DIY Mattress-Futon-Cushion

I and my partner needed to buy beds during a move.

This project came about as an attempt to save some money, make furniture that would better fit our needs than what we could buy, and an opportunity to indulge my long-standing fascination with other ways of solving the old, old problem of how to sleep comfortably.

The solution I came up with was basically a big cushion, combining ideas from old-style European tick mattresses, traditional Japanese futon, and complicated modern mattresses.

In short, make a bag, fill it with something squishy, sew it shut, then sleep on it.

Photo: an overview of the finished cushion.


The bed has two layers of cushioning covered by an outer envelope than holds everything together.

The bottom layer is 38mm thick “firm” upholstery foam, cut to 1.85m by 0.51m.

The top layer is about the same thickness of shredded clothing and (probably?) wool, weighing about 5kg.

The bag is made of a mid-weight cotton calico fabric.

I wanted to use a natural fibre layer in the hopes of improving the bed's ability to wick sweat.

It would have been nice to use all natural materials for ecological reasons, but that would have been several times more expensive.

The fibre I could source cheaply turned out to be a mixture of shredded clothing and fibre, which was good enough.

Upholstery foam provided a very cheap-per-volume secondary layer to make sure the bed had enough padding.

The calico was chosen for being cheap but reasonably hefty, and as a result hopefully hard wearing.

Photo: my three materials; tan cotton fabric, blue foam sheet, and a big bag of mixed-coloured (but mostly black) fluff.


Our combined sewing skills aren't brilliant, so I chose the simplest design I could think of.

A simple rectangular bag, with enough extra space added to allow for the height of the layers of cushioning.

The dimensions were chosen to quite tightly fit the space I typically use when sleeping.

This was to keep the space and materials needed small.

After some experiments lying in various positions next to a tape measure, I guessed that I needed about 0.5m by 1.9m.

A standard single mattress is typically 0.9m by 1.9m, so my estimated requirements were almost half the size of most off-the-shelf solutions.

I drew up a rough pattern and instructions and checked the dimensions many many times!

Past experience says that unless I write down what needs doing I'll end up forgetting steps or getting details wrong.

The pattern is just a diagram of the piece of cloth I had.


Diagram: a simple drawing of the pattern and some some very brief instructions on assembling it.


Building the finished piece must have taken most of a day with two people.

Measuring and marking out the pattern onto the fabric likely took a third of that time.

I chose simple stitches to work within the limitations of my own skill and issues with the sewing machine we were using:

We pinned the edge seam before machine sewing it, which was almost as tedious as marking out, in both cases because we were trying to handle a two metre square of fabric on a table which was much much smaller!

Having a large, square table would definitely have made this quicker.

Photo: the bag with three edges closed, still inside out before being filled.

Once two seams were sewn (three closed sides if you count the fold), we turned the bag inside-out to protect the raw edges.

Then we laboriously shoved the foam sheet into it.

Conveniently, the foam sheet came from the factory with basically the width I wanted, so we only had to cut it to get the right length.

As we gradually worked the fabric along the foam (rolled up like a huge sock) we also packed in the loose fibre than needed to go on top.

Wearing dust masks for this is highly recommended!

Getting the loose fibre packed to the right firmness and shape requires poking it about a lot, but wasn't particularly difficult.

We did find we needed to tear the big ball of fibre up to get rid of lumps.

Photo: a blob of mixed fibres and shredded clothing with a prominent part-shredded Primark clothing label embedded in it.

We left the foam un-cut until the padding was added because I wasn't sure how much space would be left at each end of the cushion.

As it turned out, there was somewhat less than expected, and we had to cut the foam 30~40mm shorter than the planned 1.85m.

While cutting the foam I made a silly mistake and ended up cutting a little hole in the fabric.

Putting a cutting mat under the foam makes this much easier, but didn't stop me screwing up.

Mending the hole must have taken most of an hour, so be careful what you're doing with a sharp knife!

Photo: inside and outside of the patch to fix my accident.

The final closing of the bag was done by my partner, who hand sewed a ladder stitch.

It's possible this could be done by pinning the edges together and machine stitching, but it would have been difficult and likely ugly.

Practical Testing

The bed has now been in constant use for about five months.

It has been fairly comfortable, if quite firm.

We would probably suggest using medium-firmness upholstery foam instead of hard.

The seams seem to holding and we haven't noticed any signs of significant wear.

The overall price of the cushion was about £50, but other people might well find the small size and limited padding unacceptable.

Photo: close up of one end of the finished cushion.