Making the Bed

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.

It was just about 8 inches high, but when finished, the completed mattress compressed down to about 2 inches high.

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… :)

This entry was posted in Co-Sleeping, Crafting, Handmade, Make a Mattress, Sleeping (or not). Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Making the Bed

  1. Jason says:

    That is awesome! You are an inspiration in DIY.

  2. That is the coolest thing ever. I would have never thought to make my own mattress.

  3. Very, very cool. We have been able to find reasonably priced organic cotton futons (less than $1500 for a twin!!!), but this is really neat. Honestly, I can’t believe you got that much wool batting for so cheap. Love your can-do attitude. I read (and wrote about) the entire Chicago Tribune series — we’ve been avoiding flame retardants for a while… We could use a sofa, but I won’t be buying one for a while, not until CA’s new regulations kick in.

  4. kp says:

    Impressive, inspirational, and totally awesome ! I admire the pioneer attitude……”By golly, I’ll make by own ! ” It is a beautiful mattress, a true labor of love.

    Again, what a legacy and memory for your children.

    Ahhhhh……..

  5. Henri says:

    I want to make a crib mattress like this. How would you do it by machine?

    • natalee says:

      I made a crib mattress much in this way but used my machine to make the mattress cover. I purchased organic cotton canvas from organiccotton.com (they have free shipping and great prices) and just made a box cover just like a seat cover. THere are tons of tutorials on that. Then I filled it sewed the opening closed by hand and tufted it. I made tufting button using metal washers I wrapped in wool yarn. One note is that tufting put’s A LOT of tension on your thread so I would advise using nylon thread. I even doubled up on cotton crochet thread but a few tufts came undone (grrrr). Next mattress I’ll be using nylon upholstery thread. Good luck!

  6. Lina says:

    Henri – I would stitch the cover around three sides by machine next time instead of doing it by hand. I did it by hand this time because I wasn’t sure how much the wool would compress. A 3 inch strip would work for the 6 batts I think. You could also probably do a smaller strip if you wanted it firmer.

    • shell says:

      Thank you so much for sharing. I have been going nuts looking for instructions on how to make a mattress for our bunk beds. This is simple but genius! We dont smoke so who needs fire retardents for that cigerette dropped in bed!?! :) Please tell us, Did you buy the standard 45” wide fabric? And did the thread count matter?

      • Lina says:

        shell – thanks for reading about it! I’d love to see how yours turn out. Yes, I used the standard 45″ muslin and thread count did not matter. I wasn’t sure it would work so I didn’t want to spend too much money on it :) Since we use sheets on top of the mattress, and the muslin’s weave is tight enough to keep the wool inside, I don’t think thread count would matter too much. I am going to try some pillows with a pillow ticking I bought, we’ll see if that makes a difference.

        • Heather says:

          How is it now? I would not expect thread count to matter initially, but, for long-term durability, you are going to want something tougher than muslin, I expect, at least as a zippered cover. We have Ikea mattresses right now, and that is what all of theirs are–a mattress covered with something that isn’t much (or nothing, for foam mattresses), inside a washable zip-off cover made of more durable fabric. This is a useful system, especially with little kids. When I try mattress making, I am thinking some ticking fabric would make a good cover.

        • Thread count does matter. If you don’t want the wool to migrate through the fabric, choose no less than 210TC. A fabric with a 300TC would be a good choice.

  7. jt says:

    absolutely beautiful! thanks for sharing this.

  8. Chel says:

    This is one of the simplest, most useful tutorials I’ve ever come across. Thank you. I was directed here from a follow-up comment on rootsimple dot com. Great how the internet connects.
    In regard to fire retardent. My son is a professional fire performer and I’ve had to research materials for costumes. Avoid all synthetic fibres since they melt immediately. Use natural fibres as they singe and take a few seconds to catch fire anyway. The singeing often seals the edges from fraying. Cotton and wool are the best, though silk and linen are okay. Real leather is recommended for my son’s equipment handles and gloves but it can’t be chemically treated. Also, remember that fire needs oxygen as well as heat and material, so a tightly packed mattress is going to be much harder to light than a loose strand.
    Why buy conventional sofas? Go the ancient route of narrow daybeds (no more than 2’6″) with a mattress and lots of cushions. They double as spare beds too.

  9. James says:

    This is great. I made a custom size bed in my daughters closet. And now I need a mattress that mesures 22″ x 70″ x 5″. So I need to make our own. I also don’t want my children to breath in chemicals either. I am allergic to latex. Thank you for posting.

  10. alene hewittf says:

    Hi,

    I was wondering how your homemade bed is working out? I want to “copy” you :-)
    I have six children and want to make a bed for each child. However, I have done some sewing in my life but not much, do you think this is a beginner project? I don’t know how to do the sewing across the top of the bed, I am sure I could google it? Also, you said you would do some things differently what would those changes be? Thank you for your time :) Your bed looks awesome by the way!

  11. Michele says:

    Hi there,

    what were the final dimensions of your mattress? Twin size with the 6 – 3lb wool batts? I want to make this and ensure that it fits our twin bed frame. Looks great and making it ourselves was also my husband’s thought. Thanks so much this is great!

    M

  12. acacia says:

    I am so inspired by this. However, my hangup is washability. I envision normal kid-related messes (and cat related messses) like puke and pee. (Cat recently crapped in our bed, actually. Good times.) If I wanted to wash this mattress, how could I do that? Would it make sense to sew a cover around each wool layer and then sew a cover with zipper to put them all together? Or should I just follow your lead? With the former, I am thinking then that I could put the dirty layer in my front load washing machine. With the later, I guess I could wash the whole thing in a bathtub or take it outside to wash it. Although I am still left wondering how to quickly dry it. Thoughts?

