A Homemade Mattress?

Edmund_Dulac_-_Princess_and_pea

The Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac

Addendum 8/2/14:  From the comments, a solution!

You can read my meanderings below, and you can go through the many, many comments, where there’s lots of buried gold, but for the time-pressed who are ready and raring to make themselves a mattress, I’d just go to this PDF of a 1965 USAID booklet on how to make a cotton stuffed mattress:

http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNAAW960.pdf  

It’s the most detailed set of instructions I’ve found anywhere. Thanks, Sammi!

This is the story of my life. I read about some old domestic technology or product that makes a lot of sense. Perhaps it is obsolete. Or perhaps it is only done/made in more enlightened countries. Nonetheless, I want it. So I have to make from scratch.

Yesterday we met a great couple, Renae and Dimitri. Renae mentioned she was thinking about making her own mattress. I was intrigued because just that morning I’d woken up with low back pain. Our mattress is worn out. We need a new one, but I’ve been dreading buying a new one. I don’t like the waste of it all: the ignoble dragging of the old mattress to the curb the prospect of sleeping on a brand new construct of toxic foam and fire retardants–or opting for a less toxic but less comfortable futon.

So, when Renae said this, I was fascinated. I’d never considered making my own mattress.

Turns out she got the idea from Dimitri. Dimitri is from Greece, and he told her that in Greece, mattresses are made by local craftsmen, and are stuffed with 100% wool. These mattresses basically last for life. When the wool gets compressed the mattress guys will empty it out, fluff it up, and re-stuff it, adding more wool if necessary. The wool and the cover can be washed, too.

This made so much sense. It was clean, local, ecological. Sensible. Why had I never heard of it before?

Renae said she’d looked around for an American version of this, but could find nothing to suit her, so was considering buying 150 lbs of wool and doing it herself.

Intrigued, I ran home to MyBestFriendGoogle and started investigating. Turns out the Italians and the French as well as the Greeks are keeping this old bedcraft alive. (I’m not sure who else does this.)  I read an article in the Telegraph about a British woman who dragged her beloved wool mattress home from Italy. It’s 45 years old and doing well. When she lived in Italy, she took part in the sensible practice of mattress maintenance:

“In Italy during the summer, the mattress man, il cardatore, tours Italian homes, pulls out the wool from their mattresses, re-cards it, adds some more, as the process reduces the stuffing a bit, rebuttons and then sews the mattress cover back up again.”

I get the impression that this maintenance is not annual, but happens as necessary–which may be something like every 5 years. She had some trouble finding a craftsperson in England to re-stuff her mattress (because the art is lost there, too) but after a 30 year search (her mattress becoming perilously thin in the meantime)  finally found someone in Wales who was game to try.

Then, at Secrets of Paris, the blog of a travel writer living in Paris, I read about how she got turned onto the wool mattress scene by the locals, and got a wool mattress handmade in Paris for 680 euros. When her stuffing goes flat, the mattress guys will take the mattress away in the morning, take to their shop, unstuff it, fluff it, and get it back to her the same evening.

Both of these articles sent me into fits of jealousy. Where is my local sustainable mattress industry? Where is my forever mattress???

(I know I’m sounding like a Portlandia skit, but after all, it’s all based on us anyway. Fred and Carrie are parked across the street in a cable van, right now, taking notes.)

Here in the U.S. there are retailers who sell wool stuffed mattresses. They are specialty retailers who sell non-allergic, toxin-free alternative bedding.  These offerings are expensive. But more frustrating than the money is the fact that the beds just don’t look as good as the French and Italian mattresses I’ve seen (see the links above). The euro mattresses look like proper mattresses: thick, with squared off sides that will hold a sheet well. The allergy mattresses are thin, and look more like futons. Strangely, they are also two-part systems. All the companies I looked at recommended you buy a base mattress, which will be about 5 inches thick, and then a softer wool “topper” — essentially a thinner, less firmly stuffed wool mattress — to make it comfortable. By the time you buy both components for a queen bed you’ll be paying more than $2,000 (Twice as much as the Parisian bed–and I don’t think of Paris as Bargain Central). And this doesn’t include shipping.  And no one is going to come to your house to fluff your wool.

So…once again….it’s come to this.  I’m considering making my own.

I’ve garnered some clues in my research:

1) The best wool for beds is long staple wool. Some recommended breeds: Texel, Suffolk, Clun Forest, Blanc du Massif Central and Dorset Horn wool.

2) The game Welsh craftsperson who re-stuffed that lady’s 45 year old mattress said she figured out the wool needs to be laid down one layer at a time in the ticking, not actually stuffed. You have to work with the nature of the wool. It took her about 6 hours to fill the mattress.

3) Here is a webpage, in French, showing the mattress making process. Lots of useful pictures. I have to run it through Google Translate for more clues.

4) Do not fall for the eHow result if you search for how to make a wool mattress. It gets off to a great start by recommending you use glue, rather than stitching, to construct your mattress tick . (They call the tick a “fabric sheet pouch.”) Yup, glued seams. To hold in great quantities of pressurized wool which is under external stress from heavy human bodies. Yeah, that will work out well. I swear, their articles should be labeled “For Entertainment Purposes Only.”

5) Here’s an article from the Seattle Times about mattresses in landfills and the problem of recycling conventional mattresses. It will give you strength to continue your search.

Anyway, I need to give this mattress business some more thought before I order a truckload of wool. Or  decide to open my own wool mattress business in downtown LA.

If in the meanwhile, any of you have any ideas or recommendations or cultural insights, I’d love to hear them!

p.s.

I’ve been focusing on a wool mattress, but if I let go of the wool idea, there are other DIY options. I haven’t plunged down that rabbit hole yet, but here’s a few I’ve bookmarked:

A place that sells kits to make your own buckwheat hull bed

An Instructable for constructing a cotton/latex/buckwheat mattress

These people are hardcore: a homemade straw mattress to sit on a cob platform.

