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How to Make a Straw Mattress

 
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Hey everyone! So a couple of years ago I posted in here about trying to find some mattress alternatives. I was fed up with the process of buying a big, stupid mattress every few years that was impossible to clean, ridiculously expensive, and made, of course, of toxic gick.

It was maddening. I felt trapped by the consumption and expense, and the stupid sheets, and the memory foam pillow top crap that I could never truly clean. I hated conventional mattresses, but I wanted a mattress. I wanted a bed.

I examined tons of options, but I just wasn't ready to sleep on a few blankets on the floor, I liked the idea of being raised off of the floor, particularly since I was pregnant. Ask any pregnant chick, getting up off of a floor is no easy feat. Natural latex mattresses were expensive, wool mattress pads were nice, but still too expensive for my budget.

Ultimately, I wound up landing on a straw mattress. There wasn't much information on these that wasn't historical, but what I did find was interesting. And hey, how hard could it really be to make?

Straw mattresses were widely used a couple hundred years ago. While richer classes in Europe often had wool mattresses, poorer classes used straw. There were even designated mattress fluffers that would go around to the elite residences and fluff them and switch out the straw when it was too compacted and ground up.

So long as the straw is kept dry, it's completely safe to use. Obviously mold and pests are a concern, like with any other mattress, but with the proper precautions, it's a perfectly viable option.

So with that information under my belt, and absolutely no firsthand experiences from anyone that had actually tried it, I wrote up the dimensions for a mattress case and got to work.



So we did it. I think we used 3 bales of straw (important: not hay) in total for a queen sized bed. It was dusty, sneezy business, but it came together nicely, and in no time we had a 2 1/2 foot tall mound that was our mattress.



I was about 2 1/2 months pregnant when we started this project. After much rolling around, we managed to get our mound to look more like a mattress, and were pretty please with the results:

- it was extremely comfortable. Like I said, I was pregnant. We slept on this thing on the floor for the first half of my pregnancy, and when hoisting myself up become exceedingly challenging, we rigged up a bed frame with a sort of hammock of rope to get it up off the floor, and life got a bit easier for me.

Throughout my entire pregnancy, even with a history of lower back pain, I never had any back pain. At all. NONE. It was crazy, and I'm telling you, it really was just damn comfy.

-It was like a memory foam mattress, with a great memory, as my husband said. When you slept in this thing night after night, the straw started forming around your typical position in the bed. Over time, we wound up with little nest like holes on each of our sides of the bed, which were wildly cozy to snuggle up into every night. Mine had a nice big belly-hole on one side, it was just perfect my roundness.

-When the mattress's lumps got too pronounced, we just beat it up a bit. We'd pick up the edges and shake it, pound it with our forearms, just generally redistribute the straw. It'd be a little awkward for a night or two as everything got settled again, then it was back to comfiness.

-bugs and mold were never an issue. Now, we live in Montana, so it's pretty cold and dry here anyways, but we were really careful to never let the bed get wet, and checked the straw very carefully as we put it into the mattress casing. Any questionable or slightly damp straw was discarded. I also steam ironed the casing with a few drops of tea tree oil mixed in the water. I don't know how much of a difference it really made, but it gave me a little peace of mind that the oil might help to deter any insects from setting up shop, and we never had any problems.

- It was a warm bed, but not stuffy. We had a wood stove in our bedroom, so our biggest concern was keeping the bed at a safe distance, since of course it was highly flammable. On nights when I overloaded the stove, the bed didn't sweat us out, everything was nice and breathable. However, our little nest shapes were nice for nestling into on a chilly night, and the straw proved to be nice and insulative, which was great since our house was basically just a tarpaper plywood shack.

All in all, it was amazing. We spent the first few months of our son's life in that bed, cosleeping even, and were even planning a homebirth with it last year, covering it in plastic and such while our midwife slept in the other room (long story, the homebirth didn't happen). We only disassembled it because we had to move, and moving a straw filled mattress is just crazy huge pain. We distributed the straw, which was still completely dry, to our chicken coop, and later composted it.

