Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Monograms on the Brain – and Good Lighting for Needlework!


Amazon Books

Now that Lavender Honey & Other Little Things is finished and available, it’s time to move on to some embroidery projects that have been weighing on my mind. And some of those projects involve monograms.

I am a lover of decorative initials and monograms. And they don’t even have to be mine! I don’t care what initials they are! I love monograms and decorative initials, and I love, love, love them when they are hand embroidered. It’s that marriage of hand embroidery and lettering, I suppose….

Monogrammed Guest Towel

Monograms (and decorative initials – I’m using the terms interchangeably, but they aren’t really the same thing) seem to pass in and out of “style.” Right now, the decorative initial is pretty popular in arts and crafts circles. But the monogram – that is, the hand embroidered monogram – regardless of current trends and fads, will always be a timeless thing. I’m pretty sure of that.

Monograms are a symbol of individuality. They often (though not always!) reflect good taste and a kind of refinement. They impart a sense of luxury, without necessarily being a “luxury item” that only few can afford. Things that are monogrammed are automatically special, and things that are monogrammed by hand are even more so.

Monograms on Pinterest

Pinterest has become a favorite hunting ground for images of beautiful monograms. I’ve collected a few on my Hand Embroidered Monograms board.

Monograms on Pinterest

Looking at vintage and antique monograms on linens is a good way to get the feel for the whole Decorative Monograms thing. How letters are entwined or grouped together, what types embellishments look good, what types don’t look so good – you can learn a lot about the whole art of monogramming by looking at samples.

This past weekend, I spent a bit of time with some monograms, and will be spending quite a bit more time with them in the weeks to come.

Two Essential Tools for Monogramming

With monograms, they really can be worked with any threads, in any style, on practically any kind of fabric – it just depends on the look you’re after and the final use of the monogrammed thing.

But when working monograms, there are a couple things that are thoroughly essential.

Monogram Mistakes

The first is good lighting. Good lighting is an absolute must – and, if you need it, magnification. You might be thinking, But those are really essential in all kinds of embroidery! And to an extent, you are right.

But with embroidered monograms, because of the lines and the flow of the lettering and the usually mono-color against a usually plain background, and because of the use of a limited array of stitches on a monogram, it’s very difficult to hide mistakes. They tend to glare. For example, faulty spacing, changes in stitch direction – these things really stand out.

Monogram Mistakes

Last week, I knocked over my floor lamp that I use for stitching and of course, broke it into a million pieces. While awaiting a new bulb, I used an older light that’s not that great, but better than the overhead light. Big mistake! What I thought I was seeing and what I was really seeing were two different things. (I should’ve been using these CraftOptics!)

On the sample above, close up, you can see what I mean. The spacing on my stitches is way off – there are gaps and then crowded areas. The stitch direction is not consistent.

From a little farther back, it looks “ok” but not great. The blue against the white ground fabric really makes any warbles in the edges show up. But when I was stitching it, I thought it looked fine – until I took it outside in the sun and could really see it.

Often, with lighting, we don’t realize we aren’t seeing as well as we could. If you have any doubts, take your work outside in the bright sun in the middle of the day and hold it so the sun shines right on it. Talk about seeing things in a Completely Different Light!

Good Embroidery Hoop

The other essential? A good embroidery hoop. One that keeps your work really taut, that can be tightened up with a screw driver, that can be bound for fabric protection and grip.

Taut fabric is necessary in most embroidery situations that you run into with monogramming. There are some exceptions when it comes to techniques, but the majority of techniques used for typical monogramming require good, even tension on the fabric. Embroidered monograms are beautiful – but warping or puckering around the finished monogram can really detract from the glory of the finish!

Your Thoughts on Monograms?

Over the next several weeks, now and then, we’ll visit the subject of monograms. I hope you don’t mind! How many stitchers out there are fans of monograms? Do you like them? Would you like to know more about monograms? What type of information would you be interested in? Do you have particular styles you like or particular styles you don’t like? Or do you have an aversion to decorative initials and monograms? (Some people do – I have a friend who shudders at the thought of them. She says they remind her of Laverne and Shirley!) What’s your take on hand embroidered monograms? Have your say below!

