Shikibuton: The Foldable Futon

Combine three foam blocks, about 21 square feet of fabric, and your personal sewing skills and you can make a shikibuton, aka a "foldable futon."

| March/April 1981

You can sleep on it, lounge on it, read on it, exercise on it, and dream on it. Indeed, the uses of the versatile foldable futon mattress we'll discuss here are practically endless! Furthermore, this compact piece of furniture (which is modeled after the traditional Oriental sleeping mat) is so lightweight that it can be easily carried almost anywhere. Just follow the instructions in this article, and—after a few hours of work—you'll have your very own futon to use in the bedroom, in the living room, on the patio, or even on camping trips.

AN Updated Tradition

For centuries, the customary Japanese interior design style has remained ultra-simple: A typical Oriental home is sparsely furnished, giving each room a low profile and an uncluttered atmosphere. The few pieces of furniture that are used are nearly always movable ones. For example, many Easterners create a simple, practical bed by first covering the floor with tatami, or woven mats of rice straw,. and then placing a soft mattress of cotton batting called a shikifuton —or underquilt—on top of that resilient base. (The cover for each bed is called a kakefuton, or overquilt.) The whole assembly can be rolled up easily and stored in a large cabinet during the day.

Well, that ancient design is the basis for an updated version of the shikifuton (which is sometimes spelled shikibuton ). The modern convertible unit consists of three foam blocks that are covered with fabric and fastened together by cloth "hinges". Because of its unusual construction, this futon can be folded up to serve as an ottoman or chair ... or spread out flat for use as a comfortable pallet.

In order to construct the multipurpose sleeper, you'll need three foam rubber blocks, each 27" X 30" and 4" or 5" thick. You can probably pick up appropriately sized cushions at an upholstery store—or purchase them through the Sears catalog or some other mail order company—but you'll save money if you buy them directly from the manufacturer (check the Yellow Pages to see whether there's a factory outlet near you). Depending on their thickness (and on where you buy them), the three cushions will probably cost between $20 and $30.

For the futon's covering, you'll need 7 yards of 36" (or 5 1/2 yards of 45") fabric. Choose a colorful, firmly woven, heavy cloth such as cotton duck, corduroy, or denim. Such materials, of course, can be found just about anywhere, but if you're willing to scrounge a little you may well locate some great bargains. For instance, I bought upholstery mill ends on sale at my favorite fabric store for less than a dollar a yard!

Start the construction of your homemade futon by spreading out the fabric in a single thickness and cutting each piece very carefully, especially if your material has a directional pattern or nap. (You might even want to make, and label, some tissue cutting guides, similar to the ones that are included with sewing patterns.)

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