ETA:  The comments on this post are great, so be sure to read them if you’re researching this subject. I’ve pulled these how-to links out of them for convenience:

http://marie.nature.over-blog.fr/article-des-matelas-sains-63392164.html
http://planetrepair.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/making-my-bed-literally/
http://butterpies.com/making-the-bed/

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139 Comments

  1. I have diaries from a New York state farm family from the turn of the last century. Every spring the wife wrote about refilling the mattress. I always assumed that she was using straw, but perhaps she was using wool from their sheep? In any case, one year, during the stuffing ritual, she lost her wedding ring, too the mattress apart, but never found the ring.

  2. I wonder if you could make a straw-tic like they do in Little House… the stuffing would be cheaper and you could compost it or reuse it for chicken bedding. But you’d have to replace it every year. And it wouldn’t be as comfortable, most likely. But as someone who’s tried to buy wool stuffing for dolls, I’d be wary of trying to buy enough to fill a bed, unless I had some sheep wandering around.

    • Ha! I prefer to be in denial about the cost of wool during the fantasy stage of my obsession.

      At the bottom of the post there’s a link to a woman who did the whole straw tic thing. Knowing how “pokey” straw is, I’m dubious!

      Perhaps I can just stuff my mattress with cat hair.

    • Or even more work, even less money: I’ve heard Galium verum grows pretty well, and is regarded as an invasive species in California. Its common name is lady’s bedstraw.

      It might be less pokey than straight-up straw.

      Or if you wanted to use a mix of materials, you could have a two-layer tick. The interior layer would just have to keep the stuffing from mixing much; it could be tulle or similar.

    • People who had them used featherbeds in top of their straw ticks. This solved the pokiness issue, as would using proper mattress ticking.

  3. Thank you for this link. Despite the business being French, no one I’ve talked to had ever heard of this craft, even considering the high number of back-to-earth organic hardcore hippies in my acquaintances. It seems there are 3 or 4 such business still remaining in the country, but it’s by no means a mainstream option here.
    Please fel free to ask if you need help with the french in the website you linked!

    • Interesting! That is something I wanted to know — is this still widely practiced. And thanks for the offer!

  4. According to the french website, the mattresses need to be refluffed every 10 years and costs another 400-500 euros. Most of the cost is labor, and only 1-2 kg of extra wool. I love how they add extra wool in the “sleeping zones”. You don’t get that in a modern mattress!

    I remember my husband had a wool mattress pad when we first were dating (his parents emigrated from Germany). They were considered healthier because they “breathed”.

    • Thanks for the translation! 10 years is longer than I thought. And the cost–well–the mattress makers in the US suggest mattresses should be replaced every 10 years. Mattresses are just one of those things that hit the pocket book every so often.

  5. Have you thought about using a hammock? If you choose a cotton cord, it would be fairly compostable at the end of its life.

    I usually wake up with a touch of back pain, but the nights spent in the hammock were back pain free. Granted, I’ve never spent a night in the hammock with another person…I’m considering it, but I’ll have to get a bigger hammock, and convince my partner to try it. :)

    • You’re right — nothing could beat a hammock in terms of conserving materials, simplicity, etc… I’m game. However, if I install a hammock in the bedroom I may have to find myself a new husband.

      Nonetheless, I’m quite charmed at the idea of decorating our bedroom as a lower deck of a man o’war, a la Patrick O’Brian. Grog and discipline for all!

      Oh, um…or were you thinking more along tropical lines…?

    • I’ve heard that the largest Mayan hammocks are the only ones with a chance of sleeping two comfortably. One could just drape the hammock with canvas in order to achieve the look of living in a ship. Or, you know, stick with the mattress, because replacing a husband is more work than stretching in the morning.

  6. I lived in the Middle East in the late ’60′s and one of the things we had made for us were wool comforters. The local crafts person came to the house and constructed these with fabric we chose. In the winter they were heavier then heck but in the summer the visiting guests and young kids could stretch out on them and sleep. I bought a wool comforter last year and found that I could not turn over comfortably under it. But maybe a stack of wool comforters would be easier to sleep ON.

  7. You could also do some research into Japanese futons (completely different than American “futons” or as I call them “blankets over bad springs”) They’re stuffed with cotton or wool, and can be very comfy.

    Let us know if you do this, I’d love an alternative to the toxic mattress-industrial complex!

  8. I have learned several skills because I became obsessed with having the product that was handmade, made without glue, made by my hands.

    This sounds like it could be a new emerging craft. A person could go to France for a year-long internship, come home and set up shop. I would love a wool mattress.

    Straw would be pokey, but putting it in a heavy tick would solve that problem. Perhaps a wool topper would work, also.

    I don’t want my mattress in a landfill, so I am giving it away to people who know me and will not be afraid of bedbugs. My mattress has lived its whole life in a plastic cover because of my allergies, so it is in pristine shape, lookswise. You might try giving yours to people who need a mattress and would trust your hygiene. Your mattress and mine are probably better than many people have.

  9. I slept on wool-filled beds when I was living in a remote area of Greece about 25 years ago and, you should be forewarned, they do feel an awful lot like a firm futon, not a mattress. Even when they’re recently re-fluffed, it doesn’t take them long to settle back down into a pressed-down area in the spot where you generally sleep. But some people like more of a firm feel, so if you’re one of them, then it could be ideal for you. Good luck!

  10. I toured a Colonial museum once and the bed was strung with a grid of rope, with a straw tick on top. Kind of like a heavy duty hammock only stiffer. Talking about half inch diameter rope.

    The only thing I would hesitate about using a very expensive mattress would be the fear of getting bed bugs and wasting all that dough.

    I have had the same futon for around 20 years that I originally snagged out of someone’s trash. I just stand it up sideways every 5 years or so and whack it and bend it around a lot to fluff it. You have to wear a dust mask to do that because they get dusty inside. I also vacuum it from time to time. In order to make a wool futon you could get wool quilt batting or old blankets and then tack it together in layers and make a cover for it. Could even make several very basic quilts with wool batting and then lay them one on top of another, so there are many covers. If you needed to wash it, then there would be these covers over each layer and you could wash each layer separately.

    For loft, just make the top one poofier.