If I had to do it over, I would make the way the end of the mattress closed up more tight - we always had a little bit of straw on the floor. Never anything too crazy, but it was a source of great irritation for my husband (who notably, never actually swept...). All the same, it was a bit of a design flaw I think I would also sprinkle some DE in with the straw sporadically, just to further ease concerns of creepy crawlies in my bed, though I can honestly say I never saw one insect in or around this bed!

Since then, we've been sleeping on a few heavy blankets, just because we realized that we didn't really mind sleeping on the floor after all. But man, sometimes I do miss that big lumpy straw mattress, it was sure cozy! One thing's for sure though, I'm never buying a conventional mattress again. I plan to buy a daybed for our living room soon, and guess what? That thing's getting a straw mattress put on it

My-husband-generously-fluffing-out-straw-mattress-as-I-start-going-into-labor-with-our-son..jpg
My husband generously fluffing out straw mattress as I start going into labor with our son.
My husband generously fluffing out straw mattress as I start going into labor with our son.
 
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Y-E-S!

Nice post! This is definitely a handful of nails in the coffin of me owning a conventional mattress. My roommate just bought an (expensive, toxic, uncleanable) memory foam mattresses that are so cool right now, and it is in fact making her back issues *worse*.

While Im bookmarking this for my summer endeavor, Ive noticed in my botanical inquiries lately that "Bedstraw" sounds very desirable for this - it apparently doesn't bog down and get matted over time. Who knows!

Mondo muchas gracias, amiga.
 
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I agree with Ian, nice post thanks for the information.

And Ian said...

memory foam mattresses that are so cool right now, and it is in fact making her back issues *worse*.



The answer to back pains in MOST cases is Exercise and YOGA and good nutritional supplements, especially minerals. Exercise and Yoga will give you the strength and stretching your body needs, and especially Yoga will teach you how to re-align your vertebrae if you pay attention while doing it. The nutritional supplements give the body what it needs that CANNOT be guaranteed to be in your food (in most cases it is not). Without the proper nutrition disks break down, rupture, and cause all sorts of issues for your internal organs including your heart...many heart issues are due to this and once again nutrition is the answer.
 
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Hi Destiny.
Many, many thanks for your detailed post! I suffer from upper back pain which is directly related to which mattress I sleep on. I always thought I needed a really firm mattress to support my back but I have recently revised my opinion through an unintentional test. I'm currently on a three month contract with in-house accommodation and the mattresses are not the best quality nor the newest. I thought I was really going to struggle but I have had no problems. Every 2 weeks I visit my daughter who has the mattress we purchased a year ago and is really firm. I can just about manage 2 nights on that but the second night's sleep is very broken. I had a futon years ago which I remember being really comfy but that was given to me and I think they are rather expensive now.
As we are about to set up house in another country we will have to refit our entire house. I hoped to do most DIY but was resigned to buying a mattress and I've been viewing mattress purchasing with trepidation. Your experience has provided a way out of my dilema! My only worry is my husband's asthma. I am thinking of double or triple covering with heavy linen but I think the dust might still come through.
Doea anyone have experience with straw mattresses and asthma?
 
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Lady's bedstraw was used a hundred or so years ago to stuff mattresses, but it takes a lot. It does rustle a bit after being dried, but the herb itself is easy to gather and pretty dry as it is growing. Has anyone had any experience with it on Permies. (my goats also loved it).
 
Destiny Hagest
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I'm so glad you all liked the information! I can't tell you how many side-eyes we've gotten over our straw mattress, but I never let it get to me, that thing was absolute love! I remember my husband prepping it with dropcloths and plastic sheeting when I went into labor, and the midwife just thought it was so funny, doing a homebirth in the mountains on a straw mattress

I've always had the token 'allergies', but I'm not asthmatic, but I will say the only time the straw ever got to me was when we were stuffing it, which I would definitely advise using a mask and opening windows for - it makes ya sneeze, folks.

