THE MAKING OF A MATTRESS
Two days, two specialist artisans and yards of white silk: who knew crafting a mattress would be like making a wedding dress?
Across Britain, mattress-making is an ancient artisan skill that continues to thrive. Inside the Somerset factory of bed-making brand Relyon (relyon.co.uk) sewing machines hum, while busy hands tease fluffy clouds of mohair into kingsized panels and tug 12-inch tufting needles out of a foot-deep mattress. Plymouth-based brand Vispring (vispring.com) upholds similarly high standards of hard work and heritage, while Hypnos ( hypnosbeds.com) is a family business in its fifth generation. Smaller-scale mattress manufacturing companies are also prospering, such as interiors insiders’ favourite Goodchild & Palmer ( goodchildpalmer.co.uk). We asked some mattress makers to talk us through the practicalities and intricacies of this enduring art.
HISTORY Founded in 1901, Vispring brought the pocket sprung mattress to Britain. The design was commissioned to furnish the First Class rooms on the Titanic, and today, Vispring is the bed brand of choice for the Dorchester Hotel. It’s not the only company with a past to be proud of. Since 1929, Hypnos has held the Royal Warrant, meaning it has kitted out noble abodes from Buckingham Palace to Balmoral, while Relyon has been producing, in its words, ‘ beds you can rely on’ – principally by hand – since 1858. TECHNIQUES
A top-of-the-range mattress can take around 32 hours of labour to produce. ‘The majority of mattress manufacture can’t be done by a machine,’ says Paul Little, head of sales at Relyon. ‘ We’ve tried, but the results are either too restrictive or simply not intricate enough.’ Both Relyon and Vispring run apprentice programmes to train each new recruit in every specialist bed-making skill, some of which can take up to a full year to master. The four key procedures are: WOOL TEASING Transforming balls of raw wool into rectangular mattress-shaped panels. TUFTING Hooking a ribbon from one side of a mattress to another to hold it compactly together – craftspeople wear custom- made white couturiers’ gloves for this, to keep the fresh cotton pristine and to protect their hands. TAPE EDGING This is the process of sewing the mattress’s top panel to the side border. SIDE-STITCHING Hand-stitching the side wall of the mattress to an inner row of springs, in order to prevent the side from collapsing out.
‘ Finding the perfect mattress formula is a bit like magic,’ says Little. There are a lot of tests involved – a mattress sample the size of a cushion is manually bumped in a pumping machine for 12 hours to test its resistance – and also a lot of trial and error. On top of the central platform of pocket springs ( coils of wire compressed and housed in a tightly- sewn ‘pocket’ of 100 per cent cotton calico) go layers of horsehair, lambswool, a cashmere and silk mixed fibre and soft mohair. To ensure proper consistency throughout, all of the layers are weighed by hand using hanging scales.
Mattresses are sewn into a hard-wearing cotton – Goodchild & Palmer use herringbone ticking or Belgian cotton damask. Like Vispring and Hypnos, this brand specialises in upholstery, meaning that it can create your headboard, divan or mattress in any fabric you like – a task its staff relish.
Relyon sources from near and far: horse hair from China, merino wool from New Zealand and fabric woven by Fox Brothers, a Uk-based textile mill local to the brand. Suppliers on the Shetland Isles sell their sheep’s wool exclusively to Vispring – the brand prizes the Cheviot- Shetland breed for the premium springiness of its fleeces (supposedly down to how much seaweed the sheep eat), and the brand visits every year to award a trophy to the ram and lamb with the springiest wool.
Heal’s mattresses ( heals.com) have always been delivered to the door by an in-house team – via horse and carriage until 1925, and now a fleet of vans. If you buy a Vispring mattress from Harrods ( harrods.com), you’ll experience the retailer’s free ‘ white glove’ delivery service – a team of two will bring, unpack and install it, and take your old one away for recycling.