    • The rope bed is where we get expression: “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.” “Tight” refers to the tightening of the rope when they are loose, sagging and very uncomfortable. Bedbugs need no explanation.

  11. First of all, I LOVE the way you think. As someone who has been trying to make her own shoes with middling success, I can appreciate your “I should try to make this” mentality. I’m very interested in what you come up with. Your quest made me remember this article- http://www.twistcollective.com/collection/component/content/article/35-features/874-annemor-sundbo-stitches-in-time about an old mill where they shredded old knits to make comforters but also mattresses. The woman began saving the bits of hand knitting to preserve the old patterns. It’s an incredible story, and at the very bottom of this page- http://www.knittersbookshelf.com/favorite-authors/annemor-sundbø is a write up for a book about the designer.

    • And the larger point of my comment, other than sharing that cool story- is I wonder if you could use shredded recycled wool? I hear tell of thrift shops that sell stuff by the pound and I wonder if you could gather sweaters instead of raw wool? Not sure how you could easily shred it though.

    • Apparently from the French website, length and carding of the fibers is paramount for springiness and comfort. Otherwise you have a bag of compacted wool very quickly.

  12. Interesting. A friend of mine was offered an entire barn full of wool bales…

    The picture in Secrets of Paris looks like the seam around the sides was sewn last, perhaps with a special sewing machine. When I lived in Japan I saw tatami mat makers using a hand-held sewing machine to sew the edges of a two-inch dense pack of straw.

    But the other pictures don’t show the same kind of seam. The how-to article is very clear the wool is layered, not stuffed, so you really need to sew the casing around the stack somehow.

    My wife’s terribly expensive organic latex mattress comes as various slabs of foam you zip up inside a cover of cotton and wool. It is quite a wrestling match, but maybe you could zip it all inside before you hand tuft the edges.

    Looks very cool. I hope you go through with this.

  13. We have a wool mattress “topper” over a very thin latex matress (more like a futon) that go over a tatami mat. It’s a ridiculously comfortable setup once you get used to how firm it is, but yes, on the pricey side.

    When we were shopping around I was told that the reason we don’t have thick all-wool mattresses in the states is because they have to meet some sort of over-the-top federally determined fire code, and wool doesn’t meet this criteria (at least not without tons of lovely flame retardant chemicals). Thus, it can only be sold as a “mattress topper”.

    • That bothers me as much as how 100% is labelled “not for use in children’s sleepwear” I tried to set my cotton shirt on fire (accidently) with my grill. All I had to do was patch a hole. I don’t want to know what the outcome would have been if it had been synthetic and “flame redardant”

  14. Mrs. Homegrown,

    If you let go of the wool mattress idea, you might consider letting go of the whole mattress idea all together, as I have.

    I second the hammock idea above. Find a stud attach hammock, repeat.

    Since I was introduced to the hammock, I’ve never looked back.

    And if you’re worried (at least that’s how I’m reading your husband worry) about your sex life, take it from me, not everything has to be done on a mattress.

    • Ha! We’re blushing. But truly, Erik’s objection was simply that he wasn’t going to *sleep* in a hammock. I’d have to find myself a new, hammock loving husband.

      As an aside, I’ve been drooling over camping hammocks for ages. Maybe that’s a baby step.

    • I agree with Erik. I don’t want a hammock. I can barely get off a bed that is standing still. There is no way I could successfully remove myself from a hammock in he middle of the night, having to pee NOW, and staggering around to get my footing.

      The floor would be more agreeable. But, it would have to be a platform since I cannot get off the floor until I have some surgery.

      As for fire hazards, wool is almost flame retardant. It burns little. That is why people used to put out fires with wool blankets. They don’t catch on fire.

      http://www.woolrevolution.com/virtues.html

      This site talks about mattresses of wool.

      I think I may have put these comments in the wrong place.

  15. I’ve been looking for a good mattress, too. Still looking. And I do sleep in my hammock whenever it’s not raining or too cold, but my husband is married to the indoors.

  16. I really wonder if you could do something with wool quilt batting. If you were shooting for King Size (since they’re mostly a square) you could put each layer at a right angle to each other. If you made like a fabric “box” it could contain it until you were done layering. You might have to sew the buttons on by hand, but the rest could probably be done on a treadle.

    The odd-looking sewing machine in the French article is a long-arm machine, you might find someone with one of those by looking for quilters.

  17. I LOVE this idea! anything to circumvent the capitalist consumer society. I keep hearing ads for mattresses that say ‘did you know your mattress will double in weight every 8 years, from dead skin, etc.’, all targeting germophobe clean freaks.

    What about feathers? Surprised no one mentioned a feather mattress. My mother in law remembers transferring feathers from a worn out mattress to a new one as a kid growing up on a farm.

    good luck with your project and keep us updated. I am in for a wool mattress if you decide go go into production!

    • I was thinking the same thing, Trish. My husband and I slept on a feather tick at a friend’s house and that was the most comfortable rest I had experienced in years. I’m thinking… I could make a straw mattress and make or buy a feather tick to go on top, reducing or eliminating the trouble of straw pokeyness or use the old wool that I have hanging in the barn to make a giant mat of thick felt as a topper.

  18. To Joel and others, re Ladies Bedstraw

    I guess the answers in the name, is was and is used as a mattress stuffing, has ant insect properties too to keep the fleas down.

    if you can find them, try and take a look at the Historical Farm series from the BBC – they restuff a mattress in one of those.

    gonna go see if I can score some fleece now :-)

    Best Wishes

    D

  19. we just replaced our inner-coil king with a latex queen last year (because latex lasts soooo long and the mattress was made here in Portland) and holy crap is that mattress heavy!!! I can’t pick it up at all- my husband has to put on the bottom sheet by himself because I can’t handle the mattress. Wool sounds much better.

    Laughed at your portlandia comment. I think what makes them so funny is that they are making fun of all of us- we howled when they asked after the welfare of their chicken dinner because we’ve done that!

