If you go to any living history site in the United States pre-1900 you’ll see a rope bed. Now, if you’re a mom with a young child you probably have large numbers of dolls and stuffed animals, and your kids LOVE to get new doll furniture. So why not turn that love into a history lesson and create your very own historical doll bed, and your very own doll rope bed.
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Let’s talk rope beds
Rope beds were an easy way to create support for you that isn’t on the floor, and isn’t the trouble and difficulty of carving out a bed.
Wood is expensive and time-consuming.
But, you know what the problem with rope is?
Over time it stretches out.
So you have to tighten it.
According to various history myths, that is where the phrase “Sleep tight” came from, as people would remind you to tighten the ropes on the bed. History Myths debunked disagree, but it’s a fun theory.
Mattresses would be stuffed with straw, fabric scraps, or feathers. Feathers are the more expensive option because think of how many chickens you would need to pluck to get that many feathers. Straw would have to be replaced somewhat frequently because it breaks down over time.
In either case the fabric needs to have a fairly tight weave so the stuffing does not come back through.
These doll beds work across a wide variety of time periods, I don’t know exactly when they were first used, but I know for sure they were used up through late 1800s. Our local living history museum has a rope bed from about 1850s.
Supplies for your historical doll bed
box lid (shoe box, amazon prime box, find a box that fits your doll), scissors, blue tape, yarn needle (would be smart, we didn’t have one), yarn, straw (more on this at that part), cloth, and needles
First to make your historical doll bed you need the frame: rope bed
First take your box and cut a hole in the top. If your kids are young, then you should do this step.
Next, reinforce the edges with blue tape. Then take a nail and start poking holes through for the “rope” to be woven through.
Now, this would be a lot easier if I had some yarn needles (not gonna lie, I totally want to buy these needles for the little tube they come in), but I didn’t at the time so I wrapped the end in yarn. In all honesty, if we’d had that we wouldn’t necessarily have to poke holes first.
Keep going, weaving the yarn back and forth until you have a decent lattice going on. You’re probably going to have to tie on more yarn at some point, and as you can see, it doesn’t have to be a traditional square weave for this to work.
Putting together your mattress for the historical doll bed
First head out to your back yard or a local park and look for some grass clippings. Lay it out in the sun to dry for a few days. I apparently did not get a picture of this, so just imagine it.
Next, fold your fabric into a double layer, and then lay your rope bed on top of it. Cut around your rope bed leaving an inch or two extra space around it.
Then spend a few minutes hand sewing it, making sure to leave space to turn your mattress inside out and stuff it. Yes, my son is sitting there on our couch sewing with a giant mug of tea while covered in camo from head to toe.
I just realized, that is a picture of him sewing it shut after stuffing his mattress. Oops.
Then stuff your mattress with your straw. As you can tell, we have a corner of our yard that has some ridiculously long grass, which made perfect straw for our straw mattress.
They had a blast playing with their historical doll beds once they were done. Their owie dolls had lots of naps and moved all around the house and outside for different games.
In case you’re wondering, about the doll or clothes:
- Owie Doll Pattern (love this pattern, it makes up great)
- Founding Fathers pattern
- Regency doll pattern (they used to have a bundle of all their 18 inch doll pattern, and YES I know these are from two different clothing eras, but those are the patterns the dolls are wearing, I don’t have a pattern for 1770s girl clothing, I’m drooling over some other ones at Pixie Faire, but don’t have a good excuse to buy them, Princess already has a whole lot of doll clothes and is outgrowing them)
More hands on history ideas for 1700s and 1800s
- Make a quadrant
- World War 1 nurse craft
- Handkerchief doll craft
- Viking Weapon project
- Roman Shield craft