Other than that, the firmness never really bothered me, and I am just really super big on conventional mattresses being the bane of so many back issues. That being said, if it's an issue of personal preference, I do LOVE the feeling of a big fluffy thing, but my back does not, firmness definitely seems to keep my stuff in alignment.

I'm curious to know how the various straw fillings differ for firmness, it's not really anything I ever thought about!
 
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Can you tell me more about the casing you used around the straw?
Thanks,
Peggy
 
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Great post Destiny!

Peggy Rivera wrote:Can you tell me more about the casing you used around the straw?
Thanks,
Peggy



I use drop cloths from the painter's shop for my mattress. They are usually 100% cotton but take a few goes in the washing machine to get the sizing and other additives out.

Another good, but more expensive, material for making straw ticks is duck cloth.


I usually sleep on a straw tick for a couple of weeks camping each year. Most of the time it's great, but sometimes there's pollen, pesticides or mold in the straw that triggers terrible hay fever. Good quality straw is very important with my sensitivities. I think this year, I'll make a cover for my straw tick mattress (straw tick being the medieval words for it, not sure if it's still called that).

Stuffing the mattress can be very dusty, so I like to do it outside on a sunny day. It's a comfortable mattress and breaths remarkably well. My friends that sleep on straw regularly change their straw at least once a year.

A paddle is useful for redistributing the straw if it gets lumpy.



As with other natural fibre mattresses, keeping it on a frame that breaths (like a wood slat or a rope bead) can greatly extend the life of the mattress. Turning the bed down each morning, so that the covers are at the foot of the bed (instead of making the bed like my mother taught me) also helps the mattress breath and last longer.
 
Destiny Hagest
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Yes, what R Ranson said!

Ducking and ticking is great, and drop cloths are just some great fabric to have around in general, I'm actually looking for some for an upholstered headboard project myself.

I actually just ordered some bulk canvas from Joann's for mine - free shipping, and I caught it on sale, so it was only a few bucks a yard, and it's super heavy duty stuff, so I never felt the pokiness of the straw through the mattress casing.

I just bought a whole big bolt of it, and I use the remnants all the time around here
 
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One of my favorite books is Lost Country Life, by Dorothy Hartley. In it she detatils how English country people actually lived and farmed during the centuries before industrial consumerism. There is a bunch of info about how straw was used for chairs, beds, and mattresses. By the way, those dome-shaped beehives you see in pictures are upside-down baskets made by coiling a roughly-braided straw rope round and round. Chairs in British clubs were made without any wooden frame, by coiling the straw up into a beehive with an open side and a solid bottom, according to Hartley. Once they are covered with leather, nobody realizes their true nature. The hollow construction of the straws makes for a warm, well-insulated chair.

For a bed, the straw was made into a rough braid several feet long--you can add more as you go--and coiled into an oval mat. Usually instead of stitching the coils together, these beds were held together with thin wooden pins--just a splint of split branch, really, so they went together really fast. Once the proper size was reached, the bed was finished with a rim one or two coils tall, making it into a shallow tray. This well-insulated, cozy basket was often used as is; the rim kept out drafts and a traveler would just use his cloak for a cover. Or it could hold a mattress of loose straw or of feathers off the ground, contain the amorphous shape of the mattress, and make a place to tuck in a flat sheet. Beds like this were also used in shepherds' summer huts. In homes, they were used as "truckle" or "trundle beds", stored under regular wooden beds in the daytime and pulled out to accomodate children or guests.

Hartley says that even in well-to-do households where featherbeds were the norm, straw mattresses were used for sickbeds and childbirth. The mattress could then be emptied, the straw burnt or composted, and a new case filled in minutes.

This seems so simple and doable that I've always wished I were not allergic to straw and grass. It would be great to see people trying this more. There were whole classes of plants known for making high-quality mattresses. Our Lady's Bedstraw (Gallium sp.) is still called after this use. Many of these bedstraw plants had tiny barbs on the stem, so that they locked together to prevent shifting and falling out of the casing. Heather was also used. My favorite mattress story of all: When a friend was in Greece in the seventies, she was in a village that had no hotel or inn, and stayed in a private home. In this Greek cottage, the mattress was filled with wild thyme plants! She said the fragrance was unforgettable, and it has always been my benchmark for immersive sensory experience!
 
