WILLIAM KLING figures he was one of the first to lose his accounting job to a computer. That was 1964. Now in 1980, he owns his own quilting business -- a craft he has almost to himself around here.
Kling first joined a friend, who needed a partner for a drapery and upholstery business. Ten years ago, when the friend left, Kling went into business for himself quilting fabric -- a skill he had learned in the drapery business.
"When I really thought about it, I decided working 9-to-5 for someone else was really dull," says the 50-year-old Kling, owner of Associates Quilting Service."Keeping my own hours and working at a job I enjoy is more my style -- though I never would have known had I not been laid off in the first place."
Quilting fabric is not the same as making a patchwork quilt, stresses Kling. "I get so many calls asking me how to repair grandmother's patchwork quilt. My work is more like embroidery; no patches are involved, just large pieces of fabric."
Kling works mostly with interior designers and decorators, but "if business is slow, I can usually fit in some private [call-up] customers." Business was slow earlier this year because of the recession, Kling thinks. "Not only in the quilting business, but in interior design as well. You know a recession is bad if it affects D.C. No one was calling in orders and in the meantime I was given 15 days' notice that I had to move from my convenient downtown location because the building was being torn down."
Kling is finding, however, that the new offices of Associates Quilting Service, 2503-B Ennalls Ave., off University Blvd., in Wheaton, Md., is serving him rather well. Kling's two-room, sun-filled second-floor studio is larger and lighter than his old place and fits in rather well with the Kensington antique area to its south. And since Kling is not dependent on walk-in customers, the new location just requires a bit more driving for his designer clients -- or for him.
Kling says he fooled around with sewing his own shirts while he was in the drapery business. "Remember those wild flower child-style shirts that were popular in late '60s? Well, I became pretty good at using our drapery remnants -- usually bold floral patterns -- to make fancy embroidered shirts. When people asked where I'd bought them, I refused to tell them."
Kling's work begins with a phone call.A designer will tell him that they need a certain amount of material quilted for a bedspread, upholstery or slipcover -- sometimes they don't even tell him what it's for, just the approximate size. Kling tells them how to cut the fabric."If it's a repeating pattern, I need extra material to match it properly -- similar to matching a repeating pattern in a hand-sewn skirt. I might also need extra material depending on how the designer wants the fabric quilted. If the quilting is going to be extra fluffy, more material is needed."
Kling tries to tell the designer exactly how much material will be needed, since, he says, even good cotton fabrics cannot be found for less than $50 to $70 a square yard. "And," he adds, "much of the fabric I work with is silk or chintz (which is about $55-$100 per square yard) and is often a Jack Lenor Larsen, Brunschwig or other designer fabric, which increases the expense of a cutting mistake."
Once he has the material in the proper size, Kling cuts a corresponding piece of batting -- approximately three inches longer on all sides -- which he then pins to the back of the fabric. The batting he uses is 100 percent polyester, which comes in two basic weights. The heavier, thicker size is used most often for bedspreads and upholstery since it puffs well when quilted. The lighter weight is more popular for slipcovers.
Using the correct batting is important. Recently Kling finished a set of 14 bedspreads for private railroad car sleepers. Unfortunately, he says, the designer didn't consult him on their use. "She was a bit disappointed when they were done. She had requested the thicker batting and then realized the bedspreads were so bulky they couldn't be stored once they were pulled down for the night!"
Kling uses a $3,000 Cornely sewing machine, made in France, for quilting. Like a regular sewing machine, it has an adjustable tension, is operated by a pedal and has a lever with which you can alter stitch length. The added attraction of the French machine is that it does Vermicelli quilting. Vermicelli (which is the Italian word for a thin spaghetti noodle) is a never-ending line of chain-linked stitches, which Kling thinks suggests the Italian Art Deco look. The Cornely's advantage is in its ability to turn sharp corners and in the fact that the chain stitch can be easily pulled out (from the end only) if a mistake has been made. The Cornely doesn't have a bobbin like American-made machines. Because of the bobbin, American machines lock in each stitch, making it difficult to pull a mistaken thread.
"Usually," says Kling, "the quilting pattern I choose is obvious. I just follow the outlines of the fabric's design. When the design is very complicated or there is no design, I ask my customer for specifics."
"You have to be careful even with simple patterns not to outline every little thing, since too much quilting will matt down your fabric and leave next to no puff." Sometimes Kling does Vermicelli as the background of a more elaborate quilting job.
Due to the speed with which Kling quilts (he does the outline of a three-inch flower in 10 seconds), he has to be careful to stay right on the outline of his pattern and use the right color threads for each change in color. Matching the cotton threads to the colors in the fabrics may take long, but is "really a classier job than staying with one color throughout the fabric," says Kling. A new clear thread called Monofilament is supposed to take on the color of whatever you sew it on. Kling has his doubts about it and still uses a variety of plain cotton threads.
To "seal" or lock in the Vermicelli stitching once all the quilting is done, Kling sews round and round the last stitch, knotting it in place. He then breaks the thread off. The fabric is then ready for the seamstress -- should it need lining -- and finally returned to the interior designer.
For his wholesale customers, Kling charges per square yard: $10 for outline quilting, $9 for Vermicelli quilting and $12 for a combination of the two -- for a 36-inch width of fabric. Prices for his retail clients are a bit higher per square yard: $12 for outline, $12 for Vermicelli and $15 for the combination.