Archive for the ‘monograms! old & new’ Category

ANOTHER COMPARISON of Old Embroidery versus New

May 26, 2012

Yes, I am an embroidery snob. But… I believe that things must be produced with inherent quality and thoughtfulness.

The following photo shows a modern Turkish style pile loop cotton towel that has been embroidered with lovebirds. This towel is a major brand, called Yves Delorme and it cost over $40 in 2008. I loved the colors and loved the design but the quality of the embroidery is deplorable. I even turned it over to look at the back, thinking that the front side was the “wrong” side and that the back would be the better side. Nope.

There is no comparison between the clunky, crude stitches of this modern machine-sewn towel and the infinitesimally tiny stitches that were embroidered by hand a hundred years earlier on the white linen towel at the left. However, I do like that I can fold the towels easily in half and the embroidery appears on the front. (no triple-folding)

Thoughtfulness should extend to the overall piece.

The pillow shams that match this Yves Delorme towel are of cotton printed with a delightful design of cockatoos, parrots and peonies that are spaced far apart against a leaf frond lattice background. They are attractive and well made but the makers did not make the one last effort that would have made them acceptable, or even extraordinary: I expected a cockatoo or a parrot to be centered on each sham. Moreover, since one side is white fabric and side number two is aqua, I expected a major design element to be present in the center on each side! But, they are made from any pieces of fabric and one has half a bird but most sides just have the lattice background. They do not include the motifs that I would consider most desirable and most expected. Instead, they feature the plain background with no centered birds. Yes, it’s cheaper that way to use leftover fabric scraps and turn them into shams. I think it’s also shoddy and lazy. They just don’t expect anyone to notice.


monograms for you!

September 2, 2009

Triple Letter strategies!

One friend collects and uses monograms that are acronyms of words or phrases. It’s surprising how often monograms form a word or an abbreviation. An MS monogram can stand for the state of Mississippi or for a liberated Miss. (as in Ms. Marple!) I have a linen sheet that bears the monogram “MLB” and all I can think of when I see it is Major League Baseball!

I have some items with the letters “ESP.” I predict that they will prove to be popular! VD can stand in for the romantic idea of Valentines Day. Though HPP for me just continually reads hippo, though that’s not bad if you are a fan of hippopotami!

Regarding TWO Letters…

Although I am a monogram collector and I adore any well-embroidered letters, I acknowledge the special feeling I get when I stumble across an item that has my very own monogram, or a combination of mine and my husband’s, or even just his. Frontward, backward or even mixed up, I do adore any of those letter combinations.

Mixing names opens up more possibilities, especially if you and your spouse have many different letters in your names. It’s more limiting for a couple named Mike and Mary! Even worse for Mike and Mary Miller. That will leave them searching only for “M”s.

Not everyone shares our monogram excitement. At one antique show, I witnessed a woman who remarked to a friend that the stack of unused linen kitchen towels on a table were embroidered with her exact triple letter monogram. And, she left them there. (I, on the other hand, would have interpreted the stack as a sign from the universe and would have scraped together any amount of money to buy the whole pile! Or even one, at the very least!)

I am also attracted to monograms that may have letters that look like my initials, even though they may not actually be them. For instance, Gs can look like Cs and so can Es and Ts in certain typefaces. Ms and Ws and Vs can sometimes resemble each other, as can Ps and Bs; Ks and Rs, Is and Ls. You get the idea!


Someone who is not entirely comfortable using old linens with someone else’s monogram may hit on the idea of choosing just those things that have been adorned with a single letter. This works well, but items with single letter monograms are the hardest to find and are most in demand.

The Disadvantages of Antique Monograms

The problem with the monogram dilemma is that you can never choose which item you would like to have at the time that you would like to have it, and usually not with the letters that you would prefer in the order in which you’d prefer them. With antiques, it truly is the thrill of the hunt! Perhaps you find a sheet with your perfect monogram; that sheet may be the wrong size for the bed you had in mind. Or, you find a tablecloth when you were really searching for napkins.

We have all had the brilliant thought to send the perfect wedding gift, and think, wouldn’t it be even more special to find a set of napkins with the couple’s monogram? Some of my practical customers buy things for tiny children or grandchildren, tucking them away to use for gifts that won’t be given until far in the future… because they have found the right monogram now and they know from experience that it will be impossible to find later.