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I would like to find out more about how lady's bedstraw was used for mattresses. I just now stuffed a pillowcase with it to try tonight. My hands got irritated by the sticky/ scratchyness of the herb. When I  have looked up herbal pillows I find how to make a pillow case but not how to prepare the herbs.
 
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This article: https://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/an-herb-to-know-40

Galium verum

To stuff pillows or mattresses with this herb, cut the tops in midsummer and dry them in the sun. You’ll need a lot. Don’t be surprised if they rustle when you turn over in bed.








I have this plant:  Galium aparine, that is sticky.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galium_aparine

Galium aparine is edible. The leaves and stems of the plant can be cooked as a leaf vegetable if gathered before the fruits appear. However, the numerous small hooks which cover the plant and give it its clinging nature can make it less palatable if eaten raw




 
Barbara Acker
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I found out that using the green herb was not a good idea. The pillow got damp and cold and contracted. I will gather some more and dry it first..
 
Barbara Acker
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In a historical colonial house in Massachusetts they had a replica mattress on display, stuffed with long pine needles. It looked very uncomfortable.
 
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I read this thread some time ago as inspiration for my desire to sleep on something more natural.

Here's my experiences:

Makeup of the straw pillow:

a) I got a bale of straw from a local farm where I had done some work. It was sitting in the haybarn not far away from some watery run off from the shit pile (dairy farm).
b) It seemed dry enough and "clean" enough. It was not in contact with the shit.
c) I stuffed it in one pillow case. So freken poky.
d) I then put two pillows. Three pillow cases. Four pillow cases. Less poky, but still sharp piecs.
e) I then layered each side internally with a pants leg each of denim, after the first two pillow cases. It worked to protect my face and head from sharp bits.
f) I then made it more comfortable, by adding more t shirts under the pillow cases.

Sleeping experiences:

a) I am allergic to grass, hay and straw.
b) It was a tough first night. I detemined to teach my body to deal with the allergic reactions.
c) After two weeks of snot, it was better, but oh so dusty and itchy.
d) After two months, I determined to wash the straw. I put it in a large washing machine in two pillow cases removing all the above additions.
e) The washing water was intensely brown. I redid this three times. At the end the water was quite clear.
f) I then dried it in the sun. It took several days to get right.
g) I have left it in a large metal basin and haven't tried again - LOL!


Anti climatic, but I'll try make this post useful in the meantime by saying that washing the straw made it softer somehow. I added no detergents. That may be a thought for someone who is allergic as I am. For me, it can cause hayfever, body itches, swollen eyes, completely snot filled nose, and breathing difficulties up to asthma. Its been beside my bed for three months now, and I am unaffected by this clean straw.

 
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I would love to know how to make the case and have the patron for it!

Then I would look for a very thick cotton. Or what fabric? What do you think of this one?
Big Duck Canvas - Organic

Here I would have to collect my own straw, as there is no production at all. But some wild oat grows...

Traditionnal mattress here, were of pine needles, for both humans and animals!
 
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How to Make a $35 straw mattress

 
Xisca Nicolas
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bernetta putnam wrote:How to Make a $35 straw mattress



They say:

[UPDATE: Do you have experience making alternative mattresses, including using straw? We were forced to give up this straw mattress due to back pain and an unfortunate uneven sleeping surface. If you have tips about how to make a more comfortable natural mattress, please contact us!]  


But the reason seem to be that they made a special shape, and they cannot turn the mattress and so it gets lumpy.

