Sunday, August 9, 2015

How to Build the Batting Bed, Step by Step

Here are the instructions for making the batting bed, or "bare quilt bed," that we have used for the last several years.

Supplies and Materials

To make the batting bed, you will need:

  • Cotton quilt batting
  • A tool for cutting the batting fabric, such as a rotary cutter
  • Several large (at least 50" x 10") strips of thick scrap cardboard, a piece of waste wood, or other cutting surface. (Instead of the rotary cutter, a high quality fabric shears would also work and doesn't require a cutting surface.)
  • Measuring tape
  • Colored chalk or soft pencil

To find these supplies, check out the page on Buying Supplies.


Step One

Determine the dimensions you want the bed to be. That means decide how long, how wide, and how thick you would like your sleeping surface.

This is the space where our beds will go. We are doing construction on the house and so everything is in an unfinished state. We like these beds, because they can fit temporary accommodations like this.

Length and Width of Bed

Generally, you'll want to estimate 24" - 36" width per person. For a 6' tall, 200 lb individual, a 30" x 90" size could work. For a petite individual, a 24" x 80" bed could be sufficient.  For more than one person, you can either make individual beds and shove them together, or make one wider bed.

The size of your bed is up to you. Whatever the width, though, we have found that there is an advantage to making the length 90" regardless of the height of the person, which I'll talk about farther down.

Also, remember you have more size flexibility with a batting bed because it can be rolled up or folded up just like a shikifuton during the day. Its location can be moved to wherever is most convenient.

Tip: Unlike a regular bed that is raised off the floor, it is not necessary to make a batting bed much bigger than your sleeping body. Since it will be supported on the floor, an arm or foot sticking out here and there shouldn't significantly affect your comfort. But if you are putting the batting bed on a solid raised platform, you probably want to use standard mattress lengths and widths.


To determine the optimal thickness for your bed, take a sample of the cotton batting (90" x 10" is a good size) and fold it into many layers, accordion-style, until it's one thick pad.  Sit, stand, and lie down on the layers. See how much they compress and bounce.

If it seems pretty comfortable, fold it into yet more layers. Do this until the padding seems to be way more than you need, maybe even a bit too soft. Trust me, it's probably just right at that point! You want to overcompensate now, because the batting, like any cotton padding, will compress over time.

Next, count the number of layers in your folded pad. That is how many layers you will need in your bed.  I estimate it will be somewhere between 30 and 60 layers.

Step Two

Determine the size of each piece of your batting.  This is not necessarily the same size as your bed. The bolt of batting I recommend you start with comes in a 90" x 1440" roll.   You will need to cut this into smaller pieces.

What size will the pieces be?

To answer this, you need to think about how you are going to arrange the bed.  Do you want:

A) one piece for each layer, or
B) to take a large piece and fold it into several layers? (more modular)

I prefer option B - folding larger pieces into several layers each - because that is the most flexible arrangement. With that option, I suggest you do what we did and use 90" x 90" pieces.  That is a perfect square.

By making the pieces square, with no "long side" or "short side," you make them interchangeable. You don't have to be finicky about which way they get thrown down. You can make a single, double, or larger bed any time you want, just by changing the way you fold the pieces. Lastly, the fabric I recommend is already cut to 90", which simplifies cutting.

However, one very good reason to decide to do option A is your washing machine. If you have access to only a small capacity washing machine, then you'll find it much easier to wash smaller pieces, such as twin-size.

TipThe batting will shrink slightly over time due to washing and drying. Shrinkage in fabrics occurs differently in length vs. width directions. For this reason, even if you cut the pieces square, they may end up with one dimension a few inches longer. This is okay. The bottom-layer sheet, what is usually the fitted sheet on a standard bed, is a flat sheet and can cover irregularities.


Now that you've decided on a size for your pieces of batting, you need to cut the batting into pieces.

This illustration shows a 90" by 40 yard bolt of quilt batting as used for the batting bed.

The batting roll we recommend comes in large bolts. Before packaging, the fabric is folded down its 90" width in half and then rolled into a bolt. So when you get it, don't panic: the roll is only 45" tall because it's doubled over.

