Make a Mattress For A Camper Van (Illustrated Guide)
Updated: Aug 17, 2020
Depending on the design for your van, you may need to make a custom sized mattress. Our mattress needed to be made up of 4 separate seat cushions which would be used on our bench seats in the day and then be rearranged at night to become a bed. It was easier than we expected to cut our mattress to the size we needed and make our own cushion covers for the perfect fit, despite having very basic sewing skills! Hopefully this illustrated guide helps anyone trying to make their own custom camper van mattress.
There are lots of mattress options out there – we toyed with the idea of using an IKEA mattress and designing the build around it. Eventually we settled on a memory foam mattress from eBay. The listing gave us options of thicknesses and sizes, after measuring the space we we worked out that buying two single mattresses would fit perfectly.
The next thing we needed to decide on is the fabric. We ordered a fair few samples as we wanted a fabric that was hard wearing and easy to clean but also soft and comfy. We had already decided on a dark grey colour for the mattress/seat covers which made our search easier to narrow down.
In the end found some amazingly cheap fabric in a local fabric shop in Walthamstow, so would recommend searching a local store if you have one near you.
Tools/ equipment required to make a custom mattress
Memory foam mattresses cut to size. (We used 4 inches of blue (reflex) foam with 1 inch of white (memory) foam on to)
Enough fabric to cover each mattress block with some spare in case you make a mistake!
Sewing machine (we used this one)
Sharp fabric scissors
4 x zips which run close to the length of the cushion (we used 180mm zips)
Wadding (if you’re note sure what this is click here)
Fabric measuring tape over 2m in length
A serrated bread knife or electric breadknife from the kitchen
Thread to match or contrast your chosen fabric
For simplicity this guide assumes your mattress is formed of 4 blocks of foam, we will refer to blocks within our guide.
Step 1 - Cut memory foam to the required size
Cut the 4 blocks of foam to form your camper mattress. We used two single mattresses and cut them both lengthways to make 2 bench bases and 2 bench backs.
Measure out the size of your cushions to fit your seating / sleeping area and then draw a guide line on both sides of the foam. Using a normal serrated bread knife (or electric bread knife if you have one), cut along the line, making sure to follow it on both sides of the foam.
We had already built most of our timber benches so used those as a guide to work out the depth of the seat cushions. Our seats are 580mm deep with 320mm bench backs which when laid flat fit perfectly between the walls of our van.
Step 2 - Cover each cushion with wadding
Wadding (aka padding or batting) in this instance is used to soften the 90 degree edges of the mattress blocks making them more comfortable. Wadding is inexpensive and contributes to the overall look of your cushions as they will help hide any rough edges created from cutting the mattress cushions.
Wrap each block completely with wadding and attach with spray adhesive.
Step 3 - Cut the fabric to size
The fabric should be cut to the same size as each of the foam cushions with an additional 10mm tolerance on each side. So if your foam mattress is 1900mm in length and 580mm wide, cut the fabric for that side at 1920 x 600mm. This will give you enough fabric to easily sew the edges together. Too small and the cover won’t fit over the foam mattress!
We discovered that cutting large pieces of fabric is much easier with two people, so wait until you have a helper!
There will be 32 pieces of fabric in total covering four mattress cushions. The above image shows the pieces needed for one seat cushion and one back rest cushion. If you are making 4 cushions like we did, you will need all of these pieces twice!
Within the 32 pieces you need to cut there are six different types A-F. Section ‘A’ covers the top and bottom faces of the seat mattress. The ‘B’ sections are the sides of the blocks without zips. Type ‘C’ are the sides of the blocks with zips, we allow an extra 20mm here to attach the zips. Type ‘D’ are the ends of the mattress blocks for the seat cushion. Type ‘E’ is the top and bottom of each of the smaller blocks, we use these as the back rests when in the seating position. Use these calculations to work out the fabric sections you need for each side of your camper mattress:
A = (length of seat mattress +20mm) x (width of seat mattress + 20mm) B = (length of seat mattress + 20mm) x (thickness of mattress + 20mm) C = (length of mattress + 20mm) x (thickness of mattress + 40mm) D = (width of seat mattress + 20mm) x (thickness of mattress + 20mm) E = (length of back rest mattress +20mm) x (width of back rest mattress + 20mm) F = (width of back rest mattress + 20mm) x (thickness of mattress + 20mm)
It helps to sketch out a cutting sheet with each of the dimensions you need to cut. Make sure you stay organised and keep each set of cut sections together to make it easier when sewing them together later.
Step 4 - Sew the sections together
Use sewing pins to hold each piece of fabric together before using the sewing machine to sew the pieces together on the reverse side. Sew all of the panels together, except the ‘C’ zip panels. Once you have finished sewing each seam run it under an iron to keep the corners looking sharp.
Step 5 - Sew the zips on
This was the trickiest part for us! To make the zip panels, cut section C in half down the length of the section. You can then attach the zip between the two pieces uses the zipper foot of your sewing machine and sew back together. Once you have made your zip panels, turn the covers inside out and attach the final panel to complete the cover.
Make sure that the zips face the walls of the van or sit on top of the other cushion so they are not seen when the van is in seating mode.
Step 6 - Put the covers on your cushions
With the covers complete then last thing to do is cover your wadded memory foam with the cover. You want it to be a tight fit so that the covers don't look saggy - get ready to squeeze the foam blocks in. Once that’s done zip them up and away you go! You have made a mattress for a camper van!
The mattress for our camper van is made up of four memory foam block covered in grey fabric. The two smaller bits are the backs for our bench seats when in bench mode and the larger bits are the bases. To have a look at how we planned the design of our van have a look here.
All materials used and/or mentioned within this post can be found within our Van Conversion Cost Breakdown. All of the tools used can be found in our Tools Used in our Van Conversion post. Both of these posts will be updated during our build. If you cant find something let us know, we are happy to help!