  20. oh yeah- I really like the idea of them being washable.

    anyone with bed bug problems could try rubbing diatomaceous earth around the edges and the seams where they hide- diatomaceous earth is like microscopic razor blades that cut up the exoskeletons of insects and kills them, and yet it’s completely inert. Look for a food grade- they use it in grains and feed to keep the insects down. Great stuff but you have to keep it dry or reapply it.

  21. We have kapok trees and we make our own pillows. Kapok mattresses can be bought in rural areas. The little seeds are like those blasted peas…

  22. Sheep dairies throw away tons of wool every year because its not the right grade to weave. I can get wool for free. Lots. And would totally do this with you if you really want to try.

  23. Hi and thanks, I found your post from you linking to my store.

    I have been working at DIY mattress making now for years and I have learned a few things along the way. Wool, horsehair and coconut coir are all wonderful materials but it is the nature that they compact that makes me pass them by for mattress fillings.

    Mattresses are very large items and I can see why this re-fluffing has become a dying art. It must be very labor intensive and in modern days, that unfortunately would translate to a very expensive mattress in the long run (unless you learned to do it yourself).

    One of the reasons I choose hulls as my mattress fillings is they have the ability to be re-fluffed in a few seconds without having to take the mattress apart. I put my hand under my mattress and lift it slightly in a few spots and I am done! My mattress feel like new every time I get into bed.

    Thank you for posting on the topic of making your own mattress. My mattresses were recently chosen for a 2014 Trend book publication by a company who forecasts the direction products will go in the future. I think it is nice to think that it may be the norm in the future that we will be making our own mattresses or at least sleeping on only natural materials!

    • Sorry I’m answering this late, but for other people asking the same question, if you click Lynn’s name next to her comment (above the date) it will take you to her website.

  24. This is fascinating. I was doing research earlier in the year on how to make Waldorf dolls, and they are traditionaly stuffed with wool, because apparently as the child plays with it the wool absorbs and retains the child’s body heat. Bet a wool mattress would be really warm and cozy….

  25. I had a bed made in the late 1800′s. i remember the mattress was stuffed with something hairy which i thought at the time was horsehair. It was a single bed- extremely thin and shorter than todays beds so it was impossible to get a new mattress for it.

  26. OK now I have to ask. Is this the most responses you have ever received from a post? Are we all fed up with buying mattress, being charged outrages amounts for them, just to ‘need’ to replace them after +/- 8 years? My most expensive mattress was also my most uncomfortable. My cheapest mattress has been much better and has lasted longer. But the best sleep was on a wooden futon with a heavy wool futon mattress. It sounds like a lot of us are in the same boat. I would be interested in knowing what others are sleeping on that they highly recommend. Mattress that are still going strong and not needing to be replaced. I don’t think our parents ever did the ‘replace every 5-8 years’ thing.

    • Ha! It doesn’t have the most replies (yet!) but it has generated a surprisingly level of response. I think you’re right — we want better alternatives.

    • My mattress was bought in 1980 and is still in use. I bought an expensive king-sized mattress and have been the only body to sleep on it. Considering I turn it top to bottom and side to side (rotate it), the 33 years of use has been divided by 4, making sleep time about 8 years on one spot. I am just now starting to feel the worn-outness.

  27. I just wanted to say thank you to all of you for making this such a lively discussion, and your good tips. I can’t reply to all the comments because I’m super busy this weekend, but I appreciate them all.

    All this information is bubbling in the stew pot I call a brain. I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing, but you guys will be the first to know.

  28. The whole idea is great for the environment. Wool has always been expensive. Years gone by I wove an Alpaca wool fabric for a coat I made. It was the most expensive yarn at the time, but very soft and not itchy. Wools in recent years have caused allergies for some individuals.
    Would layers of wool blankets work? You may be creating a new cottage industry in the U.S.A. Go for it!

  29. Pingback: A Homemade [wool] Mattress? | Sheepy Hollow Farm Life

  30. While reading your column I thought of a way that I am trying. After seeing the picture on the first page and then while reading I thought of pillows, Yes, wool pillows. For the prices I was reading about it made sense. I take two good quality futon covers, sew one inside the other. Now these have zippers that go one length and a width, enough room to place my pillows.First I sowed a length of pillows together, followed by four more, then I sowed the lengths together. I did the same exercise again, this time using a softer yet larger pillow , making sure that I had folded the excise material in to make them the same size as the first layer I did. I then placed the two layers, with a friend’s helping hands into the cover and zippered them closed.Now with a long knitting needle I sowed soft yet strong buttons every few feet in between the lines of pillows length way and the width way.I already had the futon covers, and if you do not, you can get used futons on Kijiji really cheap and the pillows cost me $822 with tax Canadian. I did get half the pillows on sale and could of held out and found the other half also on sale yet I didn’t!It is so comfortable my wife and myself at 50 where thinking about having another child, but then ,we are very content.

  31. ive made buckwheat hull pillows and adore them!! i even have given up my beloved feather pillows for them. i sleep with a pillow (and a couple cats) over my head and one under my head and i find the buckwheat forms perfectly to my face and also under my neck. i think that would be an amazing mattress!!
    i also was in a very deep quandary for years about a mattress and wanted a wool one so so much but the cost denied me.
    my husband built us a platform bed but still i refused to purchase a mattress. his job lends itself to my obtaining VERY MANY packing blankets….yes they are not organic or anything or that nature….but i had sooo many and they were free…..so for several years, we slept on multiple (like 20 or so) packing blankets piled up.
    i still could not find what i was looking for and what fit the budget and he went out and purchased one of those horrific foam mattresses…. :( horrid. and now when he complains about it, i remind him he is stuck with it until death.
    i do have a hammock and am considering using that when we move to our little home we are creating on our land….that is when he is out of town on work – it fits one only…and even after the foam mattress kerfuffle, i still love him!!!
    best of luck and keep us all posted on you continuation of this dream.
    i have considered the straw bed….years back pbs had a show/reality type where they took couples and put them in different era settings and saw if they could make it through….one couple made a straw mattress and it seemed rather glamorous and amorous! maybe one day!!!!!

