It’s been an interesting ride for mattress tape.
The workaday narrow fabric that once came only in white or tan has moved beyond the utilitarian into the realm of style must-have on today’s fashionable bed. But not before overcoming a major threat to its very existence: the rise of specialty sleep.
What is mattress tape?
Typically, it’s a narrow, polyester warp-knit or woven fabric that has earned a reputation as mattress “eye candy” or “jewelry.” Its uses today, just to name a few, include as decorative border overlay, elaborately embellished mattress handle, logo and brand messenger on point-of-sale items and as super-thick tape-edge.
While most tapes continue to be used as functional seam sealers, they also embellish the bed. And, with increasing frequency, their purpose is purely decorative, to buff-up brands and differentiate products at the point of sale.
The first mattress tapes were narrow, just seven-eighths of an inch to 1½-inches wide. Their sole purpose was to close the seams of the bed. Today’s standard tape width is 17/16 inches. Ribbon widths range from five-eighths of an inch to 3 inches, with 1¾ inches being the most popular.
The wider 17/16-inch width was first introduced by Alamance, North Carolina-based tape producer CT Nassau, the industry’s oldest and largest narrow fabrics supplier. The wider tape was meant to handle hefty comfort layers and voluminous pillow-tops.
CT Nassau “disrupted” the industry again, in the first decade of the 21st century, when it introduced two-tone “bar tape.” The striped look was a pivot point for mattress tape, elevating its importance in the bed and opening the door to considerable color and design innovation among all tape producers.
“Today, we are seeing even more exciting and creative uses for tape and ribbon in the specialty and POP market, in addition to the now traditional ways—as tape-edge, handle and ribbon around the bed,” says Taber Wood, CT Nassau vice president of sales.
Not tape, but (narrow) fabric
Mattress tapes are offered in an array of widths, colors, designs, textures, constructions and finishes. They aren’t boring anymore. They can have chenille yarns, bits of sparkle or intricate print patterns. In fact, tape suppliers would prefer it if you called them “narrow fabrics.”
“We are truly in the fabric business now,” says Jeff Miller, vice president of business development for tape and accessories supplier BRK Group LLC, with headquarters in Pico Rivera, California. “Tapes and trim have really become an important part of mattress design now. Once in a while, tape even takes precedence over the fabric. But without a doubt, the narrow fabric on beds today has been elevated to a much higher level.”
Some tapes are yarn-dyed; some are piece-dyed. Some tapes are offered in widths up to 12 inches. Suppliers say they are servicing a growing demand for ever-wider tapes.
“The products themselves are becoming more complex with texturized or specialty yarns,” Wood says. “Over the past two years, we’ve invested in our own yarn-spinning machines. This enables us to react quickly to market trends and control the yarn color, making sure the tape, ribbon, border and bed base all coordinate.”
Turning it around
With the growing popularity of all-foam mattresses and cut-and-sewn covers, things changed for tape suppliers. The future looked bleak.
“Essentially, those new covers didn’t use any tape,” Miller says. “You don’t need tape to close the edges of a sewn cover. (Tape suppliers) took a hit, no doubt about it. But things began to change, and the pendulum has swung back.”
What was once a threat has blossomed into an opportunity.
“The original, sewn specialty-sleep covers were so very plain and boring—that is where the interest in dressing up beds with decorative tapes and ribbons actually sprang from,” says Camilla Franklin, AEC Narrow Fabrics product manager for mattress tape, which has headquarters in Asheboro, North Carolina.
Wood agrees; he says specialty sleep “has made everyone realize the creative opportunities of tape and ribbon. Specialty mattresses are where you see new technologies and creative energy.”
And now, more than ever, mattress design is influenced by fast-changing trends in upholstery and apparel, suppliers say. Mattress tape and trim are helping manufacturers keep their products au courant and in step with many upholstery influences.
“With the pervasiveness of the media, design trends spread far more quickly,” says Patsy Allen, design and sales consultant to tape supplier Bo-Buck Mills Inc., based in Chesterfield, South Carolina. “Today, the design cycle for bedding is almost as short as in home furnishings and apparel. You can find out about the latest color and design, then use them immediately and easily with mattress tape and trim.