You could widen the search to include what I call “cipher” monograms, those in which the letters are so abstracted or entwined that the actual letters can’t be distinguished. The results are often stunning. The monogram is more like a logo! But, you still can’t choose the size of the tablecloth or the bedspread or the sheet.

To anyone to whom these seem like compromises, my customers and I, who are obsessed with the quality of the fabrics and the workmanship on goods that have come from old, aristocratic families, can only smile and think, “Oh, goody! That leaves more for us!”

More monogram musings

September 2, 2009

Although women could not own property, they did retain the right to own the things they brought with them to their marriage. The girls (they were just young girls) embroidered (or ordered, if they were wealthy enough) their own initials onto their trousseau items. Sometimes they embroidered just their own initials and sometimes they left a space in the center to be embroidered later with the initial of their hoped-for husband.

We see monograms made of a single letter which usually signifies the family name. (what we in the US call the last name.) We also see double initial monograms which would have been the first name and the surname of the woman. Then, there are the triple letter (or more) monogram which signify the first name, the married name and lastly, the maiden name of the woman. Take the example ABC, for a woman named Anne Caldwell Baker.  The A stands for the first name, Anne. The B could be her husband’s last name: Baker. The C would then be her maiden name: Caldwell. OR, perhaps her middle name was Caldwell.

The letter in the center is traditionally the family surname. (This tradition differs in societies where the mother’s surname is inherited. But I am focusing on the patriarchal tradition here!)

Today, we have many different viewpoints considering monograms! A traditionalist would adhere to the above method but many of us fans of handwork and old fashioned quality are happy to tread other monogram paths! The people who want to own only items that have been embroidered with their own exact triple-letter initials will find them hard to find and they may opt to hold out for the rare item that coincidentally does correspond to their own initials or, they may choose to order new items. Since there has been a personalization explosion in recent years, one can order perfectly serviceable monograms on nearly anything. I can pretty much tell you that the quality of even the best and most expensive computer controlled machine embroidery can not even be considered to be in the same category as an item that was made by hand and embroidered by hand.

While the instances of finding an exact match to three letters in the exact order remain improbable, though not impossible, the chances of finding a double letter monogram is sometimes easier. One could choose from the initial letters of one’s first and last names, one’s first name with another family’s first name, last names or any combination that seems to fit one’s family or contains initials of various family members.

Certain letters do appear in monograms more frequently than others and some seem to never show up at all. Just ask my friends with last names that start with a Q, X or Z! This is an economic and regional variance. Certain family names are more common in certain countries and even differ within regions of those countries. More importantly, not every family could afford to own monogrammed items in the quantities that would leave “leftovers!” The amounts required in order to have passed them down intact are staggering. Inventory lists have frequently counted 12 dozen sheets. That’s 144 sheets alone to order, pay for, tend, store and use!

When I purchased a beautiful antique towel from a dealer/friend, she told me that there had been 200 of the exact same-sized guest towel in the linen closet. This gives you an idea of the quantities that were considered to be necessary to run a household!

Monogram Madness

August 31, 2009

A recent request: would you blog about using linens with someone elses initials?

Write on a topic about which I am wildly passionate!? Well, sure!

Because we live in a time where nearly everything is mass produced (and comes from China) and is so cheap, it is pretty hard to imagine a time when almost everyone just barely scraped by and almost every resource was costly and precious. Girls started at a young age to make and store all of the goods that she would need to stock her future household for her entire lifetime. The quaint, cute term for this in English is the “hope chest.” Somehow, the elegant French word “trousseau” seems more descriptive.

Someone who was poor might manage to acquire only one sheet and one blanket to last an entire lifetime. Descriptions of the state of those tattered pieces after a lifetime of use remind me of what a modern toddler’s baby blanket looks like after just a few years of being dragged around!

Monograms served several purposes. First, the monogram marked the items in one’s “hope chest” as one’s own. It also served as an identifier in the laundry. (even families of modest means sent out their laundry: the washer women were even poorer.) Girls practiced their stitchery on their trousseau; this skill was necessary for all of the weaving, sewing and repairing they would go on to do to keep their families in clothing, bedding and toweling. In wealthier households, monograms added beauty and prestige… especially when items were embellished by a master embroiderer.

A middle class arose during the 1900s who wanted to imitate the upper classes who could afford some of the niceties. Those Victorians put monograms on everything!

more to come…