  32. Another Portlander who’d love a wool mattress here. We’ve been using an environmentally horrible but quite comfy 15-yo waterbed mattress, but it’s close to dead, and I’d love to find a $1000-ish wool mattress, assuming we could actually maintain it.

  33. Hi, former Oregonian here also in same boat. Am going to construct a wool topper with batts and use premade featherbead cover to encase. Eventually want to save up for a wool/cotton futon- found this company that on paper seems to fit the bill. I do not know anything about them other than what is on their site, but am happy to see a company still operating mostly the old fashioned way…Portland in the1890s, haha. Company is called Small Wonders Futons and prices are very reasonable. Sugarloaf Wool Mill also sells batts for a bit less than the Oregon mill…

    • Those are good prices! Thanks for the tip. (Living the dream of the 1890′s…)

  34. I keep thinking about this wool mattress idea and just happened to come across this: http://www.surroundewe.com. I know you mentioned difficulty finding a US maker of wool mattresses. I don’t know much about them but they are based out of Wisconsin (where I am). Food for thought!

  35. Glad to hear I’m not the only one with outlandish ideas of making my own. Grateful for the links.
    Upholsterer’s needles come in several sizes and are semi-circular so they go in and come out in a reachable place. Yes. Handsewing, but it isn’t as difficult or time consuming as it sounds. Environmentally friendly too.
    I recall making beds out of hay in the summer when I was a child. Lasted 3-4 days without attention. Made on the ground where I picked the hay and no bother with bugs. Most comfortable mattress I’ve ever known. Some herbs/essential oils deep insects at bay too.
    Hope your quest is fruitful.

  36. I raise my own sheep and also buy wool from local sheep producers who would otherwise through their wool away. I’ve been debating about how to go about creating wool mattress toppers and pillows with this purchased wool. Often shepherds simply give me their wool rather than sell it to me since they have been throwing it away for years. They are happy to see it put to use and ask that I weave them a throw blanket or give them some of the yarn that I have processed. I use a local mill, as well as process some of the wool by hand, and the local mill is equipped to create wool batts. These can be from organic wool, or non-organic depending on where I decide to send the wool to have it processed. I think the wool batts need to start out at about 6 inche thickness before you stitch the whole thing together, but I’m not sure yet. I’ve made a pillow that I use exclusively and refilled it several times until I was satisfied with the thickness. I’m glad someone else is considering doing this by hand rather than having it done for them. Wool is antibacterial, repels insects, is sustainable, renewable and readily available. I encourage you to follow through.

  37. Great topic. I too am in a similar boat. My mattress is beyond help and I’m looking for something else. I do have a wonderful wool topper that is 7 years old now and could do with some refluffing. Before I ship it back to them to restuff, I’m going to try putting it in a large laundromat dryer on cool. I bought it from Shepherd’s Dream — I think the facilities are in northern California though they have something in Ashland too. They make mattresses as well, and even felted wool (stacked) mattresses. It’s spendy, though I’m not sure it’s that much more than buying everything to do ourselves. http://www.shepherdsdream.com/c-6-wool-mattresses.aspx
    I love, love, love my Snuggle Mate (the topper I bought) and am hooked on wool. If I were seriously going to try making my own, I think I’d try making toppers and stack them, sort of like Japanese Shikifutons except denser/firmer. I could probably handle making a topper and it would be a lot lighter/easier to move them around. The company told me I could ship my topper to them, they do pretty much as the stuffers in your post do — they’ll take it apart, unstuff, fluff, add more where needed, then put it together again. They’ll put a new cover on too, if needed. It takes about 2 weeks which is a bummer, but it’s about 1/3 the price of a new one.

    • I know, right? I love seeing all the wool laid out and finding out that it all compressed to about 2″. Very helpful info. So cool. :-)

  38. Completely apropos – when I was an undergraduate in college, I had a friend who made his own comforter out of quilting two second-hand topsheets with shredded plastic grocery sacks as the batting. While a little loud, the thermal qualities made it a successful quilt. He thought that he could replicate the process and make a futon mattress, but that effort ‘fell flat’.

  39. One popular old way of making a bed that I read about was that of a rope bed. Rope is woven through the bed frame then a tick filled with straw is added then a feather mattress is added over the straw filled tick. If you have ever slept on a down bed topper then you know how comfortable they can be.

    Every three to six months the ropes are tightened with a bed key. The mattresses are fluffed as needed. Every Spring the straw tick is emptied, the straw laid out in the hot sun to sterilize, the tick is washed, and the whole thing is put back together.

    one complaint about these bed from people who currently use them is that the mattress sags in the middle of a full size bed but they say you correct that by fluffing more straw into the center of the mattress. Twin beds rarely have this problem.

    I have also heard that adding linseed oil to the ropes to hydrate them help to stabilize the ropes from moisture or lack of moisture so this helps to reduce sagging.

    After my bed wares out I am going to try a rope bed. Not only are store bought mattresses wasteful but they are over priced and short lived.

    Have a nice day.

  40. For what it is worth traditional quilts were filled with wool. A quilt filed with wool sounds more useful and effective to me then these modern ones filled with synthetic batting.

    Peace and love.

    • I have had a couple of quilts with wool batting since I was a little girl. I’ve made new tops and bottoms for them both over the years. My daughter sleeps under one of them, and the other is the quilt that lives on the back of the couch for cuddling up. I have made both of my sons quilts with wool army blankets as batting, and the next quilt I make for hubs’ and my bed wool have a wool inside. Old wool blankets can often be had at auctions for next to nothing. You just have to get good at telling the difference between wool felt and poly felt. If the care label is attached, the washing instructions make it pretty obvious.

    • I have had a couple of quilts with wool batting since I was a little girl. I’ve made new tops and bottoms for them both over the years. My daughter sleeps under one of them, and the other is the quilt that lives on the back of the couch for cuddling up. I have made both of my sons quilts with wool army blankets as batting, and the next quilt I make for hubs’ and my bed will have a wool inside. Old wool blankets can often be had at auctions for next to nothing. You just have to get good at telling the difference between wool felt and poly felt. If the care label is attached, the washing instructions make it pretty obvious.

