HOMER — Anyone who works with patterns knows it’s an exact science. Metal, wood, fabric, it’s all the same. A slip of a cutting tool here, an incorrect measurement there and headaches begin mounting, projects back up, scrap piles grow and costs go through the ceiling.
Since she began cutting patterns in a remodeled school bus in 1978, Kate Mitchell has continued to face those challenges with her business. NOMAR has grown beyond the bus and work now requires a staff of 16, but those same challenges remain.
As an example, Mitchell pointed to a little bag given to youngsters by Central Peninsula Hospital as part of an annual snowmachine safety program.
“It’s been five or six years we’ve done this project, made these bags, eight little pieces in every little bitty bag,” said Mitchell.
Cutting the order of 125 bags took three days.
Last year, things were different, thanks to the research of Mitchell’s son, Richard, and the resulting purchase of an Autometrix precision cutting system. The pattern pieces were reproduced on the system’s computer and aligned to minimize fabric waste. The material for the bags was rolled out on the system’s 62.5-inch-by-136-inch cutting surface, the cutting arm placed in the correct location and, three hours — instead of three days — later, the cutting was done.
“We got all the pieces cut, exactly right, precisely. They were easy to sew because all the marks were perfect,” said Mitchell.
That kind of speed means NOMAR is able to do more, instead of seeing a backlog of projects piling up and work having to be turned away.
“It means we get the job versus losing the job. It helps us produce what the community wants in those key times of the year,” said Mitchell.
Richard Mitchell recalled years of seeing cutting equipment demonstrated at industry fairs. When company representatives offered to answer questions, his response was always, “Oh no, not for us. We are just way too small for anything like that.”
After purchasing a webbing cutting machine in 2010, however, other possibilities began taking shape.
“If this little machine could save that much time, (I began) looking at our shop with new eyes,” he said.
What Richard Mitchell saw was NOMAR employees gathering around the pattern table with a T-square, penciled sketches, measuring tapes and Sharpies. There were searches through stacks of previously used patterns to find the one needed for an order. Under the table were all the mistakes that had been “cut wrong, cut sloppy, sewed wrong because things just didn’t line up, the boxes of somewhat useable scrap, the fat roll (of material) only 18 inches wide where someone laid out and cut the big job without thinking about layout or best use of material.” What he saw made him think “maybe those super fancy, super expensive magic tables aren’t that crazy.”
Industry fairs became more interesting. Research opened the door to options available for tools, tables, and software. Sifting through the information was guided by a desire to find something made in the United States and something easy to operate.
The search finally led to Autometrix, a family operated company in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
“Autometrix was the only one where the person who answered the phone had the answers to most of the questions and time to talk to me,” said Richard Mitchell. “(There was) no, ‘How may I direct your call?’ No cold transfers, no appointment for a conference call back. Just easy to talk to.”
After multiple phone calls, many questions answered, a free trial and a review of sample NOMAR patterns and material by Autometrix, Richard Mitchell was sold on the new cutting system. His knowledge helped introduce the idea to family and NOMAR employees.
“I was able to sell better than any salesmen ever could,” he said of his ability to point out NOMAR processes that could be improved.
With the decision made and equipment ordered and the day arrived for the old cutting table to be removed. Richard Mitchell recalled standing there, cup of coffee in one hand, screw gun in the other, and reflecting on the role it had played.
“All the customers, ideas, planning, projects, successes, failures, praise and heated arguments. The crew meetings, the hires, the fires, the parties, potlucks, holidays, birthdays, pizzas, not to mention the thousands of yards and boxes of chalk and Sharpies that have crossed it. That table had been the first landing point for most things in that shop, from new hires to new babies,” he said.
Training employees to cut stock patterns on the new equipment can be done in 15 minutes. Moving pattern pieces around for best-use of material makes it possible to know exactly how much material a project needs.
Pattern racks are gone, opening up more space in the shop. New patterns are saved on the computer as basic Window files, with a backup on a memory stick.
“Our cut table has completely improved every aspect of our new sew shop,” said Richard Mitchell. “I have no regrets. We got everything we were promised and more.”
Mitchell, who takes pride in having a second-generation “carrying the family business forward,” also has no regrets about the new cutting system.
“We’ve been wanting this for years,” she said.