“As mattress manufacturers have become more design-oriented, the tape has become more important,” Allen continues. “Tape used to be more of an afterthought, but now it’s considered at an earlier phase in the design process. Manufacturers are more sophisticated—they are looking at the total design package right from the start.”
Bill Simon, president of tape and decorative accents supplier Bechik Products Inc., headquartered in Eagan, Minnesota, says, “There is no doubt that mattress tape as an artistic accent is in its heyday.”
And, when done right, a well-dressed bed border achieves its goal. Mattress makers are able to create a great look at a great value using tape, trim, ribbon and handles, suppliers say.
“It’s to get the bed border to speak to you from across the room, to make the consumer want to walk over to it and then gaze down at the bed’s fabulous panel fabric,” Franklin says.
Tape suppliers boast that their product has become “indispensable.” It’s the final touch that, literally and figuratively, ties the bed together, and even differentiates models within a mattress line.
In their luxury collections, mattress makers are using “high yarn count, multicolor and multipattern” tapes, Simon says.
They’re also using multiple tape-edges, as many as three to five tape edges and ribbons on a single mattress.
Bechik offers signature collections with graphic, geometric patterns, including Diamond Knit, Wave Knit and Elite Diagonal, in a broad range of color choices.
“These are a decidedly different look from the standard white or beige woven tape that has been around for years,” Simon says. But the company also has returned to more subtle-looking goods in tapes with “color that is tightly blended, if not solid color, to provide an upholstered-furniture-edge look.”
For instance, Bechik’s newer Craft Tape woven collection blends two and three subtle yarn colors. Some use chenille yarns for a softer hand and more texture. These newest tapes can have lustrous sheen or be matte.
“Even in opening price points, mattress makers can dress up a bed significantly with the right, value-priced decorative tape—because in the world of tape, more pattern does not always equate to higher price,” Franklin says.
“Layered-looking trim is increasingly popular and can be affordable, too,” she says. “We can engineer products to make them look multilayered, but they aren’t.”
When using tape purely as a decorative element on a mattress, straight lines may be a thing of the past. Mattress makers are taking tapes and ribbons and angling and curving them. There are even tapes with elastic fibers that stretch and cling to the mattress surface and offer greater design flexibility.
When developing new products, tape suppliers say they work closely with ticking suppliers, as well as with their customers, to ensure the newest tapes coordinate well with the latest fabric styles.
CT Nassau built an iPad app called “Showviewer” that allows users to design beds from a broad database of tapes, mattress fabrics and bed silhouettes.
“You can visualize your new line before ordering the first material sample,” Wood says. “Our goal today is to help customers work smarter. Saving time and money is essential in today’s market.”
With strong color returning to bed borders and vivid accent colors in mattress panels, mattress-tape color palettes have broadened. Finished tapes vary from monochromatic, flat looks to dimensional, multihued knits, weaves and prints.
Tape can become “a fashion statement,” especially when it infuses bold color, Woods says. “A tape in a bold, bright color, used as an accent, is a finishing touch—just like jewelry or a pocket square is to an outfit.
“In the last few years, we have seen a strong trend in coordinating colors throughout the bed, using tapes and ribbon to pull a look together,” Wood adds. “It’s a design technique rooted in our industry’s upholstery influences.”
Neutrals, dark tones and even purple are trending colors in mattress tape.
“Grays continue strong, blues are making inroads, and bright colors are appearing on contemporary beds,” Franklin says. “In a product category dominated by white for so long, it’s often easiest to add a burst of color in the tape.”
BRK’s Miller says, “Lavender is trending, but predominant colors remain navy, brown and black—which provide a sharp contrast to pale ticking.”
Bo-Buck’s Allen says, “Once, people were afraid of purple, but you’re starting to see more in that color family—perhaps thanks to Pantone’s choice of Radiant Orchid as color of the year. Two other colors are really strong—the blue-green family and dark blues into navy and into cleaner blues. Blue never goes away entirely, it just changes. Grays have been really strong and continue to be so. They are the neutral that everyone seems to use.”
Playing dress up
Manufacturers use tape and trim to differentiate beds within a collection, Miller says.
“For every step-up, you add more trim,” he explains. “The opening price point might not use trim; in the next level you may have handles, in the next handles and trim. The dress-up probably begins at about $599 in a queen-size mattress.”