  41. I raise sheep and do some sheep shearing on the side. Many people who raise Suffolk sheep just throw the wool away or burn it as there is not a great market for the wool. It is not a fine quality wool for garment making and it often has colored wool instead of white in it. So I think that you might be able to get “junk” wool for free or very cheap. I would love to see a market open up for this kind of wool rather than see it disposed of.

  42. Thank you for this great article and this great blog! I too am on the hunt for an affordable, non-toxic, comfy mattress!

  43. I too have been on a mattress quest. I came across this thread because my husband and I decided to replace our queen with a king and shortly after developed some health issues. We then went for an overpriced organic latex mattress (similar to the gentleman above whose wife has the layered one with the zipper. I say overpriced not because it isn’t fresh and organic or well made but its completely non refundable or exchangeable). The bed which ia a giant piece of latex which is layered with a thinner piece of latex turns into a giant slope for me due to the size disparity between me and my husband who is super tall.

    At this point I’m thinking about adding a zipper to the mattress edge and cutting it into two pieces of latex instead of one. Who knows, perhaps that will help. Long story short.. Bravo for trying to make your own mattress. I can appreciate you wanting something natural that’s truly customizable.

    I don’t know if you know about the Eco wool from the wool carding mill in Oregon

    http://tilth.org/producer-search/producers/OT-011118

    but we’ve gotten pillows and comforters using their wool and I’m fairly certain that the expensive organic bed maker we purchased our bed from sources from them too.

    Good luck and if anyone has advice on adding a zipper to a mattress cover, or thoughts on splitting a latex mattress, let me know!

  44. My husband and I have tried three mattresses so far (thankfully, they have trial periods) and are now frustrated enough that my husband wants us to buy a hammock frame and string up our Mayan hammock, lay our organic wool topper on it, and sleep like the Mayans did. The larger easily sleep entire families, and you don’t toss and turn and would probably sleep deep enough from the motion and comfort that you wouldn’t even realize if you did have to pee. I’m not saying you’d pee in the hammock here. Just saying you would probably wake up naturally with a very full bladder instead of waking up with a partially full bladder like most of us do. I’ve heard so many good things about sleeping in a Mayan hammock, so we are finally going to try it. Yay! If it doesn’t work, I will definitely have to look at the buckwheat hull idea of stuffing our own mattress. They do have some ideas on etsy for that.

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  46. The type of wool-stuffed mattress is very old. It was common in eighteenth century America and was part of the upholsterer’s trade. Betsy Ross probably refreshed many mattresses over her lifetime :P

  47. I am a spinner and weaver and used to raise my own sheep for fleeces. I, too, am planning on making my own wool filled mattress (i have pounds and pounds of clean wool already to work with). I live in the US but read a lot of UK magazines. I have an article from the 90s about a british woman who made wool mattesses and am planning on using her method.

    • Sorry, but I haven’t started the mattress project yet. I’m still suffering with the current mattress and considering my options.

  48. I have a good source for raw, uncleaned wool…a friend has 2,000#!! There is also a woolen mill starting up here in northern Minnesota. I am determined to start making wool mattresses and am trying to do it from scratch. Does anyone know if the wool needs to keep all the lanolin or the way they are washing it…in laundry bags with 160 degree water and dawn soap..I will use another if I need to clean. I suppose the water temp. causes the lanolin to come out or something. There is another friend that has very long fiber wool that they may not take in the mill so is that best for layering? I want to start making small ones for two grand babies coming soon. Is it best to cover first with muslin and then organic sail cloth or ticking..what works best. I know there isn’t too many that know the answers to my questions but I have to start somewhere. Thanks!

  49. Some sheep produce wool more suited to spinning than others, this is the reason staple length is important. I have knitted with wool that hasn’t been washed, whilst it is very good for moisturising the hands while you knit, I don’t recommend its strong smell for sleeping! If you want a fuller translation, you would need to use google as advised, but I’ve just gone over them for my own interest. The following is my good turn for the day.
    The gist of the French articles. The first uses a middle layer of horsehair to make it springier. It states that the wool should be thoroughly washed before being carded, (the machines in the picture), saying that this is hard work. It can be done with smaller handheld carders (look like ping-pong bats with metal pins to comb the wool). That would take longer but the cost of a machine if it isn’t to have regular use might be off-putting. The cover is made from 6 pieces, adding narrow side pieces around the base and joining them before adding the top pieces to one side only before stuffing. More hard work and a long needle. Thick, strong thread is needed. Finished with buttons sewn together through the mattress to hold the wool in place.
    The second article states that the wool is washed 3 times in hot water 60 degrees with bicarbonate of soda and then soap flakes (which would remove the lanolin) a rinse in water until it runs clear before drying. This factory dries in a hot oven method to sterilise the wool before making the balls. These are carded to various degrees, separating the fibres. For traditional mattresses, they advise 45 Kilos of stuffing per cubic metre and 60 for the firmer futon style. Extra padding is used in key lying areas in the traditional mattress. The different methods on this section discuss pros and cons of further carding/turning into wool sheets. This factory method uses thick sheets of wool to form the mattress layers. No horsehair in this one. Different densities are used for cushions and pillows. Pinching a 7 cm roll along the edges of the mattress and sewing by hand with a long needle helps to maintain the shape of the mattress. Finishing is by button through both sides to keep the wool in place like the first article.

  50. Well, I have lived in Italy for 30 years and wool mattresses have been part of my life. Two words of caution. They develop microscopic mites which can cause allergies and Secondly, in no part of Italy have I ever seen a double mattress made of wool. So every double bed has on top of it 2 twin size mattresses, which inevitably drift apart in the night….

  51. Here in Europe, many people are turning to organic mattresses, either stuffed with wool or compressed cotton (which is actually going back in time to the first mattresses after straw filled sacks!)With the emphasis on the environment, these are a great idea. I think soon they will be made worldwide.