    Also, my husband is always too hot at night and I am usually too cold. I just discovered smartwool clothes for backpacking and hiking and love that magically, no matter the temperature or what I am doing, they always keep me comfy temperature wise. I am trying to convince my husband that a wool mattress would not be perpetually too hot for him. I should note that we live in southeastern michigan and we do not use air conditioning, so some nights the temps only get down to 78 or so. (Nothing is going to be great at that temp, I know.) Am I barking up the wrong tree with wool, or will it keep us at least as comfy, temp wise, as our current chemical laden traditional mattresses?

    Please help! We desperately need new mattresses, but keep putting it off because we will not purchase another flame retarded mattress but get overwhelmed when trying to find a good chem free one.

    Thanks!

    • As far as temperature regulating, wool is a hollow fiber, a feature which comes in handy so many times. It can absorb much but lets it evaporate as well. It absorbs body heat so it can “cool” off a sleeper who is letting off a lot of it. It can absorb body moisture but lets it evaporate. It can absorb up to 30% of its weight without feeling wet.

      If you want to enjoy the insulating options of wool, sleep under it. Studies done on sleeping or with wool note that the sleeper’s heart rate lowers comfortably, much like an infant who breastfeeds rather than bottle feeds. Wool is made of keratin, a protein our own bodies make and use in our hair and nails, a protein our body obviously recognizes and associates with.

  13. Michele says:

    What were the final dimensions of your mattress? Is it a standard twin size once complete 75×39 (2 inches high)?

    I am attempting to make my own mattress with wool batts, organic cotton batts, and talalay latex.

    I was truly inspired by your project!

    Thanks!
    Michele

  14. icbittersea says:

    This is the most helpful article I’ve found so far on making a mattress from all wool (no latex). I need to make a custom size mattress for a custom murphy bed for our tiny house, and I definitely will be using your method. A few questions – I’ve been looking for wool, and so far the supplier you linked to is the most affordable. They say they sell 3 in batts that are 58″ x 98″. However, that is a lot larger than a twin size (typically 39″). Did you end up cutting off the excess or did you compress it to 39″, or double some over? I am trying to see how many batts we would need, and I’m thinking if we want our mattress to be about 4″ compressed, we should get 12. Did you use the excess for pillows or anything? I also was wondering how it is doing now that it’s been used for a while. My husband is a little weary, but it’s either this or straw for us. Thanks for writing this piece!

  15. Angela Vullo says:

    How is your mattress holding up? I’m planning to make one and I am trying to decided if I should use batting or stuffing. I read that every few years you want to take the wool out and re-card it because it gets so compressed over time. That would be much easier with loose stuffing.

  16. Unlike other flame retardants that we initially think are non-toxic like Asbestos PCB’s and PBDE’s, and later find them harmful, we already know these are acutely toxic and cancer causing.

  17. Mary M says:

    Thanks so much for posting your process! With the help of this post it took 5 minutes to convince my husband that I could easily and relatively quickly make a mattress for out lo.

  18. Bobi says:

    Hello. We purchased a new mattress and it smells awful! Takin it back and looking into making our own. I was so excited to see your post. How is your mattress since you’ve been using it for a while? Do you still love it? Thanks for any advice or info. I appreciate it so much!

  19. Marissa Romo says:

    Hello! This is amazing and I’m totally making plans to make this as well. How is it holding up? Do you leave it on the floor? Thanks!

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  21. Sue says:

    Thanks for showing how to make a wool mattress. We get this questions often. The pictures a helpful. We apprecitate you telling people where to get the wool batting .

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  23. Marissa Romo says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It gave me the confidence to do it myself! I just have one question from your pictures. The one with your daughter holding the needle, the mattress looks tufted already but with another piece of fabric that isn’t the same as the outer cover? Can you help clarify? Thanks!!!

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  25. Mitchell says:

    I’m currently looking to recreate this on a slightly wider scale (a Queen), and I was wondering how much your mattress compressed (it looks a bit thicker in the photographs than two inches), and how well it’s held up to use since you made it?

    • Maria says:

      The author mentioned 2 inches “compression” from 8″ to 6″, by the way, thanks so much for this article, it is amassing and so creative

  26. stephanie says:

    Hey,

    This is awesome! I would love to make something similar in size full or queen. If you don’t mind answering a couple of questions, I would really appreciate that:

    - When you were boxing in the wool from the sides, with the pieces of muslin, did you chop off some of that batting, or did you stuff it all into the mattress?

    - It looks like the wool was wide enough that you could just use one length for the length of the mattress? Any suggestions on making a bigger mattress in terms of using more than one length of batting (I imagine that would be necessary…)

    - How has the mattress held up over time?

    - What would you do differently next time?

    Thanks so much, you are a HUGE inspiration. If not for you, I don’t think I would consider trying to make our mattress :)

    Wishing you all the best,
    Stephanie

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  29. Chanashine says:

    I love this. I can absolutely make one of these for my son. I really want to replace his mattress with an organic one but they are too expensive. I wonder what type of mattress protector you use. It would be a shame to have the mattress ruined after all that hard work.

  30. Fiona Tavernier says:

    This is fantastic! I need to make this!

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