Girls would, over the years, carefully build a hope chest (or glory box) against the day they were married. These chests originally contained the linen necessary for the new bride – sheets, towels, curtains, etc. Many of these items were, themselves, beautifully embroidered except for one blank space, which was kept free for the monogram of the newly married couple.
When the betrothal or engagement was announced, the girls and their female relatives then began to patiently stitch beautifully designed monograms onto these items, all in readiness for the wedding day.
At first, the practice only occurred in the houses of the upper classes, and often incorporated the heraldic quarterings of the young couple. As time passed, and the middle class rose to affluence, the practice of monogramming household linen was commonplace, although for most people it was just initials that were used.
A monogram is very different to simply putting a name or initials on a piece of linen. The monogram comprises the initials of the given names of the couple, intertwined and came to be one of the things that represented marriage.
A beautiful modern example of a monogram came with the marriage of the current Danish Crown Prince and Princess, Frederick and Mary. This monogram (pictured below) was designed by Queen Margarethe of Denmark.
Unusually for a monogram, the initials are not completely intertwined, however their simple lines and elegant composition make it a joy to look at.
Monograms were not only used on household linen, but also engraved onto any silverware or other “plate” (a term used for metal objects – usually of silver, gold or pewter – given to the couple as wedding gifts) given as a wedding gift, carved into wooden objects and sometimes incorporated into any stonework if the couple built a new house together.
In many cases, they were encased in an oval frame worked at the same time as the monogram. This oval frame harks back to the heraldic quartering that would once have been used.
Monograms were usually worked in an area where they would be seen – for example, in the top “turn over” of a sheet or in corners of towels.
Monograms were usually stitched using padded satin stitch, using thread the same colour as the linen.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was also very popular to stitch a set of bed curtains for the young couple, and include their monogram as part of the design. A set of bed curtains stitched by Mary, Queen of Scots, and her hostess, Bess of Hardwick, include monograms amongst their patterns. These particular curtains were usual, in that they were made of slips – tent stitched canvas pieces appliquéd to brocade.
In medieval households where several generations lived under the one roof, a monogram served a dual purpose. It identified which family owned the linen, and could also serve to ensure that the household steward could allocate the cost of looking after the linen to the correct couple.
Beautifully monogrammed linen also served another purpose: it showed off the needle skills of the bride, and proved that she had the time to do this beautiful stitching.
In other words: she came from a family where there were servants to take care of day to day household tasks so that she could give her time to beautiful embroidery.
Monograms are fun and easy to do for any embroiderer. They can be stitched either by hand or machine, and can add a touch of elegance and luxury to ordinary household linen.
They work best as freestyle embroidery, however, with care, cross-stitch can be used.
Designing & Stitching a Monogram
How you stitch your monogram, depends on the technique you wish to use, and the fabric you are using. Modern towels are made of towelling, not linen, so it’s best to use waste canvas, or a slip.
With monograms, it is essential that you try to keep your front and back as neat as possible – and as reversible as possible. Do not carry over any threads on the back of the fabric, as they will snag and ruin your stitching.
Freestyle Hand Embroidery
Draw your monogram on a piece of paper, and transfer the pattern to your fabric. Satin or Padded Satin Stitch works best for monograms – see the diagrams for these stitches below.
You can use either a freestyle style of machine embroidery, by designing and transferring the pattern as above, or utilise your digitizing pattern.
Ensure that your fabric is firm in the hoop, and carefully stitch your monogram.
Cross Stitch, Needlepoint or other “counted” techniques
The most distinctive feature of monograms is their flowing appearance. For that reason, I always find it easiest to draw the design on graph paper and use that as my chart.
Draw your design in pencil on the graph paper, and then adjust as necessary. You will find that you will need to use half or even quarter stitches in order to achieve the desired appearance.
Finishing your monogram
When you have finished stitching the actual monogram, outline each initial using thread one shade darker or lighter than that in the actual monogram. If you’ve used white for the monogram, try using either cream or a very pale colour. Stem Stitch, backstitch or split stitch can be used for your outlining.
If you have decided to use a slip, carefully appliqué the slip to your fabric, and stitch around the edges of the slip to disguise them.
Monograms as gifts
Monogrammed items are perfect wedding or anniversary gifts. For a bride, you may want to go traditional and stitch a monogram onto a set of sheets or towels. Alternatively, a beautifully monogrammed ring cushion, bible cover or handkerchief for the bride and groom to carry makes a beautifully personal and elegant touch.
A set of monogrammed curtain tiebacks gives a lovely elegant look to a practical household item.
Monograms for the single person
Whilst monograms were usually used for couples, it has become more and more common to adapt them for a single person (or one person) by intertwining their first and last initials.
Never let yourself be bound by tradition when monogramming. Who could fail to be pleased by a set of beautifully hand-made handkerchiefs with their initials monogrammed in one corner?
The uses for monograms are only limited by your imagination. They are a great project for beginner embroiderers, as well as those who are more experienced.
And lets face it – they look great and are an affordable touch of extravagance to every day items!
The Encyclopedia of Monograms
2,100 Victorian Monograms
Treasury of Floral Designs and Initials
Charted Monograms for Needlepoint & Cross Stitch
Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please contact me with your suggestions.
© 2008 Megan McConnell
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