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Quality Sewing

There are many little details that show whether or not your furnishings are well made -- the ruffles, the welting, the seams, the hems, and many other little touches that often go unnoticed to retail consumers. That is, until they start to ravel or come apart.

After many years of working in the industry, I can look at a bedspread or drapery and know if it will fall apart after a year of normal use or last twenty years and still look wonderful. There are many tell-tale signs of good sewing and quality manufacturing methods.

This is your crash course in quality sewing. Study this chapter carefully, and you will know how to spot high quality (and inferior quality) furnishings, just like I do.

Please read this carefully if you plan to buy soft window treatments, bed treatments, or other soft furnishings such as tablecloths, pillows, and cushions. Before having any of these types of furnishings custom made, you need a primer in sewing details. You need to be able to evaluate a workroom's or seamstress' skill before you entrust them with your money and your expensive fabrics.

Before contracting with any custom workroom or seamstress, ask to see samples of their work. Look them over carefully and evaluate them according to the standards listed below. This is the best way to make sure that a workroom is truly qualified to make your custom furnishings.

  1. Thread
  2. Always make sure that your furnishings are sewn with cotton/polyester thread, never monofilament. They are very easy to tell apart. Monofilament is clear and tough and looks like fishing line. If the thread doesn't look like monofilament, then you can be sure that it is cotton/polyester and that it's fine to use.

    Monofilament is cheap, and it is very strong. It almost never breaks, which reduces production problems for the manufacturer. It is clear, which eliminates the need to stock hundreds of different colors of thread to match many different fabrics. Monofilament is the usual choice of large companies that manufacture cheap, ready-made, sewn products.

    It's all right for ready-made products (which aren't meant to last for many years), buy you don't want monofilament for your custom furnishings. Fine custom furnishings should last a long, long time, but they probably won't if you have them made with monofilament thread. Its toughness can be a big disadvantage.

    Over time, there will be friction between the thread and the fabric on many of your custom furnishings, especially in quilted areas and on hems. Sooner or later, one of them will give way.

    If the fabric is stronger than the thread, as will be the case if you use cotton/polyester thread, then a few threads may break as the furnishings get old and begin to wear out. This is not a big deal. Fixing broken threads and restitching small areas of your furnishings is very easy. Any home seamstress, or you for that matter, can easily make these repairs.

    However, if the thread is stronger than the fabric, as will be the case if you use monofilament, the fabric will give way under the friction of the threads. As the furnishings begin to wear out, you will start to see little cuts in the fabric right underneath the threads, especially in quilted areas. Repairing fabric that has been cut this way is virtually impossible. You won't be able to have this fixed, even by a highly-skilled workroom. When the cuts become too noticable, you will just have to throw the item away and buy something new.

    With only one exception -- multi-needle or hand-guided quilted bedspreads -- quality home furnishings workrooms and seamstresses do not use monofilament thread. Bedspreads that are quilted with monofilament thread do not last nearly as long as those that are quilted with cotton/polyester thread. However, the automated machinery that makes these less expensive bedspreads can only use monofilament. You may wish to go to the extra expense of having your custom bedspreads outline-quilted so that cotton/polyester thread can be used. You will have to weigh the expenses and decide.

    Aside from this special case, do not buy from a seamstress or workroom that uses monofilament.

  3. Seams
  4. Look at the seams on the front of any bedspreads or window treatments. This is where the widths of decorative fabric are sewn together. Decorative fabrics are only 54" wide at the most, so they must be joined together in panels to make furnishings that are wider than that.

    Look at how the fabric pattern matches at the seam. Is the pattern lined up perfectly? It should be. This isn't difficult to do.

    Any competent seamstress or workroom should be able to make the patterns blend together perfectly. If the patterns are out of alignment at the seam, have your work done elsewhere. Poorly matched patterns are a sure sign of a sloppy workroom or seamstress.

  5. Welting
  6. The fabric covering on plain welting should lie smoothly with no wrinkles. This is accomplished by cutting the fabric diagonally to the grain of the fabric. Of the seamstress or workroom simply cuts strips of fabric to make the welting without paying attention to the grain (as inexperienced seamstresses often do) the resulting welting will look terrible.

  7. Banding
  8. Banding should always be sewn, never glued. Look at the edges. You should see a small seam at each edge, like the ones shown below, where the banding has been sewn. If there are no seams, then the banding must have been glued.

    Also, check to make sure that the banding lies flat and smooth. It should not wrinkle or ruffle up at the seams.

  9. Fringes and Trims
  10. Never use a workroom or seamstress who glues on fringes and decorative trims. These should always be sewn. Look at the base of the fringe or trim for tell-tale dried lumps of glue.

