19th Century Bedding

Bedding for the Refugee...

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 Copyright - May not be reproduced without permission from:  Victoria Rumble  

Refugees sometimes had advance notice of approaching Union troops and were able to pack a goodly portion of their belongings to take with them when they left their homes in search of safer shelter.  Sometimes they had little or no warning, however, and had to flee with the clothes they wore or perhaps a travelling bag kept ever ready just in case such an emergency arose.

Refugees sometimes simply went down the road or to the next town to stay for a short time with family or friends.  Sometimes they fled the South all together to live with family or friends in the North until the war was over.  Sometimes they simply were burned out of their home and had to find shelter nearby for the duration of the war.  The circumstances under which refugees fled is as varied as their reasons for leaving, so it is impossible to exactly define a refugee impression.  
One thing most refugees knew when they left their homes was there was a possibility they would never return, or if they did they would find nothing but a smoldering pile of ashes. We could be like Sarah Morgan who fled with a "running bag" she kept in her room for emergencies, like Emma Holmes who moved from home to home in and near her hometown after they lost their own home, or like Kate Stone who left for Texas for the duration of the war.  Each scenario calls for different amounts of "goods" we might have about us.  We could have nothing but a small bag of clothing, or we could be like the woman in the famous Matthew Brady image with a wagonload of furniture and possessions she is about to move.

Bedding was one of the essential household items women took with them when they could, and we can easily craft a feather bed which can either serve as mattress on a cot, or as bed itself for those times when we go light.  This is an excellent choice of bedding for those of us who are allergy/asthma prone and find sleeping on hay impossible.  

To craft a simple bed roll purchase cotton ticking or canvas approximately 45 in. wide.  Your length should be your height plus 8 to l0 inches then multiplied by 2.  You will open the fabric out to its full width of 45 in. so you will need to multiple the needed length by 2 for front and back. Sew the fabric up.  You may sew it in sections if you wish - either making two or three sections.  Dividing the mattress into sections will help keep your stuffing from bunching as much as if you made the entire bed roll in one section.    

If you have access to good clean feathers you are indeed fortunate that you will be able to make a genuine feather mattress. (See ordering info. below).  If this does not appeal to you look at purchasing  cotton batting to stuff your bed roll.  You can open the batting out a bit and put in as much as you wish to make the bed roll as thick as you wish.  To make it thicker you might possibly sandwich polyfill in for thickness between two double layers of cotton batting. Put your padding inside your bed roll and stitch the seams shut.  

Using a large needle and heavy thread (either wool yarn or cotton crochet thread) stitch through the entire bed roll as if you were tying a quilt - through all thicknesses and tie securely.  Do this at intervals close enough together to keep your filling from moving around inside the bed roll.  This will keep it from bunching up and becoming lumpy. Make your bed roll as thickly padded as you like.

To transport your new bed roll simply roll up and tie with a strip of fabric or cotton cording.    To set up your bed roll first put down a waterproof ground cloth, then your bed roll, and cover with wool blankets and/or quilts.  If you do not have a quilt that you are comfortable with its authenticity you can easily craft one.

You can make a quilt as simple or as elaborate as you like.  A simple quilt of blocks of homespun fabric pieced together will make a nice looking bed roll.  To quilt it place a piece of cotton lining down, top with cotton batting, and top that with your quilt top - "right" side up.  Pin or baste together.  If you do not have a quilt frame you can use a round wooden hoop.  In each corner where the blocks meet using a large needle and wool yarn or cotton crochet thread stitch down through all three layers and back up through your top.  Tie securely with 2 or 3 hard knots and clip your ends to about l inch.  When you have tied all the corners to hold the layers securely together you may trim your batting to the size of the quilt top.  Then trim your lining to 3 inches or so LARGER than the other two layers.

Fold under an inch or so of the lining then turn up again over your quilt top.  Do this all around the quilt pinning the edges, and keeping your hem evenly sized all around.  Hand stitch the edges of your lining all around your quilt using heavy cotton thread.  Your quilt is now ready for use.  If you want to make a fancier quilt there are many patterns out there to reproduce quilts of the mid-Victorian era. Choose fabrics and colors from the period using vintage textile books as your guide. Barbara Brachman's Civil War Women has several patterns and the history of the quilts themselves.

You may, of course, use your bed roll and bedding on a wooden cot if you like.  WWW.TENTSMITHS.COM sells a Byer of Maine wooden cot with l00% white cotton canvas sleeping fabric which is both sturdy and appropriate.

For those who wish to be creative try crafting your own rope bed out of cedar limbs or 4x4's.  You are only as limited in your bedding as the amount of time you want to spend setting it up.  Sleep tight, don't let the beg bugs bite!

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