Danny has moved out of our bed (we’ve co-slept with all four of our kids. Gave away the crib after #2). He needed his own bed but we didn’t have a mattress for him. I started investigating mattresses and read again all about flame retardants and then I was stuck because I didn’t want to buy a mattress for my child that is soaked in unlabeled, untested, unnecessary chemicals.
On the outside, a mattress that doesn’t catch fire seems like a great idea, but unfortunately, the standard is for 12 seconds of retarding flame. This is not a “your house is one fire but you’ll stay safe on your mattress” chemical, this is a set of chemicals that allows you to smoke in bed, drop a burning ash, notice it and put it out. According to the Chicago Tribune, the tobacco companies were concerned about the rising number of deaths from people smoking in bed or furniture and dying from the ensuing fire. They lobbied Congress and turned it from a cigarette issue, into a problem with the mattresses and furniture. If you want to go around the bend with me, you can read the Tribune’s articles here.
As a note, I know that flame retardants are omnipresent – they are in our furniture, our rugs, our pillows, our cars and the all the mattresses that we already own. My goal is two-fold: 1) reduce the amount of chemicals we are exposed to whenever I can; and 2) avoid giving our money to companies that use unnecessary chemicals. I just don’t want to be a part of that if I can avoid it.
Did you know you can’t buy a mattress without flame retardants unless you have a prescription from your doctor? That’s not too hard to come by, but all the mattresses without flame retardants are prohibitively expensive for us. A twin wool and cotton mattress with no chemicals starts at around $1,500 and you can easily spend $10,000+ on deluxe king size mattress. We really want a barn and fences and Christmas and that would be a big chunk of change.
I was in despair, when David said “Why don’t you just make a mattress?” I laughed at first because that was crazy, but we talked it through and decided to try. There aren’t a lot of directions out there for a mattress and the ones I did find centered on buying a pure latex pad as the core of the mattress. Various kids and I have a sensitivity to latex and I didn’t want to make a mattress out of something we are allergic to.
So I went looking for wool. Quilters sometimes use wool batts for the inside of their quilts, and there are several small wool mills in the U.S. that sell batts. I bought six three-pound wool batts from a mill in Montana for about $30 each. I bought unbleached muslin from the fabric store for the outside and cut a top piece and a bottom piece the size of a twin mattress plus 4 inches for a seam allowance. I decided to treat it like a quilt since that was the closest to what I was doing. I taped the bottom piece to my table and then rolled each of the 6 wool batts out on top and then lined up the top piece as best I could.
I was making it up as I went along so I didn’t want to cut anything until I was sure I didn’t need it. I knew the wool would compress quite a bit but didn’t know how much so I ended up doing a lot of things by hand that I now know I can do by machine for the next one.
Here’s the 18 pounds of wool (six three-pound batts) stacked and ready for the quilting.
I used crochet cotton for the ties and an upholstery needle since its long enough to make it through all the layers. Also, its just fun to use a needle that big.
Once all the ties were done, I cut side pieces of muslin to box in the wool and just did a whipstitch by hand around the whole thing. Next time, I can do most of that by machine but since this was an experiment, I didn’t know how big to make them until I had all the ties done.
And then I was done!
Danny loves it and is sleeping great. I learned a lot in the process and, while there are some things I’ll do differently next time around, the premise works and we ended up with a comfy, soft, wool mattress. And did I mention that Danny is sleeping? At least mostly… :)