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How to DIY a French Tufted Mattress

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Photo by Erin Kestenbaum.

The moment I realized that we had the space for a window bench in our sunroom, I immediately envisioned a French tufted mattress as a cushion for the spot—the breezy upholstery is revered for its versatility and ability to play to a variety of decorative styles and spaces. The question was more about how I was going to find the perfect one. 

After doing some research, I learned that having one made professionally is quite expensive (the manufacturing process is surprisingly labor-intensive) and purchasing a ready-made one can be just as pricey. So I decided to try my hand at DIY. I quickly discovered that there aren’t too many tutorials out there, so a little trial and error was involved. Once I managed to work out the various kinks, I realized that the project would be fairly manageable—and the finished product turned out stunning. Here’s how I made it happen: 


What the mattress looked like before it was tufted (left).

The Supplies

  • High-density foam (I used 4-inch foam—you may opt for less, but this style of cushion looks best on the hefty and substantial side)
  • 3/4-inch-to-1-inch batting (you’re going to want enough to cover the entire piece of foam on all six sides)
  • Fabric (we used this linen)
  • Spray adhesive
  • Matching thread (preferably upholstery-grade)
  • 3-inch sewing needle
  • 6-inch upholstery needle
  • Sewing machine

Step 1: Trim the Base

Cut the foam to size using a serrated knife, slicing halfway through the top, then flipping over to cut through to the other side—this should give you a straighter cut. We cut our foam a bit larger because you lose some size when you do the tufting. (All in all, we lost about a 1/2 inch on either side.)

Step 2: Tackle the Padding 

Cut the batting to size for each of the six sides, and apply it to the foam using spray adhesive. Use the heaviest batting that you can find, as it helps bulk up the edge you’re creating on the top and bottom.

Step 3: Put the Cover Together

Create a box cushion using your sewing machine and this tutorial (just ignore the zipper instructions, and when cutting your fabric, add 1 1/2 inches to all sides for a seam allowance and to create some extra fabric for the tufting). We left the long edge on the back to be sewn shut by hand using a ladder stitch, but in retrospect, we would have left a short edge open for less work. 


Step 4: Stitch Up the Sides

Once the cushion cover is done, it’s on to welting—otherwise known as the stitch that runs across the top and bottom edges. Take a long piece of thread and run it through the sewing needle to make a very large knot at the end of the thread.

Starting with a corner of the foam, pinch the edge where the top and side come together. About 1 inch down from the edge, stick your needle in from underneath. Pull the needle through the top, then stick it back down next to where the first thread came up and pull tight. Then stick the needle through the fabric and come out 2 inches over to the side. It should look something like this: 


Repeat the above steps all the way around the mattress and tie the string at the end. (I followed this tutorial for that step.) Make the stitches as consistently spaced as possible so that you can match them up vertically when you repeat on the top side.


Step 5: Add the Details

It’s time for the tufting. Map out where you want your tufts to go by using pins on both the top and bottom, spacing them evenly apart. We opted for approximately 7-inch spaces between our tufts, working with a 3×11 grid.

Using the 6-inch needle, double-thread it with 18 inches of thread. Choose a side to be the bottom and start there, pushing the needle through the back to the front, and then pulling it back through next to the first hole from the front to the back. We used a pen cap to push the needle through, since it can be quite sharp. Pull the needle all the way through to the front again, then push back through to the back. Tie a knot while applying downward pressure to the hole created by the thread—put your whole body into it. Here’s what that looks like: 


The last part is easiest with two people: One person applies pressure to the area of the foam that the thread has gone through while the second makes a triple knot, creating the tuft. Tie it tight enough that the foam is held in place, but not so tight that the pressure is too great on the thread. Repeat for each of the tufts. We found it easiest for one person to get the thread ready to go for each tuft in advance; this saved us a lot of time.


Step 6: Complete the Final Touches

Once the tufting is complete, spray Scotchgard on the cover. Then sip your morning coffee and unwind with a book on your new cushy seating area.

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This post originally appeared on Domino and was published February 15, 2020. This article is republished here with permission.

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