Thursday 5th June 2014

by Brittany

We made it! We finally made it!
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We have been enjoying our new mattress for over a month now. The question people have been asking? Do we still like it? Yes, we do—we both really like it, even though my husband still thinks it’s not quite as firm/supportive as he would like. I’m grateful that it doesn’t hurt my sides, though (I’m a side sleeper, at least some of the time). It has settled a bit, which means it’s a little less like lying down on a pillow now, and it’s a little firmer (and thinner). We have it on top of a slatted bedframe that he custom built for us. Natural futon/mattresses need good air ventilation, but they also need more support than a standard boxspring and mattress set, and a regular bedframe won’t fit in our tiny house, so custom was best! We also wanted extra storage under our bed, so David built it where it is taller than a standard bedframe. And it wasn’t too hard, either. He planned and built it, all in one day. I love it!

But back to the mattress…
{If you haven’t seen my two previous blog posts about what supplies we bought, and where we bought them, and how much we spent, you might want to read those first…}

{How we did it}
We started by setting up a clean area to work; a large kitchen table and three folding tables pushed together. I was going to work on the floor, but it was much nicer to have the ability to sit or stand.

I measured and tore the muslin into two pieces, one for the top of the mattress, one for the bottom; and I measured and cut five pieces for the sides and ends of the mattress. {How to tear fabric to get a straight edge.} I definitely recommend tearing fabric instead of using scissors or a rotary cutter. SO much simpler, and faster. And—dare I say it?—more fun! :) Make sure to give yourself just a tiny bit of extra room (maybe 1/8″ extra), because tearing the fabric will slightly distort the very edge. I ironed the torn edges to smooth them out a bit, and that helped. This took me a couple hours, but that was because I was trying to figure out how to squeeze the side pieces into the yardage I had. It should have only taken me about 30 minutes to an hour.

The top and bottom pieces were 58″ wide (the width I bought it) and ~85″ long. My goal was to make the mattress 54-56″ wide by 80″ long. The five side pieces were 5″ tall (so the mattress would be 4″ tall, finished height, after seam allowances) and the full width of the fabric (58″); I had to sew them together to make them long enough for the sides (more details on how I did that, later).

I laid the bottom piece of muslin down on the tables, and we carefully layered the batts of wool on top of it, one at a time. The wool batts each came rolled like a sleeping bag, and tucked into individual kitchen trash bags. We did our best to keep the edges lined up, and alternated how we laid the batts down, because the edge that was rolled to the outside during shipping tended to be less compressed than the innermost edge. IMG_7538

Then, I laid the piece of muslin that was going to be the top of the mattress on the floor, and measured and, with a fabric marker, marked where I was going to put ties (like ties in a quilt). I spaced them about 12 inches apart [later, we added a lot more ties---one tie every six inches is better]. Then we placed the top piece of muslin over our wool batts, and using our very long mattress needles, we put ties in our mattress. [Note: I did not use the heavy duty thread I bought for this purpose. It started tearing my muslin fabric after the first tie. No bueno. I switched to baby weight natural wool yarn I had leftover from a sock project. Even better would be a cotton yarn, because the wooliness of the yarn tended to grab the interior mattress wool stuffing a bit.] I would start by poking the needle through the top, and try to keep it fairly straight all through the layers, and feel with my hand when it poked through the bottom. IMG_7544 Then, I would pull the needle though, and enough yarn through so I could poke the needle back up through all the layers, leaving a “stitch” at the bottom about 1″ long (any shorter, and you risk tearing through the fabric—speaking from experience), and tying a bow at the top, when I got back up there. IMG_7547

We tied the bows fairly loosely until we had all the ties in place, then we tightened them, uniformly, to compress the batts somewhat. IMG_7549

We had three mattress needles, which made the process much faster. My husband was very helpful; he would keep threading the extra needles, and keep them ready for me to use. It was a little tricky to keep the top and bottom muslin pieces lined up correctly; I did the best I could, eyeballing it, and sometimes holding the top and bottom edges together as best as I could, when I did the ties around the edge. It wasn’t perfect, so when we went to put the sides on the mattress, I had to remove a few (three, I think) of the edge ties to allow the fabric to line up properly, so the tie wouldn’t pull on the fabric and tear it. Not too bad… This part took about 4 hours total, but we were working rather slowly, trying to make sure we did a good job.

