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Monogram Week: The ABCs of Machine Monogramming

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A monogram turns an ordinary household item into a treasured heirloom. There is simply nothing more personal and elegant than a monogrammed towel, napkin, handkerchief, or anything else for that matter. The monogram is the symbol of success and privilege in our collective imagination. Think of the Wall Street exec with his monogrammed cuffs, the jet-setting movie star with her matching monogrammed luggage, or the luxurious bath towel and robes in a five-star hotel. Bringing this kind of stylish luxury into our own homes – and making it affordable – is what DIY is all about. And so, we bring Monogram Week to Sew4Home to celebrate the art of this most tasteful of embroidery accent for the home.

A short monogram history lesson

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The use of the monogram can be traced all the way back to Roman and Greek times when it was used as a royal signature or seal, as well as on coins to identify a particular ruler. In the Middle Ages, printers, potters and other artisans used renderings of their initials to mark their work. But it's their use in Victorian times that we are most familiar with, when a monogram was a symbol of aristocracy. Upper class families thought it crucial to mark their table linens, cutlery, and other household goods with their monogram as a sign of prestige. Part of a fine lady's education included creating needlepoint samplers, which included letter and monogram work. These embroidered treasures would often comprise the young woman's trousseau upon the event of her wedding.

Single initial and double initial monograms are both completely acceptable these days, but the traditional three-initial monogram is still the standard and dates from the Victorian era. The initial of your first name goes on the left, the initial of your middle name on the right, and the initial of your last name is large and in charge in the middle. Originally, this pattern was considered a female's monogram, with the male version consisting of same-size letters in a row: first, middle, last. Married monograms usually have the bride's first initial on the left, the groom's first initial on the right, and the joint last name initial in the center. A married woman sometimes opts to use her first name initial on the left, her maiden name initial on the right, and her new last name initial in the center.

Today, all rules go out the window and your choices are unlimited. A monogram can be traditional, whimsical, understated or flamboyant.

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I want in on the monogram action!

No longer is the monogram the domain of the elite class. For those looking to bring this level of personalization to their homes, the perfect monogram may be no further than the push of a sewing machine button.

These days, you can find monograms on just about anything: from bags and shoes, to luxury leather car seats, to personal stationary, and, of course, linens and towels. In fact, home decor items are probably the most popular of all. Is there any better gift for a wedding, graduation, or new baby than a monogrammed blanket or towel set? The potential is simply endless.

We have a series of four articles for Monogram Week to inspire you to create wonderful projects. Monogrammed towels, sheets, table linens, totes and more.

How do you do it?

Yes, you CAN monogram by hand, but unless you have way more time than most, you'll be much better off monogramming with a sewing/embroidery machine.

Today’s home embroidery machines allow you to create your own monogram, right on the machine, for stitching onto household and personal items. Most machines have a selection of monogram layouts and fonts built into the machine.

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One interesting side detail to note is the distinction between the ‘monogram’ and the ‘cipher’. Strictly speaking, most home embroidery machines create a cipher, which is the creation of two or more letters where each part of the letter remains distinct from the other(s). A monogram combines the letters in such a way that the parts of the letters are combined and the overall design cannot be separated. (We include this detail for your success as a future Jeopardy contestant.)

Can I design my own?

In the early 20th century, much attention was given to the careful design of a monogram. Think of the amazing stylized art nouveau initial work you may have seen on silver or tablecloths from this period. If you would like to try your hand at designing your family’s monogram, there is digitizing software available to turn your personal creations into stitches.

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Is there more?

Our future articles will go over some of the mechanics of using these fantastic embroidery machines, as well as the incredible things you can do with the machines' accompanying digitizing software. There'll be some tips and tricks on stabilizers, hooping and thread. And, we'll inspire you with some of our own monogrammed samples.

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For now, you might start things off by going around the house selecting items crying for a monogram. Maybe it's time to spruce up the towel set in the bathroom, personalize some napkins for an upcoming dinner party, or create one-of-kind holiday gifts for family and friends. Once you start, you'll find places to put those initials and words everywhere!

Here are a few fun links we found to help you learn more about monograms, their history, and their many, many, many uses.

Monograms in the Movies

We love this collection from Living with Lindsay

Here are some images of classic monograms through the years.

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Comments (12)

GayleM said:
GayleM's picture

Just now catching up reading articles I've missed.  Got to tell you; hubs and I monogrammed toilet paper a couple years ago for a man friend who indeed have just about anything.  Now, he has EVERYTHING but his wife won't let him use it!!  

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@GayleM - Oh dear - that is so, so funny!

sew4home11111 said:
sew4home11111's picture

I am new to monogramming and I do most of my work on cotton knits like onesies and calico cottons. I finally think I have my tension corrected but I am still getting holes along my designs. It looks as almost it is being pulled too tightly but now I am starting to think it is the wrong needle or stabilizer. I am using 40 rayon embroidery thread and floriani adhesive tearaway stabilizer. What is the best needle and stablizer for these types of fabrics?? Thanks

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ sew4home11111 - Check out our summary article on monogramming notions for general details (link is below). There may be some issues that are particular to your embroidery machine model, which we really can't troubleshoot long distance. If you continue having problems, I would suggest taking in some stitchout examples to your dealer to ask for setting and or hooping suggestions.

http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/buying-guide/monogram-week-pickin...

sew4meL92 said:
sew4meL92's picture

I've looked at articles for using a zigzag sewing machine for monograms. So far, most don't explain clearly with photos (e.g. filling in) how to do it properly.  Any ideas? Be a great help if you could point me to a website/article with photos/and simple instructions!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ sew4meL92 - you're probably doing exactly what we'd be doing... searching the web via Google and/or Bing . We haven't done monograms as you've described above and so don't have a tutorial here to refer you too. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hello Kathy Krause, Janome, our Signature Sponsor, produced for us both the monogrammed tote and the featured silk pillow you see above. They were nice enough to turn them into projects on their website and provide links to both the instructions and the digitized embroidery files. Thanks, Janome!
City Tote:
http://janome.com/index.cfm/ProjectCenter/Project_Detail/Monogrammed_Cit...

http://janome.com/index.cfm/ProjectCenter/Embroidery/?embroideryid=171

Monogrammed Pillow
http://janome.com/index.cfm/ProjectCenter/Project_Detail/Monogrammed_Pillow

http://janome.com/index.cfm/ProjectCenter/Embroidery/?embroideryid=170
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Monogrammed gifts are the best! I had a friend tell me a funny thing yesterday; he suggested that monogrammed shop towels would be the perfect gift for the man who has everything! smilies/grin.gif
SandraBailey1 said:
SandraBailey1's picture
smilies/smiley.gifI love giving monogramed items as gifts. They are so rich and elegant looking.
kathy krause said:
kathy krause's picture
I love this design(monogram with circle embroidery around), be sure to include the directions. Thank you KK
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
That's so great! Once you get going, you're going to want a new embroidery machine to keep up with all the incredible designs and options. I STILL love to watch my Memory Craft embroidering; it's fascinating to see it go so fast and to watch the design or monogram appear. Love it! Thanks for visiting.
trenee said:
trenee's picture
Looking forward to this series as I've recently dusted off my embroidery machine and started exploring all of the many options. Thanks for such inspiring and informative articles. Keep up the good work!

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