I was very fortunate to travel this week to the warehouse that houses some of our lines of fabrics (StudioE and A. E. Nathan) as well as other company’s fabrics. I found it very interesting and wanted to share some of the photos I took, as well as explain the process fabric goes through before it arrives in a quilt store.
From the outside, the SNS South warehouse is a very unassuming, and doesn’t even look very big. I was wondering if I was at the right place when I saw it. However, once inside, it stretched from 2 smaller rooms up front to 3 large rooms in the back. The front was actually the short side. There are also other buildings behind the one that houses our fabric that I didn’t go to see.
I will start with the last room in the building, as that is where the fabric arrives by truck from Charleston, SC, the eastern seaboard port where the ships bring the fabric from overseas. The room is very large (think of a large department store) and has a receiving dock as well as a shipping dock in the back. The fabric arrives on tubes, with no folds. In this state it is referred to as ROT, or rolled on tube. There are forklifts to get the pallets with the ROT rolls (which are individually covered in plastic) near the machines to be folded and placed on boards. This plastic must be removed and recycled.
Here are some ROT fabrics:
There is an area for the cardboards to be folded, as well as an area for the companies who purchase their cardboards pre-folded. Here is a photo of the many cardboards!
I saw an employee adding the stickers to the ends of the bolts. This is all done by hand. They are printed on stickers and placed on the ends of the bolts.
The most fascinating part of the process is watching the machine that is hand operated wind the bolts with fabric. I videotaped the process, which you can see here. The difficult part is to stop the machine using the brake before it winds either too little or too much fabric. That explains why some bolts are 14.5 instead of 15, or 16.5 instead of 15. It is a very difficult thing to stop it just right at 15 or whatever bolt size it is supposed to be. There were about six people rolling fabric while I was there. Some were men; some women. They did not have anti-fatigue mats under their feet and they were standing on concrete. That would be a hard job!
To watch the video click here.
Next the bolts get stacked on a cart to be wrapped in plastic and sealed up so they don’t get dirty before they can be shipped. Here is a picture of the machine used to cut the plastic and seal the ends. I used such a machine as a teenager to wrap meat at my parent’s country grocery store. A heated wire cuts the plastic.
The bolts are placed in the warehouse room with row upon row of shelving units to hold the fabric until it gets shipped out to stores. Here are some photos of shelves that are pretty empty, and some pretty full.
You will notice that the flannel fabric we are currently selling has just a few bolts left.
I was surprised that all the pieces of a certain line were not necessarily together, nor was there any rhyme or reason to where they were or why there were where they were. I am sure they know where they are, but if I had been charged with pulling an order, I would have found it difficult!
In the center of this room are roller devices that help to move bolts along the ordering process. There are also large metal carts, which are used to gather orders for shipping. There were a couple people pulling orders while I was there, but I didn’t get to talk to them. The lighting in this area was poor, giving the feeling of being in a cave. I am sure that is good for the fabric as light exposure can cause issues. There was space on the shelves for putting part numbers under the bolts, but none of the numbers I saw related to what was on the shelf.
All in all it was a very informative process and I was glad I got to view it first person. I can’t really relay how large the rooms were, but there was lots of fabric. I did find out that there is always new fabric arriving and must go through the process of being rolled off the tubes, placed on bolts, covered in plastic and placed on a shelf to be sold and shipped out to a store. When a new line comes in, it may take a week or more to be rolled, depending on how large the group is or how much was ordered.
Jaftex, the company I contract with, does not own the warehouse, but they do pay for their services of receiving, processing, housing and shipping the fabric. That is worked into the cost of the fabric that a store pays when they purchase it. I can’t imagine the expenses associated with such a large operation. It was not heated to what I consider room temperature and I wore my jacket the whole time. That makes me wonder if it is HOT in the summer! That would make the jobs there much tougher.
So the next time you visit your favorite quilt store and see all the beautiful fabric lined up on the shelves, just imagine where it has been and all the hands and paperwork that has helped to get it there!