providing high quality small batch manufacturing, while providing job training and employment opportunities for people facing difficulty in the workforce. SewForward is part of the East End Cooperative Ministry.

SewForward loves to help small businesses grow. Our monthly newsletter, Creative Crossroads, provides tips to help you improve your business.

In This Issue We Explore:

  • Make More Money with Less Work

    • Learn how to serve more customers in less time by increasing your efficiency and reducing your production time. This is the first in a 4-part series about making more money by doing less work.

  • Sewing Tip

    • Aprons aren't just for cooking.

  • Setting Realistic Expectations with Customers

    • How to convince your customers it's worth the wait.

  • Workroom Safety

    • Eye and Lung Safety in the workroom.


Increase Your Efficiency to Lower Production Time

Rosemary runs a sewing business making and selling bags. Her business is picking up and more orders are starting to come in. She’s not making enough yet to bring in outside help, but she’s spending more time on the business side and she’s finding less time to manufacture her products. She wants to continue working, but needs to find a way todo more, faster.

Do you recognize your business in this scenario? Many businesses started their business as a hobby and they still think of the products they are selling with the hobby mindset. “I’ll work on this in my free time.” “I’ll do a little bit here and there.” “I’ll just make a couple items at a time.” Unfortunately, this mentality won’t work when you’re running a business. You have a product, people are willing to purchase it from you, and they expect to receive it in a timely manner. What’s happened is your hobby has become a manufacturer, and in order for the business to continue to grow and make money you need to find techniques to make the manufacturing process more efficient while maintaining the same quality. While researching for this article I kept coming across the 5S best practices. A process created and followed by Toyota, these principles improve efficiency and waste in manufacturing. You maybe wondering how your home studio can implement the same ideas as one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, but the principles are so simple, they can be followed by any size business. The 5 S

  1. Seiri: Sort

  2. Seiton: Systematize / straighten

  3. Seiso: Shine

  4. Seiketsu: Standardize

  5. Shitsuke: Sustain

Steps 1 – 3: Seiri –Sort / Seiton – Systematize or Straighten / Seiso- Shine Whenever I’ve started a new job, I’ve always spent some time cleaning up the office/files or desk that I’ve inherited. I make the work and workspace into a place that works with me, not the person before me. Cleaning and sorting your workspace will help you clear your mind and give you a starting point for implementing the rest of the systems. Organizing isn’t just about getting rid of things. It’s about evaluating what you have, what you use, and how you use it. Review each work area as a separate system. When you are standing at the worktable what tools do you use the most? It doesn’t make sense to put your scissors, chalk, pencils and small measuring tools in a drawer, if you are going topfull them out and use them every day. Put them all in a small lidless bin, you keep within reach on your table.

The same goes for how you work when using the sewing machines or other equipment. If you have only one pair of thread snippers and one pin bowl, and you have to move them every time you switch machines, you’re wasting time. Instead, buy scissors and a pin bowl for every machine. Attach the scissor to the machine if you have to. Speaking of pins, stop using pincushions. It takes extra time to take the pin out of your material and stick it in the cushion. Use large magnetic pin bowls instead. Include your machinery in your organizing. If you are holding on to 5 sewing machines that never get used, they are cluttering your space, let them go.

Finally, stop buying storage that sits on the floor and gets in your way. Use your wall and ceiling space to hang bin holders, fabric racks and pegboard. Step 4: Seiketsu: Standardize After your space is clean and organized, it’s time to create systems for your workflow. Move your equipment and tables so they are in order of use and you minimize the number of steps you take to get to achene. If your most used machines are across the room from each other, rearrange them.

Move your materials as little as possible. Don’t cut fabric, and then keep moving it around your space because it’s in your way. Cut, then move it to the next station, or put it in labeled bins until you reread to work with it. Don’t just throw things when they are output them in a neat pile in the direction you are going to sew them.

If you remaking a product for the first time make several samples, to find the most efficient way. Not only will the samples help with efficiency, it will save money. You can muck up the samples, and when you start manufacturing, you will have fewer errors. As you refine your production, take notes to refer to the next time. Do your work in batches. Cut as many projects as you can before moving on to the serger or the straight stitch. Sew one seam for all the items, before clipping the threads. Cut your fabric in as many stacks as you can.

Create templates for cutting or even for sewing placement. Recently, we had to sew labels on a large quantity of purses. Instead of measuring every time we were at the machine, we created cardboard templates that lined up with the edge of the fabric and put the labels next to that. Instead of cardboard use tape on your table to know where to stop sewing. Eliminate or reduce steps that take time away from production. Don’t change your presser foot or thread color constantly. Do all sewing with one foot before you change it. Sew as many items with a neutral thread color as you can. If you need to make a lot of piping or bias trips, do it for all the projects at the same time. Step 5: Sustain Organizing, templates, and systems won’t do you any good if you don’t use and update them. The last step in the 5S is to sustain your processes. Eliminate bottlenecks in the workflow by fixing machines, keeping hand tools sharp and clean, and ordering supplies before you run out. Continually evaluate your processes, eliminate those that aren’t working, improve the ones that are, and create new ones. Then schedule a day every 3 to 6 months to reorganize and review what you’ve done and what you can revamp for the future. Maybe it seems excessive to enact the same processes as a huge manufacturer like Toyota. But, improving efficiency in your manufacturing will give you more time to work on the business side of the business, and every Toyota had to start somewhere.