In comments:

i made my own mattress with an organic cotton futon mattress cover ($30 for a deep queen, three side zip cover on ebay) and stuffed it with buckwheat hull that i ordered from a local central NY farm (eventually spent a little less than $200 on filling it to the extent i wanted)…

as the bed is form-fitting, every few nights i level out the buckwheat again… i used to have lower back pain, but it’s a thing of the past… the buckwheat is always a perfect temperature… i have horrible allergies to straw and hay, and i’m unaffected by the buckwheat… supposedly it deters bugs too.

only downside– HEAVY (i think mine is around 300lbs)… luckily, just empty the buckwheat into smaller containers or contractor trash bags to move in small loads)… it’s a ridiculously oversized bean-bag of a bed, but luxurious to sleep on/in.



 
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Wow, a buckwheat MATTRESS? that is nuts. I had a buckwheat pillow in Japan, you could seriously hurt someone with one of those (and the traditional ones are tiny, not normal western pillow size, more like the size of a fat brick, maybe).

My mother in law until very recently had a mattress made out of cornhusks hanging around in an extra room; she grew up with that and until relatively recently it was still used. We got rid of it because it had to be at least 20 years old and was full of vermin (you're supposed to replace the corn every year or two), but the cover had been made of a heavy cotton (upholstery weight, like canvas) and it was really comfy, til you started thinking about what was living inside on the husks....
 
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Like so many things in "modern society", mattresses that used to need regular maintenance, but were biodegradable, are now expected to need no maintenance for years and then go to the land-fill. I have a *very* old mattress that probably contains mostly natural substances. I made a topper for it, which I admit is artificial quilt batting, but I was having shoulder issues at the time and needed something softer and it was handy.

More recently, I've been saving up feathers and down when processing ducks, so one of these days, the artificial stuff will be gone. People talk about the mess of stuffing straw - I can imagine feathers will be worse by several scales of magnitude.

Traditional mattresses did take maintenance. In the case of the Japanese, since they folded and put their futons away every day, that "shaking up and redistributing the contents" happened as part of the daily pattern. I suspect many modern futon mattresses have artificial ingredients unless the seller specifically says otherwise.
 
Lito George
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Lito George wrote:I read this thread some time ago as inspiration for my desire to sleep on something more natural.

Sleeping experiences:

a) I am allergic to grass, hay and straw. And dust!




Update: I slept my first night for the first time in 46 years without the aftereffects of a strong allergy to grass/straw/dust in the morning. No blood nose. No itchy eyes. No clogged snotty nose.

Hoo - frikking - ray!

Rather surprised really.

But it shows the body can be retrained though it protested seriously in the beginning. My straw filled pillow is comfy, much harder than a polyfill pillow mind you (dont expect ever soft ever yielding spongey like cushyness from straw) and I had a good night on it.

I find its "solidness" quite comforting really and I feel really good about it given that its natural. (now to work on the pre-used jean and t shirt materials placed in their to make the experience less pokey and softer)

I think the next adaptation is to sew my own  standard pillow cases to make them smaller like the Japanese might do.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:Like so many things in "modern society", mattresses that used to need regular maintenance, but were biodegradable, are now expected to need no maintenance for years and then go to the land-fill. I have a *very* old mattress that probably contains mostly natural substances. I made a topper for it, which I admit is artificial quilt batting, but I was having shoulder issues at the time and needed something softer and it was handy.



Hope you post any future results! I have slept on only one feather bed and it was wonderful. We have ducks and they shuck feathers everywhere. I could probably get a pound or two of feathers once a week from them. But how to clean and process and how much does one need to make it?
 
john mcginnis
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Two other items that have interested me for making bedding are:

* Wool. Fact I think there was a thread on this site several years ago and someone who made futons out of the material.

* Spanish Moss. Yep, in the South this was a way to provide a stuffing. The plant was boiled, dried, then treated before use. Material was used in bedding, chairs/sofas and car seats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_moss
 
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Ticking is what was traditionally used for feather pillows, cushions and (according to Google) mattresses though I have never attempted anything as ambitious as a mattress! It is a very tightly woven cotton fabric. In the U.S. you can buy ticking at JoAnns Fabrics, in store or online. Google says it is the traditional fabric used for straw stuffing as well. I've never used straw to stuff a pillow but I have used down/feathers and they are very 'pokey' if you don't use ticking stripe fabric for the cover. And down will work it's way right through other fabrics.  