Mattress tape companies say that manufacturers also use their tapes to demonstrate what is going on inside the mattress. The tape overlay on the bed border can serve as a visual aid to assist retail sales associates in describing the comfort layers or mattress core.
“There are two schools of thought on mattress design,” Miller says. “Some say, make the outside plain because there is so much going on inside the mattress. That works in some cases, but in order to attract the eye of the female consumer, you need design interest.”
And trim is probably one of the least expensive ways to dress up a bed, he adds.
It can also be quite expensive, especially when you choose to layer trims.
Some full-perimeter trim is one tape layered over another, Miller says, which is why some major manufacturers are buying specialized sewing equipment to perform these sewing operations in-house.
In the future, we may see mattress tapes descending into the foundation. It’s a furniture look derived from upholstery piping.
Mattress manufacturer’s viewpoint
Laurie Tokarz, executive vice president of Restonic licensee Alliance Sleep, headquartered in Buffalo, New York, compares mattress tape with a woman’s choice of shoes for an outfit. Sometimes the shoe is the star and sometimes it’s chosen to complement another part of the outfit, but the wrong shoe is deadly, she says.
“The same is true with mattress tape,” she says. “With the right pattern, color or texture, you can take a bed from so-so to ‘wow!’ You can also use a coordinating tape that will almost disappear, so the consumer’s eye is drawn to other features, like a strong top-panel design. However, if you use a tape that just doesn’t quite match or coordinate—the whole mattress look misses the mark.
“You want your mattress to shout, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’” continues Tokarz. “The main components that need to work together to create that appeal are the border fabric, the top-panel fabric and—the finishing touch—the tape that brings the first two elements together.”
Tokarz says decorative tape has become much more important to the look and personality of a mattress over the past five years.
“The tape that is available in the marketplace today is incredibly more creative than just five to six years ago,” she says. “There are a huge array of colors, textures, printed designs and wide width for decorative purposes, instead of just closing a seam.”
Getting a handle on it
Most tape suppliers fabricate rolls of mattress handles for customers. The newest handle styles on high-end beds can be quite ornate and use multiple narrow fabrics.
“For more than a decade, tape suppliers have been producing plain mattress handles for the industry, but more recently we have begun designing decorative handles that coordinate with the entire bed,” says Camilla Franklin, AEC Narrow Fabrics product manager for mattress tape.
AEC offers fabrics in up to 12-inch widths, Franklin says. For a 21/2 inch handle you begin with a 4-inch-wide tape.
BRK Group incorporates different layers of trim used in a single mattress into the mattress-handle rolls it fabricates for clients.
Mattress manufacturer’s viewpoint
Closing tape used to be a commodity,” says Anthony Klatt, director of sales and marketing for Sleeptronic/King Koil-Texas in Dallas. “Now, tape serves the function of jewelry by dressing the mattress up or down. It provides character, an indication of overall quality, and can elevate the appeal of the product.
“With the availability of new textures, colors and types of tape—this has become one of the most important elements in establishing eye appeal for a mattress,” he continues. “Add handles and decorative ribbon to the overall mix, and these elements can combine to visually transform a product from dull to extraordinary.
“When selecting tape, we’re focused primarily on texture and color, as well as sheen or matte finishes. Advancements in design for woven and knitted tapes, and the introduction of printing on tape, mean there are more and better choices available now than ever before.”
Dressed for bed
Using mattress tape to coordinate point-of-sale materials with the bed collection is growing more popular. Tapes adorn foot streamers, pillows and more at retail.
“POP is a new and exciting category for CT Nassau,” says Taber Wood, vice president of sales. “The tape is being used as you would upholstery trim. Our design team, along with our computerized, color-matching system, enables us to work with POP manufacturers to match or coordinate trim tape to virtually any color of fabric.”
At AEC Narrow Fabrics, many of the tapes used for accessories are a branding tool printed with lettering and logos, while others simply are decorative, says Camilla Franklin, AEC product manager for mattress tape.
Jeff Miller, vice president of business development for BRK Group, says the company has a new focus on helping manufacturers sell more beds by tightly coordinating their accessories with designs of their beds.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the woven construction of CT Nassau tapes in a photo caption. We regret the error.