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Next, I sewed my end and side fabric strips together. I took two of the strips, and sewed them end to end, to create one long pieces for one of the sides, and did that again for the other side. I took the fifth strip, and cut it in half, and used that to fill in the space on the top and bottom edge of the mattress that the long “side strips” didn’t quite cover. In preparation for handsewing these strips onto the mattress, we ironed a 1/2″ seam allowance on the top and bottom edges of all of the side and edge strips. This part of the process took about 30 minutes to an hour. IMG_7559

After all the strips were readied, I started at the center point (midpoint) on one side of the mattress, and pinned the center seam of one of the long side strips at that point, and continued to pin from that point all the way up to the top of the mattress, and then went back and pinned from the midpoint all the way to the bottom of the mattress. IMG_7570
This way, the strip was more likely to be evenly spaced, and I wouldn’t have a seam on the corners.

The side strips were (intentionally) longer than necessary just for the side, so I folded them carefully at the corners, clipped at the corner, and continued to pin them around the corner, and they were long enough to go about a third of the way across the top (or bottom, respectively) edge.

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I did this for both sides. That fifth strip, which I had cut in half, I placed in the center top and bottom edge of the mattress, and pinned in in the space that the side strip wasn’t long enough to cover (about the center third area of the top and bottom edges of the mattress), and seamed each of it’s ends to each of the long side strip ends. That way, there was only one seam on each side of the mattress, and the extra seams are hidden on top and bottom mattress edges. This took about an hour.

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(As you can see, the batts were a little too long for the bed (they’re about 90-95″ long). We had to tear off some of the extra before sewing the ends closed.)
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It was going to take a long time to handsew all of that, we realized. After I had it pinned together, I was confident that the fabric casing would fit the wool we had stuffed into it (it was large enough, but not too large), so I decided to machine sew as much as we could, to save some time and labor. IMG_7564

It was a rather clumsy way of doing it—one I don’t really recommend—but it worked for our situation. I pinned the strips to the top muslin fabric only, right sides together. My husband helped me by holding the sewing machine in his arms, and walking around the mattress with me, while I held the fabric edges together, and held the pressure foot under my arm, against my side, to make the machine go. We used an extension cord to power the sewing machine, since we were moving around in a rather large area. It was rather comical…but it worked!

After machine sewing the top edge to the side using a 1/2″ seam allowance, I again pinned the strip to the bottom muslin fabric, tucking the 1/2″ seam allowance inside, and pinning it so it would be ready to whip-stitch closed. It took about 2 hours to pin and machine sew the top edges (it would have been much faster to sew it without having all the wool in the way!), and an additional 4-6 hours of work to pin and handsew it closed the rest of the way. Whew! IMG_7580 My husband and I did most of the handsewing, but my sweet neighbor friend, who was back on break from college, came over to visit and see our project, and ended up handsewing at least two feet of the side closed for us. So sweet! IMG_7594

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We breathed a huge sigh of relief and felt a huge sense of accomplishment when we finally finished that part! Altogether, we spent about 5 days working on it, although, obviously, it wasn’t our full-time project for all of those days. It took about 10-12 hours, total. Some of that time both of us were working on it, sometimes it was just one of us.

{How I would do it next time}
The main difference would be the construction of the mattress “cover” (the fabric covering the raw wool batts).
First, I would take the strips for the sides and top and bottom edges of the mattress, and attach them to the large bottom muslin piece by machine, FIRST, before putting any of the wool batts on it. I would also attach the top muslin piece of fabric to one of the long side strips of the mattress (so basically, it would look like a very flat box, with the lid attached by a hinge/seam. Only after doing all of that, would I layer all the wool batts into the “box”, and sew the box closed. Finally, I would tie it, after it was completely encased with the fabric. I think this would take off at least 3-4 hours of work. Also, I would tie it maybe even a little more often than we did, to keep the mattress more even, and less likely to shift with use. I think next time, I would tie my mattress like Lina at Butterpies did. Yes, it’s a lot of ties!