Several years ago I had an easy chair with down cushions reupholstered by a shop which apparently had no experience with down. They didn't use ticking fabric for the inner cushion covers, just a heavy cotton fabric, and that chair has been 'losing' feathers ever since. They just come right through both the inner cover and the heavy upholstery cloth.

Want to say 'thank you' to you all for this information. My next home will be straw bale so I will undoubtedly have a few extra bales and may just use them to make myself a healthy new mattress!
 
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@ john mcginnis: Years ago, my husband bought a feather pillow for my son because my son saw it on sale in a store and really wanted it. It shed feathers everywhere. I bought proper ticking at a local fabric store, pre-washed it and put it in our dryer on hot to try to shrink it as much as it would shrink, so that the fibers would be as tight as possible. Then I sewed a zippered pillow cover. That pillow never shed again! I was actually afraid to take the zipper cover off, as the one time I peaked in, there were many feathers that had escaped the inner fabric, but were being caught by my home-made ticking cover.

We have Muscovy ducks which we raise for meat, and Khaki-Campbells that we raise for eggs, so when we hatch some of the latter ducks out, there are unwanted males that also get named, "Dinner". We don't have a plucker, so I have found that it is much more pleasant to dry pluck as much of the bird as possible before scalding (this is partly due to the fact that we're usually doing this in cold, wet weather.) I support an old pillow case in a bag where I'm working - soft downy feathers go in the bag, large or really dirty feathers go in a large bin for compost. When the pillow case is full, I fold over the top and hand stitch it closed. Then when I have time, I put a couple of them in the wash and then in the dryer, then they just get stored.

I will want to do a bit more research before actually sewing the mattress. I *know* I want to sew baffles in it, so that the feathers are contained in pockets so they don't all end up in one place. In fact, I may do "his and hers" sides and mark them, as I definitely have less natural padding than my husband has. I'm debating whether it would be good to put them in a rinse of borax to discourage insects. Research needed!

The comforter we use was second hand from a friend and it is filled with wool. I love it, but my husband finds it a bit warm at times.

Our dryer is almost inaccessible, and often not plugged in. We dry most of our clothes on racks or lines, inside by the fire or outside in the sun. I'm known to refer to our "dryer" as my "shrinking machine". I pre-wash most fabric I plan to use for 4 reasons: 1. I react to some of the chemicals used in the finishing process. 2. My sister had a spectacular failure of dye fixing which ruined a beautiful dress she'd made and only worn once. 3. I sew to fit the recipient, so having it shrink *after* sewing ruins my efforts. 4. To tighten up the weave and to make sure it doesn't shrink more in one direction than the other.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:@ john mcginnis: Years ago, my husband bought a feather pillow for my son because my son saw it on sale in a store and really wanted it. It shed feathers everywhere. I bought proper ticking at a local fabric store, pre-washed it and put it in our dryer on hot to try to shrink it as much as it would shrink, so that the fibers would be as tight as possible. Then I sewed a zippered pillow cover. That pillow never shed again! I was actually afraid to take the zipper cover off, as the one time I peaked in, there were many feathers that had escaped the inner fabric, but were being caught by my home-made ticking cover.

We have Muscovy ducks which we raise for meat, and Khaki-Campbells that we raise for eggs, so when we hatch some of the latter ducks out, there are unwanted males that also get named, "Dinner". We don't have a plucker, so I have found that it is much more pleasant to dry pluck as much of the bird as possible before scalding (this is partly due to the fact that we're usually doing this in cold, wet weather.) I support an old pillow case in a bag where I'm working - soft downy feathers go in the bag, large or really dirty feathers go in a large bin for compost. When the pillow case is full, I fold over the top and hand stitch it closed. Then when I have time, I put a couple of them in the wash and then in the dryer, then they just get stored.