Step One

Lay the bolt down on its side on the floor and start to unroll it, keeping it folded as is. Unroll it until you have enough to cut. Smooth it out, but try not to stretch out the fabric too much; this can distort your measurements. (That is no great disaster - we were pretty casual about this - but perfectionists might be concerned.)

Step Two

Measure your desired width with the measuring tape. For example, if you are cutting the square to 90" by 90", use your measuring tape to measure 90" from the edge both on the top and bottom, marking it in colored chalk or pencil in both places as shown. Or, say, if you are cutting your pieces 36" x 90", then measure to 36". Draw a line between the marks as your cutting guideline.

This illustration shows the dimensions before cutting.

Step Three

Slip a few large strips of scrap cardboard or your waste wood under the batting where your marks are and where you will be cutting. Use enough to protect your floor. This is important. Otherwise you will find the rotary cutter will slice right through the batting and mar the carpet or floor underneath. Then it would become a very expensive bed indeed.

Illustration of protective board laid down underneath batting to protect floor from rotary cutter.

Step Four

Use the rotary cutter to cut through the double-layer batting along your guideline.

Step Five

Unfold the newly cut piece. You now have one piece of quilt batting 90" x 90" (or 90" x whatever you cut it to).

Illustration of one piece of cotton batting ready to be used as a layer for the bed.

Step Six

Keep going along the roll, repeating Steps 1 through 5, until you have cut it all, or until you have the number of pieces you want.


Now it is time to lay down the layers.

Step 1

As the first, optional base layer, I recommend using a barrier for protecting the bed from the floor. We use a large cotton sheet because it provides a barrier while still being washable. You can use a sheet, blanket, rug, or, if you can find one large enough, a tatami mat. Lay this down where your bed will be. Smooth out any wrinkles.

This base layer will serve for two individual beds laid next to each other. I am making three beds and will use a separate sheet underneath the third.

Step 2

Start laying down the layers of cotton batting, one by one.

You are either going to lay them down on top of each other or you are going to be folding them in halves, thirds, or quarters. Which you do depends on which arrangement you chose when you decided on the size of your bed and the layers.

If you are folding them, it's possible to do so with just one person, but expect that the corners will not be perfectly square.

One piece of cotton batting becomes 4 layers when folded in fourths.

After laying down each layer, do three things:

  1. Adjust it right away to be square with the layer below. You do that each time because there is too much friction between the layers to "shuffle" them all straight afterward, when they're all piled up on each other.
  2. Smooth out any wrinkles by patting down the wrinkles and tugging the edges.
  3. Look for bumps. Remove any objects that might have found their way into the bed (toys, socks, etc.)
The Princess and the Pea got it right! Smoothing out the wrinkles and removing loose objects as you go is important. Wrinkles and bumps are not comfortable to sleep on, no matter what layer they're under.

Beginning the bifold bed. The bifold uses batting that has been folded in half for a wider bed.

Bifold layers have been laid down. It's hard to get them straight and square, but that's okay. They won't look so messy once the bed is made.

The bifold layers are complete, the quarter fold layers are in progress, and the middle bed, which will also be folded in 1/4ths, only has base layers. Note the blanket used as an extra base layer, because why not? It's summer and it would just be stored in the closet otherwise.

I've wrapped the wider bed in a bottom sheet, which replaces a fitted sheet for this bed system. I was pretty tired and did a messy job. It can be tucked in more neatly, of course.

Two beds made, and the middle one in progress.

Finally, all beds complete and made - well, as much as they tend to get made in our house! The far one by the wall is the widest and thinnest. The middle one has the most cushioning and the tallest profile. The 40-layer bed is still pretty plush.
There, your "bare quilt bed" is done. Needless to say, it's a bit quicker if you're not folding the layers but just using more of them to get your optimal cushioning.

For supplies to make this bed, see Buying Supplies. To find out more about making the bed - what sheets to use, etc. - check out the FAQ.


  1. About how many rolls of batting woud be needed or 2 of the beds you created? How many laers and folds was in the middle bed and how many rolls of batting did you end up using for the 3?

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