Personalizing with Monograms

Hand stitched napkins made for my daughter and son-in-law's wedding in 2007.

Dating back as far as the Egyptian hieroglyphics, initials, or monograms, have been used as a simple way to identify the maker of something or it's owner. Coins from ancient Greece held an imprint of the monogram of their rulers. During the construction of buildings in ancient times, the initials of either the master builder or the owner were often carved into the keystone of a building, or onto other prominent architectural features. An example of this can be seen at l'Abbey de Fontevraud in the Loire Valley in France, a retreat for women between the 11thC and 18thC , many of them aristocratic and wealthy, where two abbesses made certain their legacy would be remembered by leaving their crest and their initials on the tiled floor in areas of the abbey they had rebuilt.

Louise de Bourbon (1530 - 60), Duchess of Montpensier, was an abbess at the Abbey de Fontvraud.

Her aunt, Renee de Bourbon (1494 - 1539), Duchess of Lorraine,  was Abbess before her. Both aunt and niece left their mark on the tiled floor in the Chapter House.

At the Chateau de Chenonceau, an 11thC palace in the Loire Valley used by the French Royalty, Henry II of France (1519 - 1559), married to Catherine de Medici (1519 - 1589), gave his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, free reign of the chateau during his lifetime. Throughout the chateau, the intertwined initials of HD combat the initials of HC for supremacy.

Two "D's" for Diane interlock with the "H" for Henry.

Here the "H" takes precedence, whereas the two "C's" for Catherine interlock with each other.

The idea of adding a signature in the form of a monogram became a practical way to identify one's belongings. In the 18thC, where laundry was a communal task, linens were simply stitched with the initials of the owner, often in red thread, to keep the laundry easy to identify.

19thC linen tea towels from the south of France.

By the 19thC, these identifying marks had evolved into a way of adding flourish and decoration to something as basic as a pillowcase or a sheet. Monograms became a design feature, and young women were encouraged to prepare their trousseau by adding embroidery, with their initials, to these items.

Sheets my mother made for her own trousseau, likely in the 1930's. Her initials were "KP".

Redwork pillow shams, also from my mother's trousseau, using Gothic lettering this time.

By the 19thC, the raised satin stitch became the ideal to strive for. Wandering through the antique stalls on market days in France, there are always neatly stacked piles of antiqued white linens, with meticulously stitched monograms from earlier times. I do own one of these lovely monogrammed pillow shams from mid 19thC France, however, I am embarrassed to say, I can't find it. (I have looked through every possible location at least 3 times. Am I blushing?)

Using this antique pillow sham as an example,  I have attempted the raised satin stitch on some of my work.
Below are 2 examples.

The "HJ" have been stitched using the raised satin stitch technique.

Another hand stitched monogram on one of my aprons.

Because of the investment of time required to hand stitch a monogram, I find myself taking advantage of the sewing machine technology that is available today in many machines.

Stitched using pre-programmed lettering and designs built into the embroidery module of my machine. 

However, there are still those special occasions where the time and effort of hand embroidery are warranted, such as the marriage of my favourite daughter and son-in-law. (I only have one daughter and son-in-law!)

Whereas the need to identify our linens in a communal laundry is likely not an issue anymore, the desire to mark a special event with the flair and flourish of a hand stitched monogram still adds elegance to the occasion.


Whole Cloth Update:

Goal: 10 hours hand stitching per week
Jan. 11/13 : 26 arches left to stitch

Under goal: only 4 hours 55 mins.
Jan. 18/13: 23 arches left.


  1. How many napkins did you stitch for your daughter's wedding? I am impressed with your industry! They are beautiful.

    Do you only have the arches left in your whole cloth quilt?

  2. It was a small, quiet wedding with 11 guests. For the actual day, I only had 2 napkins completed with monogram and corner embroidery. The other napkins were in various stages of completion; some with only the corner embroidery, some with only the monogram. I ran out of time. What else is new?

    Re: the whole cloth quilt. Once the arches are done there are 2 more rows of motifs in the border. In other words, it's no where near finished! But it is progressing, even if slowly.

    1. Oh well, I guess we're all in the same self-constructed boat! All stitchers have unfinished projects. But at least we *have* projects!


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