I will want to do a bit more research before actually sewing the mattress. I *know* I want to sew baffles in it, so that the feathers are contained in pockets so they don't all end up in one place. In fact, I may do "his and hers" sides and mark them, as I definitely have less natural padding than my husband has. I'm debating whether it would be good to put them in a rinse of borax to discourage insects. Research needed!

The comforter we use was second hand from a friend and it is filled with wool. I love it, but my husband finds it a bit warm at times.

Our dryer is almost inaccessible, and often not plugged in. We dry most of our clothes on racks or lines, inside by the fire or outside in the sun. I'm known to refer to our "dryer" as my "shrinking machine". I pre-wash most fabric I plan to use for 4 reasons: 1. I react to some of the chemicals used in the finishing process. 2. My sister had a spectacular failure of dye fixing which ruined a beautiful dress she'd made and only worn once. 3. I sew to fit the recipient, so having it shrink *after* sewing ruins my efforts. 4. To tighten up the weave and to make sure it doesn't shrink more in one direction than the other.



Good information!

When you wash the pillows do you use and particular detergent or other pretreatments?
 
Jay Angler
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Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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The last time I had any ready for washing was last fall. So far as I can remember, I just used a bit of a biodegradable laundry product with plant based detergents in it and that is supposedly safe for septic systems.  ( https://www.vipsoap.com/cart/V.I.P.-2X-HE-Liq-Laundry-Original.html ).  I tend to be sensitive to detergents and so I just kept buying the one I knew was OK for me. Mostly, I was washing the feathers to get out any surface dirt and dust (ducks are very dusty critters). I definitely wouldn't consider me an expert on the subject. Before I carry on further, I will definitely be doing more research myself.
 
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Location: 48°N in Normandie, France. USDA 8-9 Koppen Cfb
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Appreciate all these useful postings as I too am looking for toxic alternatives.

Re the buckwheat bed idea. A US company supplying buckwheat hulls and a novel idea for mattress covers here

Also found this link to making a wool mattress
 
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Location: Salt Spring Island BC (zone 8-ish, yes really!)
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I thought I had posted a reply to this thread but now can't find it, so apologies if I really did post it and am repeating information I provided earlier!

On the topic of alternative mattress fillings, a traditional material in the Canadian Maritimes was eelgrass. This is the marine eelgrass, Zostera marina, not the freshwater one which is another species. The early settlers in that area used dried eelgrass for quite a few household uses - stuffing mattresses and pillows, insulating walls and ceilings, bedding for animals, etc. Also great for the garden.

The stuff is actually quite comfortable. It washes up in big windrows on beaches in the spring, in some areas piled 4 or 5 feet high on the Gulf of St. Lawrence shoreline. I have sat on many a pile of eelgrass. It dries out quite soft, much softer than straw, smells nice (like the ocean) and is not dusty. I have no idea what its longevity is like as a mattress filling, There are still a number of the original 200 year old Acadian farmhouses in New Brunswick with the old eelgrass insulation still intact in the walls. Don't know what the R value might be...


EDIT: The above was just info that was stuck in my head after two decades of living there, also since I worked on eelgrass (marine biologist).  I just did a quick internet search, and was interested to learn that (1) a Danish company had a link to a futon mattress they were making using traditional Danish methods of wool cover and eelgrass stuffing (although it seems to be only a cached site now, perhaps they are no longer doing this) - so it is not only an Acadian practice but one that would appear to be more generally used throughout the northern countries, and (2) using eelgrass as a wall/ceiling insulator was particularly popular because of its low flammability.

I wasn't aware of the low flammability aspect and think that this would be a very positive thing in a mattress! (Note to self: get hold of some dry eelgrass and try setting fire to it!) An earlier contributor on this thread had mentioned having concerns about flammability of straw.
 
I got this tall by not having enough crisco in my diet as a kid. This ad looks like it had plenty of shortening:
A rocket mass heater heats your home with one tenth the wood of a conventional wood stove
http://woodheat.net
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