    • Janet, or anyone else, I am trying to find an online seller of flame retardant free mattress ticking…does not exist here in Tasmania. I suspect there would be a lot in france..but I dont speak french. If you could direct me to any sellers i would be ever so happy

  52. Thank you for some other informative website.
    The place else may just I am getting that type of info written in such a perfect
    way? I’ve a project that I am simply now operating on, and I have been on the glance out for such info.

  53. Ok! So, i haven’t read all of the above, BUT i am glad i found you here! Cos i too, want to make my own mattress! Never knew the old ones were made of woll, so while reading, i got to wondering…….. What about picking up old wool clothes/suits from the good will?? Pull it all apart and stuff!!!! I wonder if it would be cheaper this way, tho maybe not.. But i am still thinking and will not give up my passion for an amazing, homemade mattress.. YES!! LOL

  54. Hi, came across this whilst researching our horsehair mattress, same problem in that it is great grandmothers mattress and only just giving up the ghost, but cant find anywhere in uk to have it restuffed. Any tips? Anyone?

  55. We have a wool topper over a latex mattress and a wool king comforter. Had both recarded this year after nearly 10 years of ownership. The topper was re-done by Soaring Heart in Seattle; the comforter by St. Peter Woolen Mill. Both were around $200 per. Really happy with both again.

  56. Long long ago (30+ years), I bought a kit to make a futon. It was a single mattress size, rolls of cotton batting, and did the entire thing by hand. As of right now, have no idea where that futon ended up, but it was comfortable and totally regret having given it up. The husband has back problems and has taken us down the increasingly expensive foam route in an attempt to improve his sleep. despite the $$, he still can’t stay in bed more than a couple of hours. Every night when I get into the thing think “I hate foam mattresses”. at some point will go for two single beds next to each other and we’ll each have what we want, and I may just make myself another futon only stuffed with wool this time. of course, by that time I’ll be 70 something . .. then again, Who better deserving of a good nights sleep?!?!

    • You know, I think there is something to the European style of having two single beds pushed together rather than one big bed, allowing each partner to customize their bed to their preference. I know right now in my bed research I’m hampered by the fear that I’ll choose/make something too firm for Erik. He likes a much softer surface than I do. Probably because he has no fat padding. hrmph.

      By the way, I’ve been looking into wool mattress toppers, and I’ve noticed that in the comments and reviews most of the people buying them have memory foam mattresses — and they say that it really helps, both with temp. regulation and just the “sleep experience” — apparently it’s more restful to be on natural materials.

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  58. There are a couple of manufacturers that make wool filled mattresses in USA if you just search a bit. Really not hard to find. I believe the traditional mattress made in France may be still made by city mattress in Texas.
    See article from some time ago:

    http://www.countryliving.com/crafts/crafter-profiles/Mattress-0505#slide-1

    City Mattress in Texas used to have a website years ago,
    were you could just order one of their mattresses. They use a cotton fill. However the website no longer exists.

    It is listed as City Mattress in Fredericksburg, Texas as an upholstery shop.

    I prefer spings in my mattresses, for the bounce, so I have a handmade mattress and box spring from Shifman Mattress. Their Masterpiece Mattresses are awesome, although they are VERY heavy, and they are made to be TURNED, and SHOULD be turned every month.
    My Queen set I had made was the Rembrandt (very firm, I am a stomach sleeper, and I have a 3 inch latex topper on it)Anyway, the mattress weighs 150lbs and it about 13 inch in height.

    The mycustombedding people (Orange Mattress Co) make their mattress only 8 inches thick, and are hand tufted like the old fashioned mattress. Remember though, that there is no edge support in these kinds of mattresses, so you will have a soft edge, not a rigid one like conventional mattresses of today, which are mostly crap, especially the NO turn ones.

    Another good custom manufacturer is http://www.whitelotus.net
    they make very nice organic mattresses. And they like to talk about what you want, so they would actually welcome a call if you have something special.

    Another good place to buy a custom mattress is:
    http://www.mycustombedding.com/
    They do use springs, though. I have bought one their box springs a few years ago(they use real springs) and it was excellent.

  59. Oh this is soooo very great for me. I am in Tasmania and so determined to make a home made mattress.so much information here its so great

  60. Love this… Plently of excellent ressources. I have been considering making my own wool mattress too.

    I grew up on wool mattresses and miss them so much. Yes they do need maintenance, not only for refilling but for cleaning and avoiding micro-organisms. But once you buy them, you have a mattress for life. Over time it comes to so much savings.

    They are wonderfull to sleep on. I live in Florida and cannot take it anymore on these foam mattresses. They are so hot no matter what the sellers say.

    Wool has a natural ability to absorb your sweat and heat and you stay relatively cool at night. None of the burning sensation the foam/latex mattresses give you. And for the colder states, nothing cozier that a wool mattress.

    That said there is a very important element to consider when using a wool mattress and it is the boxpring.

    Because the mattress tends to compress in the middle where one sleeps, the boxpring cannot be flat. It actually has to curve up in the center creating a dome effect, to compensate the flatening of the mattress. The springs are more compressed around the sides than the ones in the center.

    Building a traditional “sommier” (boxspring) is no big deal really. It is just a square of planks with several narrow planks at the bottom onto which you mount the springs. Then you upholster them together like you would do for a chair with a dome effect, sewing the burlap over them, applying a thick layer of cotton batting over the whole thing, a new layer of burlap and then sewing the finishing mattress ticking.

    Nothing to it… snark. But done for 20/30 years.

  61. Hi there, I discovered your site by the use of Google at the same time as looking
    for a similar subject, your web site came up, it seems good.
    I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  62. I just found your blog and this post. As a fellow Angelina, let me know if you ever endeavor to have your own operation. Haha. Or, if you ever figure out a way to get a French wool mattress here!!

    • Hello! Nope, still living with the old mattress and waffling about what to do. I think I might be more action oriented/experimental if I lived alone, but I have to take Erik into consideration, too, and he’s much more fussy about his sleeping surfaces than I am. In other words, I can’t make him sleep on my mistakes. It’s a puzzler.