My next project is a wool mattress cover (yes, I really want to protect the investment we made in our mattress!). Right now we’re using a regular mattress cover, which I know is not totally natural, but it’s better than nothing! And before next winter, I’m hoping to make a wool comforter with those same wool batts that went into our mattress. Surrounded by warm, breathable wool. *happy sigh*

Before you go out and buy all the stuff to make your own mattress, you may want to know…
Natural mattress are a little different than your regular spring mattress. They require a little more tlc, but I think it’s well worth it! I spend enough hours in bed that I want to make sure those hours are benefiting my health as much as possible—I’d rather not be snuggled up with harmful chemicals and other unnatural substances for hours on end!

These sites have some great suggestions and tips on caring for, and maintaining your all-natural mattress:
http://holylamborganics.com/awm_care.pdf
http://shepherdsdream.com/product-care/
http://shepherdsdream.com/spring-care-tips-wool-bedding/
http://soaringheart.com/pages/caring-for-your-mattress

Want even more ideas, or want a more “mattress” looking mattress (less like a futon)? Check out this great pinterest board by Jill Shaw.

Are there any of you who have sewn your own mattress? Did you find a better way to make one? I’d love to hear your experiences, or your ideas.

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10 Responses to “How we made an all-wool mattress by hand {step-by-step}”

  1. Katie says:

    Wow, thank you for posting this! I have been looking into making a wool mattress and this was exactly what I needed. Now that you are a couple years down the road I’m curious how you are liking your mattress now. How has it held up? Would you recommend more wool for a heavier person? I would love a follow up post with photos if you could.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    • Brittany says:

      We do still like our mattress! We actually have it as a guest bed, and are currently using a wool/dunlap mattress we bought for our main mattress. We bought a wool mattress with a dunlap core because we felt like the homemade mattress was too soft and not supportive enough after using it for awhile. However…

      When we moved out of our travel trailer into a small house, we needed to make a new bedframe/support for our wool/dunlap mattress. I went online to do some research on the optimal size and spacing of the supports/slats for a futon. Holy Lamb Organics had just what I was looking for! They list recommended thickness and spacing for the slats of a mattress support. They also have great care tips you should definitely read. Look at the “Proper Support” section at their “Wool Mattress” page: http://www.holylamborganics.com/products/wool-mattress After making a new support, we really liked our mattress again! So we are happy with both our homemade one, and our wool mattress with dunlap core. I would recommend the dunlap core (or a thicker mattress) for a heavier person.

      I have been wanting to do a follow-up post, but it’s not the works just yet! Thanks for asking, though. It’s nice to know there is interest!

  2. winter says:

    one more question i had is how do you know how much wool to use? how many lbs and such?

  3. winter says:

    Hi there,

    first, thank you SO much for all of this wonderful information!!!! A while back I found butterpies site and it was so great but now the site isn’t working and I’m so sad I didn’t save all of that information. I had a couple of questions for you if you are willing to answer before my husband and I launch into this project.

    Does the 10″ needle have to be a 14 gauge? I can only find a 13 gauge from a needle company in the UK.

    Did you only need 1 spool of Button Thread?

    Is there a reason why you guys did not do the French style mattress with the tufted edges?

    Do you feel like the muslin is durable enough to hold up over time?
    I want to use the french ticking but it’s so expensive!

    Do you guys still love your mattress?

    Do you think making a king size is a bad idea?

    Thank you again and again for your tutorial. I’m dead set on doing this (also making a baby crib mattress) but I have so many unanswered questions and there are so few resources out there. I even called a company in Texas where I’m from who makes wool mattresses by hand but they are not willing to impart ANY information, and I understand.

    We would so appreciate ANY advice or help you might have. :)

    THANK YOU!!!

    • Brittany says:

      Hi there! Sorry for the late reply. I tried to send you an email- not sure if it got through, so here’s my reply this way!

      Does the 10″ needle have to be a 14 gauge? I can only find a 13 gauge from a needle company in the UK.
      No, it doesn’t have to be 14 gauge, a 13 gauge should work fine.

