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My first thought is that you could pre-fill your schedule with _theoretical_ dresses, planning them out at a time when you have plenty of leisure to arrange all the tasks. Then when you have a potential order and someone's asking when a dress can be ready, you could see if you have any unbooked dresses that will be ready in the needed timeframe, and you can commit to that timeframe.

To go into more detail:

You say that you finish 1-2 dresses a day, meaning, presumably, 5-10 a week. Let's start with five. That means that every week you'll need to design/schedule, cut, sew, trim, and mail five dresses. They don't have to be the _same_ five dresses, all started and finished in the same week; you just want to organize your work so that once it's all flowing along, you're completing and shipping five dresses a week.

Or seven, or ten, once you find that the system is working reliably. Or maybe you'll keep it at five, or even take it down to four, to build in some slack so you can take some profitable rush orders.

You could decide that your week will look like:

Monday: Prep, press, and cut fabric, do final pressing of completed dresses.
Tuesday: Office work. (Or morning office work, afternoon sewing.)
Wednesday and Thursday: Sew and trim dresses.
Friday: Unplanned/catchup/rush orders.

Of course, this may be proportioned wrong - it's just an example. But using the example, then before any orders come in, your tasks or work schedule could look like:


- Cut Theoretical Dress 1 (TD1)
- Cut TD2.
... and so on up to to TD5.

- Press fabric for TD6. (Fabric that you preshrunk last week.)
- Press fabric for TD7.
... and so on through TD10.

- Preshrink fabric for TD11.
- Preshrink fabric for TD12.
... and so on through TD15.

- Do final pressing of Jones Christening dress. (When first entered, this dress was a numbered "TD" like all of the others.)
... and so on for five dresses that you finished sewing last week.

I'm suggesting a separate line for each task for each dress because as orders come in, those tasks will cease to be theoretical and will be actual orders, like those final pressing tasks are. So we want each task to be for an individual identifiable dress, even though the dress starts out as an unbooked "TD" placeholder.

When you take an order, you change "TD5" to "Williams Play Dress" all the way through the schedule. Or you leave it alone in the schedule and maintain a key of dress numbers and which ones are booked to who. And maybe you keep a binder of "dress worksheets" that have the dress number, the customer, the fabric, and so on.


- Package and ship Jones Christening dress.
... and so on for five dresses.

Tuesday would have other office tasks - booking meetings, writing ads, ordering supplies, etc.

Wednesday and Thursday:

- Sew and trim TD1
- Sew and trim TD2
... and so on.


On Friday, you finish Wednesday and Thursday's sewing, if it didn't get finished. Or do a rush or special order, for which the customer is paying a tidy extra sum, from start to finish. Or preshrink and press thirty yards of cotton batiste, in advance of orders. Or make a hundred fabric flowers to get ahead on the trimming. Or work on a fabulous new design for your website. Or whatever other task is useful.


This preplanning can be done at your leisure, without a customer breathing down your neck. And you can adjust it at your leisure - say you know that you'll be on vacation in September, so that means that fifteen dresses (assuming that raw-fabric-to-cut is a three-week process) will be shifted one week ahead, and you'll know that before you book the dresses - or at least in plenty of time to devote some Fridays to pulling in the schedule slip if you've already booked some.

Once this schedule is done, you _know_ when "TD172" is supposed to be shipped, you can look that date up quickly, and you can book someone for that dress with confidence. Similarly, you'll know if your schedule is fully booked for the next six months, so that you won't take on orders that you don't have time for.

You'll even have a good idea of whether you have enough work to justify hiring someone to help, so that you can take on a few more of those profitable rush orders. (After all, why should you, the high-skilled seamstress, be wasting your skills on pretreating, pressing, and shipping?) You can schedule high-productivity months during which you try to knock off ten dresses a week, so that you're ahead and you can afford to catch the flu without destroying your schedule.

Of course, plugging in your existing workload will make this more complicated, but you could lay out all the "TD" tasks into distant future, start inserting booked dresses into that structure, and see how much trouble you're in. Maybe you'll need to hire that temporary seamstress, or hire a babysitter and work some nights and weekends for a little while. Maybe you'll need to tell the next few dozen customers that new orders will take ten weeks, or just turn down some orders for a while. But it's always better to know the bad news before it bites you, and once the backlog is cleaned up, you'll have a predictable system to go on with.