  63. Hah! So I live in Portland and have similar questions. We bought a king size organic wool futon from Cotton Cloud Futon 7 years ago and now we are looking to make bunk beds. It turns out they will gladly not only cut the king into two twins, but also restuff as needed! They might be a good resource for folks needing a mattress tune up locally. In this process of gathering all the necessary bedding elements it also occurred to me that I might be able to turn the two bags of llama hair in my closet into comforters, so that is where I am now, trying to find someone willing to share their drum carder or any tips on making my own comforters. Any ideas?

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  65. As a child, I remember during the summer my Armenian grandmother took the wool out of the bed-covers to comb the “knots” out. Sometimes she let me help. It was a lot of work! I am now cleaning out the apartment of a 90 yo Armenian who passed away. She has three huge pillows of wool. I hate to discard the pillows. But have never cleaned nor carded the wool on my own. I am searching the net for ideas and found this article. Does anyone have directions posted?

  66. Hi!
    I’m from Argentina and I still have wool mattresses at home. Foam and springed mattresses took the market for good, so now wool mattresses are not common anymore. For that reason I can’t find a ‘cardatore’ anymore. My mother made the job herself once and I will have to do that myself this time. But I can’t find the strong cotton fabric that was used to make mattresses either. The fabric was a strong damask fabric like a denim but souple. It was called cotin, but I think not because it was made of cotton but because it came from France and the tag said Cottin. There’s an image of a piece of that fabric here>>>> http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-WqWDpHUshwY/Tp5swDHmKXI/AAAAAAAAAF0/bMAbJuRmASQ/s1600/retocado+050.jpg

    I’m thinking of using the wool to make ottomans rather than a mattress again. It’s a lot of work to card the wool. You need to do it outside because of the dust that comes with the wool. And in a dry and calm weather,preferably in Summer so you can spread the wool under the sun.

    I hope you can make and enjoy your mattress!

    • Thank you for this information. Sad that the cartadores are all gone!

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  69. In India, cotton based mattresses were the tradition. The Italian “carding/fluffing” method is exactly the same procedure that has been followed in India for centuries. Cotton finished products were initially imported in bulk and variety from the orient (even the Pharaohs imported their finest cotton products from India), so the tradition might have arrived from the east.

    However, the cotton variety preferred for mattresses, was derived from the seeded pods of a particular large tree, called “shimul”. These were a far more silky/glossy variety that feels like feather compared to cotton. The beauty of the material is that it swells up in string sun, because of the trapped air within the fibres. So fluffing up mattresses would be partially self-doable at home. In the sunny states of USA, the same method might even be effective for cotton based products, and would help in keeping away bugs. Also natural bug-repellants were used mixed in the cotton like eucalyptus/strong versions of mint/lavender and can be tried out.

    Straw mattresses are very warm in the winter. The pokiness, was managed by thicker top/tic made of coarse cotton weave. The thicker versions of cotton homespun in India were used for the purpose. There is a growing interest in coarse as well as finer homespun in home-weaving enthusiasts in the USA/Canada and Australia. The most common technique to maintain the shape is to create an initial shell with wrapped edge double stitching (by machine or hand) to create the cuboidal structure.

    The rope bed can actually be maintained in springiness by a tightening mechanism that is quite simple. The end of the rope in the bed, is knotted around a small wooden bar that can be rotated to twine the rope and thereby tighten for tension. Very similar to the primitive rope making technique of twisting fibres by tying the ends to a bar and rotating the bar.

  70. I’ve been considering using cotton upholstery batting to make my own shikibuton (Japanese futon). It’s thicker than quilt batting, so it looks like it might work. It’s available on ebay and at upholstery sites for a reasonable price: $26-$30 for a 15- yard x 27″ roll. About 1-2″ thick.

  71. Hello.
    I was born and raised in middle east and where i come from wool mattress was the choice.

    i have made several of them with my grand parents and also have washed and fluffed the wool several times and refilled them.

    I was very interested to start this business my self but i am busy with my own trade, however, if you have any specific questions i would be glad to address them for you.

    • William,
      I’m sure I’m not the only person who’d be interested in any information you have about making and maintaining wool mattresses! For starters, can you tell us how you layer the wool and what options might be available if we want to re-comb our wool down the road? Actually, anything you think might be helpful would be great!

    • William,

      What a wonderful experience. I am in the process (hopefully) of making a wool mattress. I will getting my wool for free from a friend. I will be doing all of the cleaning, carding etc myself. The question I have is about the carding. I have noticed that on several web sites the wool doesn’t seem to be heavily carded? Looks as though it was just finger carded? if that is a term… What process did you/grandparents use as far as carding is concerned? Thanks in advance.

    • My grandmother would spend the summer carding the wool for the quilts. She used a metal (aluminum?) wide-toothed comb to fluff up the matted wool.

  72. Here are instructions from 1966 from USAID publication on making a cotton mattress–it stresses to lay the cotton; don’t overlap and don’t stuff or it gets lumpy…which I think is what the Welsh woman found out with the wool in your point #2 above.
    http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNAAW960.pdf
    It is a very thorough instructional.

  73. I came across this article while doing some research for our store and hopefully without sounding like an ad, thought I’d mention that we handcraft all cotton and/or wool mattresses in Portland, OR similar to the French ones referenced. They’re affordable, made with local fibers that we card/process and since wool is a natural flame retardant, we do not treat the mattresses with chemicals. I thought I’d share this for those people who may not be able to make their own mattress, we ship nationwide and we also sell the cotton and wool batting. :)

    Cheers!
    Cotton Cloud Natural Beds & Furniture
    701 NE Broadway
    Portland, OR 97232
    503-335-0758
    http://www.cottoncloudfutons.com

  74. Please keep us posted. I am also fed up with the waste and hazards (chemicals) of the mattress business. I am currently experimenting with making my own wool pillow.

  75. Thanks for the wonderful article! I will be building a queen-size mattress with loose wool. It measures roughly 60 inches x 80 inches x 4 inches thick. How much do you think I need for a firm mattress? I’ve estimated 40lbs but I’m not sure. Thank you!

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