      Did you only need 1 spool of Button Thread?
      One spool would definitely have been plenty, but if you read my follow-up post, you’ll see that I actually used yarn instead of thread. The thread was unfortunately too thin and was starting to tear my muslin fabric. :/

      Is there a reason why you guys did not do the French style mattress with the tufted edges?
      I would have loved to do that, but I didn’t have the extra time to devote to that. Plus, I wanted to try that on a small floor cushion before tackling a technique I’d never used on such a large mattress!

      Do you feel like the muslin is durable enough to hold up over time? I want to use the french ticking but it’s so expensive!
      Yes, the muslin has been holding up fine. :)

      Do you guys still love your mattress?
      Yes, but we’re no longer using it as a mattress- we use it as a couch futon. After a few to several months of use, it was getting flattened in the areas where we slept, and, overall, it was too soft of a mattress for my husband’s preference (soft beds hurt his back). After awhile, we decided to invest in a commercially available wool mattress with a few inches of dunlap (natural latex) in the center, and it’s been much better for him! We really like it! That said, we still use our original handmade mattress as a couch, and yes, we still love it for that! :) And we have slept on it that way, and it’s been fine.

      Do you think making a king size is a bad idea?
      Mmm, just know that it will be really heavy, and more difficult to construct. Also, the wool batting I linked too in my tutorial wouldn’t be wide enough, so you’d have to carefully layer it in order to not create a lump in one area where the batts overlap. Not saying you shouldn’t do it- just think through what would be involved! Also, I’d really recommend (unless you like a very soft mattress) that you get at least one layer of dunlap or similar natural foam for a bit of firmness in the center of your mattress layers.

      Thank you again and again for your tutorial. I’m dead set on doing this (also making a baby crib mattress) but I have so many unanswered questions and there are so few resources out there. I even called a company in Texas where I’m from who makes wool mattresses by hand but they are not willing to impart ANY information, and I understand.
      I’d make sure if you do make a wool crib mattress that you use a thin layer of wool over dunlap or something similar. Or just make sure you put heavy stuff on top of the mattress for awhile before use to compress the wool a bit. I made a cosleeper wool mattress for our little one, and it was a bit too soft for my preference- especially when baby ended up tummy sleeping. Just fyi!

      We would so appreciate ANY advice or help you might have. :)

      THANK YOU!!!

      You are welcome! :)

      With regards to how much wool, I looked at commercially available wool mattresses in the size I wanted to make, and the amount of lbs of wool used in them, and used that as a guideline- plus I looked on Butterpies to see how much she ordered/how many layers she used, and how thick her mattress ended up being, and adjusted that for how thick I wanted mine. Sorry, I don’t remember anything more than that! Check my two posts on our mattress making for any info that is there. :) Hope this helps!

      ~Brittany

  4. Katie says:

    Thank you for posting this! I’m working on a crib sized mattress and have had so much fun. I did what you suggested and machine sewed on the side strips first and sewed the top piece on one of the long edges, so then I just had to arrange the batts, squeeze them all in, and whipstitch around the edge.

    I’ve also stacked it with 100+ pounds of books to help compress it a little pre-tufting while I wait for the mattress needles to come in the mail. Amazing how much loft the wool has, it’s still maintaining its shape at about 4″ thick.

    Thanks again for the inspiration and practical tips!

  5. […] Joyful Daughter, “How We Made an All Wool Mattress by Hand” A step-by-step. I especially appreciate the tips at the bottom, and what the author would […]

  6. Lina says:

    It looks great! I really want to do a wool comforter too. I’ve made a couple of our pillows from the leftover bits and they’ve been great. Wool everywhere! How high off the floor is the slatted frame you built?

    • Brittany says:

      I was planning some wool pillows, too! I was so glad to have some leftover pieces.

      The slatted bedframe is about 24″ high, with the storage space underneath measuring more like 21″ (once you take into account the inches taken up by the 2x4s in the frame). I’ll probably add a picture of it when I can find the one I took. I just couldn’t located it when I was getting ready to post this.

      Thanks again for inspiring me to go ahead and do this! :)

    • Jennifer says:

      Very, very cool. We have been able to find reasonably precid 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.

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