Good Night and Sleep Tight: Re-Stringing a 19th-Century Bed

Many thanks to Lisa Withers, M.A. student at UNCG and Blandwood docent, for this guest post.

Artifacts in a house museum help visitors gain a better understanding of daily life for the individuals and families who once occupied the dwelling. One popular item is the rope bed found in many early American homes which helps visitor compare how Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries slept in contrast to the beds we use today.

Earlier this year, a group of museum professionals gathered at Governor Morehead’s Blandwood Mansion to re-string the rope bed located in the 1795 section of the home. Marian Inabinett and Corinne Midgett of the High Point Museum joined me and Elyse Bennett, also a UNCG museum studies student and Blandwood docent, to get the job done. While preparing, our group found a great tutorial video made by David Sextner and Jerome Bias at Hope Plantation, which helped us understand the process .

Blandwood BedTo get started, we removed the old rope from the bed frame. At the top of the bed, we pulled the length of the new rope through the length of the bed in a similar manner as pulling thread through the eye of a needle. At the head of the bed, we made a knot on the side of the frame facing the wall. We continued threading the rope in alternating directions the length of the bed.

BlandwoodBed2When the bed was re-strung lengthwise, we wrapped the rope around the corner of the bed frame to change directions and began re-stringing across the bed’s width. We interwove the rope going across the bed’s width with the rope along the length of the bedframe, alternating direction each time we went across the width of the bed. As we interweaved the rope, we gently pulled and tightened as we went along to keep the appropriate tension on the rope and frame. When we reached the end of the bed, we made another knot on the bedframe’s exterior. We then checked the tension of the rope to ensure it was tight enough to keep the bed frame in place and to provide extra stability. When we finished re-stringing the bed, we covered the ropes with an interwoven oak pallet, a tick pallet, a pillow, and a coverlet. From our experience, we found it was beneficial to have a four-person team with two individuals to hold frame stable and two to restring the bed. For a 6 ft. 3 in. by 4 ft. 3 in. bed, we used approximately 100 ft. of 3/8 inch twisted manila rope.

L to R: Elyse Bennett, Lisa Withers, Marian Inabinett, and Corinne Midgett

L to R: Elyse Bennett, Lisa Withers, Marian Inabinett, and Corinne Midgett

From the procedure of re-stringing a rope bed, it is easy to see how the origins of the phrase “sleep tight” became a popular myth. However, the phrase is rather modern, as the Oxford English Dictionary lists its first use in 1933. While there are a few earlier written accounts using the term, there is not sufficient evidence to suggest the phrase came from the practice of stringing a rope bed.

Photos courtesy Benjamin Briggs, Executive Director of Preservation Greensboro, Inc.

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on May 27, 2014, in collections care, Exhibitions, guest bloggers, historic houses and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I would love to see a picture and or have more information about your ‘woven oak pallet’ What is that?

    • Thanks for your question, Sylvia. I’ve relayed your inquiry to Lisa and she replied that the item is a layer of support on top of the ropes when sleeping and is something found locally in the Piedmont Region of NC. She is following up with the Director in an effort to get more details. Unfortunately, there is currently no photo available. We’ll post any further information here in the comments section as it comes our way.

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