I have just returned from a delightful week at the Custom Home Furnishing Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina in the USA. I have been a member of their Drapery & Design Professional Network for four years and had been longing to meet some of the people I have met on line and to attend some of their training sessions which have a terrific reputation. Then, in December, I received an email telling me that I had won a free place at their annual Subscribers’ Weekend. I promptly booked my flights, two extra training courses and a hotel and in February I was off.
The trip out was not the easiest, a 20 hour journey via Miami for me and a 32 hour trip for my suitcases (Thanks British Airways). I was really relieved when they did arrive because while one case contained my clothes and toiletries, the other was full of Union Jack pin-cushions designed and handmade in the Denton Drapes workroom as gifts for my fellow attendees at the Subscribers’ weekend.
My first two days was spent on the Textiles and Fabric Coordination course with the wonderful Sarah Devaney-O’Neil of Storibook Designs. I studied fabric construction and colour theory at fashion college but I still worry if I’m giving the right advice when a client needs help with patterns and textiles. This was an excellent reminder of the key principles, covering colours, textiles, fibres and their characteristics and history as well as common pattern types and names and the availability and benefits of sustainable and eco-friendly fabrics.
On the Friday morning we all visited the showroom of United Supply, a supplier of curtain poles, tracks and accessories. It was really useful. They had lots of excellent displays and made clever use of mood boards which perfectly demonstrated the points that Sarah was making in her class.
That was just a warm-up for the main event. The subscribers’ weekend is an annual occasion attended by 20 curtain professionals who are drawn at random from among the members of the Drapery & Design Professional Network some of whom brought their friends. These ladies came from all across America and like all curtain folk, they were delightful, talented and eager to learn and to share.
It all kicked off with a drinks reception at the hotel where we were all staying which broke the ice nicely as we got to know one another. This is where the ladies were all given their handmade pin cushion from Denton Drapes which seemed to go down well. We began bright and early at 8am on Saturday morning.
There were six training sessions:
- Reversible Scaldinos: How to make those lovely Italian style comforters that hotels place at the end of the bed for added colour and to protect the spread from the suitcase. ( In the UK we would probably call them a bed sash or bed throw)
- Pillow with Overlay: Not a technique I’ve used before but something I will use in the future. (btw The American word for cushion is pillow)
- Creative Design Boards: A simple, effective and professional way to present your design ideas to clients
- Pillow Tuck Coverlets: I don’t get asked for these very often but this was a useful refresher session.
- Tweet Chat: a taster session for those new to twitter, with an intro to #customwrkrmchat which takes place most Mondays at 9.30am EST which is 1.30pm Monday lunchtime in the UK.
- Zipping: CHF are to issue a DVD on the different techniques for inserting zippers and we were able to observe some of the production techniques for zipper insertion and to ask questions.
The weekend ended just after lunch on Sunday which meant I was able to have some free time in the afternoon. This involved a trip to TKMax to buy a new suitcase as the lock had broken on one of mine so I had to cut the zip to get it open…. After I got back to my hotel room a couple of the ladies who were attending the Pricing class the next day asked if I would like to visit a workroom in Charlotte during the evening.
We had been invited by Debbie Allen of Highgrove Design, another subscriber winner who has been in business for 10 years and now working with her team in retail park premises at the back of a furniture shop. Debbie works seven days a week and typically 10 hours day which is really evident in the amount of work she and her girls produce each week. She works exclusively for the trade and interior designers. It was a thrill for me to visit her workroom and to see her set up.
On the Monday and Tuesday I went to a brilliant course called Pricing Without Emotion led by the lovely Michelle Williams of The Scarlet Thread. Pricing can be really difficult for curtain makers. We know how to sew and create beautiful things but putting a price list together, pricing something you’ve never made before and making sure you don’t sell yourself short are all business skills that don’t come naturally to us. I really learned a lot from this course and will be approaching things with a whole new attitude from now on.
On the Monday evening I was invited out to dinner by Jeff Denny, the COO of Rowley Company, who took me and two of his colleagues to a wonderful Chinese restaurant. Rowley Company are a brilliant company providing a really wide range of supplies to the trade and we had a fascinating evening discussing the differences between the American and UK markets.
I had a great trip and can’t wait to go back. It was wonderful to be in a space completely dedicated to learning about soft furnishings with really knowledgeable tutors. If only we had a CHF Academy in the UK. I met so many really nice people and I was delighted by how many of them knew about Denton Drapes and by their very kind words about with my blog, website, facebook and twitter activities.
Many thanks to the excellent CHF tutors Michelle Williams, Sarah O’Neil, Cheri Mulhare, Donna Cash, Jeanelle Dech; To my fellow weekenders Kelly Mueller, Ann Moore-Spencer, Susan Ackerman, Sydney Schwartz-Hardiman, Nancy Baldwin Letts, Lorraine Bernstein, Leisha Schutt, Susan Schein, Sharen Charloff and Beuancha Jeffries; to Susan Woodcock, Laurie Medford, Jeff Denny, from Rowley Company; and to everyone whose name have slipped my mind this afternoon.