Sewing Tip: Aprons Aren't Just for Cooking

How many times a day do you walk around your sewing area, looking for a pen, your seam ripper, marking chalk or even a piece of scrap paper? Have you noticed that all your shirts are developing holes in the belly area?

Cooks usually wear aprons to protect their clothes from grease and food spills. That’s not an issue for contractors and carpenters, instead they are using aprons (call it a tool belt all you want we know it’s an apron) to keep their tools within reach, while in the middle of a job.

So why not wear an apron when sewing or crafting. It will protect your shirt, from those holes, which are occurring as you lean against your cutting table. Sometimes it’s the table itself, other times it’s your pants button rubbing against the fabric. It also keeps your clothes from catching and snagging on the corners of machines and tables.

If you are trying to be more efficient in production, time yourself every time you have to look for your scissors or seam ripper. I bet that you waste at least 10 minutes a day doing this. Wearing an apron keeps all your most important tools exactly where you need them, when you need them. It also prevents that mysterious phenomenon of tools wandering away only to be found the next day under a piece of paper. So buy an apron today and save your shirts, and your time.


Setting Realistic Expectations with Customers

I’ve never been a very patient person, and the idea that I can get online orders in a day or two rocks my world. But, I’m buying things that are sitting on the shelf in a warehouse. That’s not the case when you are making a custom product. Today the delivery date for a new couch is up to 6 months, but people are still buying and are willing to wait for it. However, it seems that when it comes to small businesses customers often have unrealistic expectations about deadlines and will push you to try to meet them.

I once had a customer who wanted her install on a specific date. Not for any particular reason, just because she didn’t want to wait. When I told her I had another install scheduled for that night, she asked if I could reschedule my other customer. My answer was a hard “NO!”

Here are several tips to managing your customers’ expectations and keeping them happy.

  1. Under-estimate and over-deliver. Give your customer a longer lead-time than you really expect to finish and if you can deliver early, you have exceeded expectations. By giving a longer lead-time you also add in time for emergencies and unexpected delays.

  2. Discuss expectations at the beginning of the job not ½ way through. If a customer is unwilling to wait then it’s better to know that upfront, not after they’ve already placed the order.

  3. Never give a completion date, until all the materials are received. You can’t control the supply chain and a hold up in a material can push an entire project back.

  4. Monitor your suppliers and their ship dates. If an item is always on backorder, see if you can find a new supplier who keeps items in stock.

  5. Order your supplies early, so they are on hand when you are ready to start the project.

  6. Sell what you can get now. Don’t sell a fabric that won’t be in stock in when you need to order it.

  7. Be realistic about how many jobs you have. Know how long it takes to make your items and be able to state that with confidence.

  8. Stay in touch with your customers. If things get behind let them know. More info is better than silence.

  9. Don’t take on rush jobs unless you really can squeeze it in. Making one customer happy is going to make another one unhappy.

  10. If you get really behind, ask if you can deliver part of the order now and the rest later.

You’re not going to make every customer happy, and some are still going to complain and try to push you to do their project first. Yet, if you set the same expectations for everyone and follow the above processes, you’ll be able to respond to them with confidence secure in the knowledge you’re doing your very best.

Safety in the Workroom - Eyes and Lungs

Eye Safety: It’s pretty tough to sew without the use of your eyes. Protect them as much as possible. Never sew over pins. A broken pin or needle can easily fly into the air and your eye, without warning. Always wear safety goggles when using your staple guns, saws and other power tools. If you don’t have a sink in, or close to, your workroom, invest in a bottle of saline to be able to wash out your eyes if you get a chemical in it. Lung Safety: Dust is a huge problem in all workrooms. For those with asthma and allergies it can be especially problematic. Try to vacuum the workroom every day or at least once a week. Carpeted floors are terrible for trapping dirt and dust and should be replaced with an easily cleaned hardwood, vinyl or tile floor. Look into buying air filters for the workroom and make sure you change the filters every 2 or 3 months. Always use spray glues and fabric protector sprays outside or in a very well ventilated area like a garage with the doors open. If you are retail and sell your own fabrics, consider looking into some new greener lines which are made with fewer or no chemicals. They help the environment, your clients, and most especially you.


About the Author:

Sydney Hardiman is the Sewing Program Manager for SewForward, EECM's Cut and Sew Studio and workforce development program. She has over 20 years of experience in the design industry and is the author of over 50 articles about interior design.

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