Step-by-step tutorial to make your own Ballard-style tufted French mattress cushion in just a few hours using basic material and sewing skills.
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I'm SO excited to finally be able to share this tufted French mattress cushion I made because it's been 2 years in the making. Yes, really. It was in the plan back when we completed our French-style bench out of a pair of broken chairs (because that was inspired by a Ballard Designs bench that is no longer available with a similar cushion) and it's been sitting half-completed in my workroom ever since.
Like many other things I put off, by the time I actually get to it I can't believe I didn't get it done sooner - it literally took only a couple of hours.
Not only that, it's not hard, requiring only straight-stitch machine sewing and basic running-stitch hand sewing. I made sure to take pictures along the way so I would be able to show you how to make one too, and I'm passing on a few tips and tricks I learned to hopefully make it even easier for you!
How to make a Tufted French Mattress Cushion
What you'll need:
- 2" to 3" thick foam cut to desired size
- quilt batting - enough to completely cover foam piece
- sturdy fabric to cover top, bottom & sides of foam (I used a piece of cotton canvas drop cloth, but about 1 yard of upholstery-weight fabric will cover most chair cushions and 1-1/2 yards for bench-sized cushions)
- ball-head pins, thread (regular for machine sewing and quilting or button weight for hand sewing), upholstery needle, sewing machine
- optional: disappearing ink fabric marker, small fabric-covered buttons, small craft scissors
Tufted French Mattress Cushion Steps
1. Measure your foam piece and make a pattern out of newspaper - top and sides. Lay it on your fabric, pin it so that it doesn't move, and then use a ruler to mark an inch beyond the pattern, all the way around. This extra gives the room you'll need to pinch together and sew for the mattress edge. For the cushion side pieces, only mark 1/2-inch where the side corner pieces come together, but for long sides at the top and bottom edges, leave the 1-inch seam (i.e., all other seams are 1 inch).
UPDATED TO CLARIFY: ALL the edges where the side pieces meet the top/bottom pieces should be cut 1-inch larger (leaving 1/2″ seam allowance - i.e., where you will sew - AND 1/2 inch for pinching edges), BUT the side corners only need the regular 1/2″ seam allowance, since they don’t need extra. Again, when you cut the side pieces you add same one inch for seam allowance on the LONG edges only. The short edges that will make your corners you use the 1/2" when cutting because you are not pinching.
If it helps, just imagine that you are cutting 1/2" seam allowance everywhere and then ADDING another 1/2" on all the top and bottom edges that you are going to be pinching and hand-sewing.
2. Cut out all pieces on marks.
3. Sew side corner seams with a 1/2-inch seam allowance. (If you're in the market for a sewing machine, I use a Janome machine similar to this one that I've had for 10+ years. It's still going strong even with a lot of tough sewing projects I throw at it!)
4. Pin sewn side piece to bottom piece, easing as needed since the pieces are different sizes through straight edges and around corners.
5. Sew the side-to-bottom seam with a 1/2-inch seam allowance (the extra we left will be for the hand-sewn edges) all the way around.
6. Repeat steps 4 & 5 for cushion top piece, except leave a wide opening to insert your foam. A trick I use to help me remember to stop sewing is to use two pins next to each other as a visual reminder (yes, I learned this the hard way - too many times, actually!). You'll also want to bar-tack (sew back-and-forth a couple times) to lock both sides of the opening, since a lot of pressure will on those areas when you're inserting the foam.
7. Make sure to check each corner before inserting your foam for creases or pleats. Just remove a few stitches and re-sew to make smooth corners.
Apply Batting & Insert
8. Cover the foam piece with batting.
9. Fold the batting at the ends like wrapping a present and slip stitch it closed. There's no need to sew where the batting overlaps length-wise, just sewing the ends will keep it in place.
10. Insert the batting-covered foam into your cushion cover (folding foam as needed to get that baby in there!), fold the raw edges of the opening under to match the 1/2-inch seam and pin closed.
11. Sew opening closed with a simple slip stitch or running stitch.
Create French Mattress Edge
12. Now it's time to create the 'mattress' look for the cushion: Thread a long upholstery needle with a sturdy quilting or button thread, knot the end and insert needle into the seam at your starting point on one of the bottom edges - then pull to make your knot pop into the seam so it disappears. Now start sewing by grabbing about an inch of fabric and batting at the edge and sew at the base (mine is about 1/2" from the sewn edge) using a 1/4" running stitch.
13. Continue hand sewing the running stitch all around the top edge, rethreading and hiding your knots as you need, and the bottom edge.
14. The bottom pictures above show tips for hiding your starting and end knots when hand sewing: bring your needle up to the top of the seam from the running stitch and create the knot where the fabric comes together in the seam.
15. After making your ending knot, send your needle back through the seam and a bit of a way down into your side fabric. Pull your thread so it's a bit tight and then snip - the end will ease back into your foam and you won't see it or the finishing knot.
As you can see, you don't need to worry about imperfections in your hand sewing - crooked stitches, different lengths, and such - it's just part of the charm of this type of cushion - ha, at least that's what I'm telling myself!
16. Creating the tufted top - I'm not gonna lie, this is the toughest part of this project! And really, you don't have to do it - I thought it looked fine with a plain top, but the tufting does add the mattress look we're after, so it is a nice finishing touch. Start by marking where your tufts should be using a disappearing ink fabric marker (or light pencil mark - you really won't see it after the tufting) on the top and bottom of the cushion. For reference, my cushion is 38" x 16" and I marked 8 tufts by dividing the length by 5 (to get 4 equally spaced tufts along the length) and marking 5" in from the sides.
17. Use a heavy-duty button and upholstery thread if you have it, because there's a lot of pressure on the tufts and you want them to last as long as possible. Even with the thick thread, I still double-threaded the needle for even more strength.
18. Starting from the bottom of the cushion, insert your needle at your mark and, squeezing the cushion as much as possible, bring the needle through the foam, batting and fabric to your mark on the top, leaving a long tail of thread on the bottom. Re-insert the needle close to where it came up through the top (optional: you can use a small fabric-coverd button here to create a button-style tufting) and go back through the foam, batting and fabric, squeezing again as you go, and pull the needle out close to where the starting thread is. Tie the thread ends together semi-tightly (not too tight as to tear the fabric over time, but not too lose or the tufting won't be distinct) and clip the thread, leaving about 1/4-inch ends that will be visible on the bottom of the cushion. (Using small scissors like shown is the easiest when working on projects like this.)
19. Like I mentioned, this is hard - pulling the needle through 3" thick foam and hitting my marks was way more difficult than I expected and I found two things that made it a bit easier:
- Using a leather thimble on my thumb allowed me to be able to push the end of the needle hard while pulling from the other side.
- Using my knee to hold down the foam when I was at the tying stage (this eased the pressure on the thread making it a breeze to tie without having to hold down the foam, too).
20. Repeat with all your marked areas until the tufting is complete.
Then sit back and enjoy your sweet tufted French mattress cushion!
Since I've seen similar cushions in catalogs for upwards of $129 (really!) I think this 2-3 hour diy project is totally worth it, don't you?
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