    Look closely at fringes and trims on any window treatments, tablecloths, bedspreads, or other furnishings. Are they straight? Are the neatly attached with small, barely visible stitches? Do they feel firmly attached when you tug lightly on them? Or do they feel like they might fall off any minute?

    If fringes or trims look sloppily or loosely applied, find another seamstress or workroom.

  11. Tassels
  12. Like fringes and trims, tassels should always be sewn on, never glued. Also, lightly tug on them to make sure that they are firmly attached.

  13. Buttons
  14. You will usually find buttons on seat cushions, bolsters, neckrolls, and some pillows. Gently tug on the buttons to make sure that they are firmly attached. Some seamstresses and workrooms attach buttons so insecurely that they soon pop right off.

  15. Zippers
  16. Zippers, which are normally used on pillows, cushions, pillow shams, and duvet covers, should not be noticable. Quality made furnishings will have a fabric placket covering the zipper.

    The fabric placket should lie flat, completely covering the zipper. It shouldn't gap open, making the zipper obvious. You shouldn't even be able to see the zipper on well made furnishings without pulling back the placket.

    You should always make sure that any stuffed furnishings, such as pillows and cushions, have zippers. Don't settle for having these furnishings permanently sewn shut. This greatly shortens the useful life of your furnishings.

    If your pillows and cushions have zip-off covers, they can be dry-cleaned. You should never wash most custom furnishings. You have to remove the inner stuffing, which will be encased in its own separate plain cover, in order to dry-clean the decorative top cover. If you can't remove the stuffing, and you stain the pillow or cushion, it will probably be ruined.

  17. Pattern Centering
  18. Carefully evaluate the pattern placement on any samples you see according to these guidelines:

    Are main pattern elements, such as bouquets, kept whole in most places, or are they routinely cut in half? Is everything lined up evenly?

    Are patterns centered nicely on pillows and cushions? Main pattern elements, such as flowers or bouquets, should be centered attractively.

    Some patterns, such as many florals, ramble all over the fabric and can't be matched at the edges of pillows and cushions, but patterns with stripes or plaids should always match at the edges.

    Look at the front edges of boxed seat cushions. The pattern on the top of a boxed-edge seat cushion should match the pattern on the front side.

    If the cushion (or pillow) is knife-edged, the top and bottom patterns should match at the seam.

    On window treatments with many identical segments, such as balloon valances and swags, the fabric pattern should match on each segment.

    If you are having a balloon valance made from a fabric that has a floral bouquet pattern on it, for instance, there should be a bouquet centered on each balloon segment all the way across the treatment.

    On all types of furnishings, is the fabric pattern arranged in an appealing way? Does it look as though some care went into the pattern placement, or does it seem that the fabric was cut haphazardly with no thought to the end results? Make sure that the workroom or seamstress you choose pays attention to these details.

  19. Valance Boards
  20. Many window treatments and valances are attached to boards which are then hung over the window, instead of using drapery or curtain rods. These boards should always be wrapped on all sides in white drapery lining before the window treatment is attached. Look underneath the window treatment or valance to check.

    After the window treatment has been attached to the board, the top of the board should always be neatly covered with a "cap". A cap is a piece of the decorative fabric cut to the size of the board that covers the staples that are used to attach the window treatment to the board. The staples and raw edges of fabric should never be left showing.

  21. Neatness
  22. By this, I mean the neatness of the furnishings, not the neatness of the workroom. Good workrooms are always messy. You just can't sew anything without little piles of scraps and threads and stuffing material congregating all over the floor. There just isn't time enough in the day to clean up every two minutes.

    So, if the workroom looks like a fabric tornado has just blown through, don't hold it against them. The busiest, and many of the best, workrooms usually look this way.

    However, if the furnishings themselves look sloppy, watch out. Look at the samples carefully. Does everything look neat and symmetrical? Do pillows and cushions look square at the corners? Do round pillow and cushions look round, or sort of squashed?

    Carefully examine any window treatments. If you are looking at a swag treatment, are all of the individual swags even and of the same length and width? If you are looking at a balloon treatment, are all of the individual balloons of the same length and width?

    Overall, do the furnishings look like they were carefully planned and executed, or do they look like they were just thrown together? If the workroom or seamstress appears to be sloppy in the way that they put furnishings together, you can bet that they are sloppy in other areas too, such as making sure that furnishings conform to the proper measurements and are made exactly according to the details of the order.

    Don't mind sloppy workrooms, but do avoid sloppy workmanship.


    When you are selecting a workroom or seamstress, make sure that the businesses you consider pay proper attention to all of the details described above.

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