Tomorrow, it’s time for a Mission Rose update. I’ve fallen a bit behind with it – but this week, we move into the goldwork! Oh, Goody Gumdrops!


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(65) Comments

  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!! Yes please talk/write about monograms and don’t stop! I especially love the intertwined letters. I haven’t embroidered any monograms to date but would love to learn how to do it. I love monograms on linens – napkins, towels and bed linens. Can’t wait to read more.

  2. Embroidered monograms have become my wedding gift of choice. Mine are rather less traditional, though! I’ve been designing my own, and they’re usually quite colorful rather than monochrome. Most of mine have been small and quick pieces, but my niece just got married, and I’m planning a big, elaborate initial for her and her new husband. And I can’t do one for them without doing one for her brother and his wife, too, right? ;^)

    My love of graphic design and calligraphy + embroidery = my happy place!

  3. I am waiting for the class. I really want to learn how to embroider monograms so I can make “things” for wedding gifts. The next generation will be ready for wedding showers, in a few years! That gives me time to learn…

  4. I’d love to read your thoughts on monograms. Done right, they are elegant. And done “wrong” (to my eye) they are…I think your friend it it right with the Lavern and Shirley comment. And to make it even trickier, I’m not always able to pinpoint why I like one and not another very similar monogram.

    That’s too bad about your lamp, it’s hard to believe how much we come to depend on them. I’m going to try one of the new(?) OTT lights with the LED lights surrounding the magnifier this week, I hope. It’s been getting good comments on the sewing boards anyway.

  5. I love decorative monogram!!!! I want to perfect this. Mary thank you for this. Just what I was looking for.

  6. Laverne & Shirley? Is your friend a uniformed blue collar worker? Both me and my spouse have worn working clothes with our names embroidered by the rental company! But we still appreciate lovely monogrammed silverware and linens.
    I agree with you about the need for perfect stitching, proper lighting and good scissors.

  7. I love monograms although I have yet to try to stitch one. I have a question- If you are of Scottish descent, would it be correct to stitch “MacC” and if so I would be interested in seeing samples of a similar nature.

    1. May I help? I live in Scotland, and a Mac (or Mc — they mean the same ) name would simply be an initial “M”. So Flora MacKenzie McDonald’s initials would be FMM.

  8. Mary, I have been so anxious to have you give more information on monograms especially since you posted the “teasers”. Love, love,love the embroidered ones you have previously posted with the lazy daisys among other stitches. I have tried to duplicate them, but not to my satisfaction. please show us!

  9. Dear Mary

    Thanks for the review on monograms sorry to hear you broke your floor lamp I can’t do without my cradflite when I am embroidering. I love monograms any kind not only are they pretty but they are very personal and a labour of love for the particular person, I can’t wait for your articles on them as I will be using the Little Things pattern to embroider some monograms for my next project so any advice on monogram embroidery will be very helpful and useful, thanks Mary.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  10. Love some Monograms! Being a Southern Gal we love to monogram anything that doesn’t move. You are so right about lighting and magnification. Even more so on a monochromatic piece. You would think working in all white it wouldn’t be as much of a problem. Not so! I am working on a monogram now, the skirt of a christening gown. On sheer fabric. Every flaw shows. I take out as much as I leave on.

  11. Mary
    I’m so excited that you ar going to be doing a special program on monograms. I love, love. love them and have started n started them and get so discouraged with the way they look, I can’t wait for you wisdom on monograms.

  12. What a clever idea Anita has, to use your “Little Things” for monograms. My sister uses cloth handkerchiefs, being allergic to all the dust from kleenex, and I have been sending her pretty vintage ones. Now I plan to monogram some for her. Thanks for the idea!

  13. Yes please, lots of help with monograms needed. I have always been fascinated by these as I have inherited some monograms and always wanted to try my own. I am lucky enough to have found a copy of Susan O’Connor’s book recently and have found this is by far the most difficult technique I have ever tried.

    Would love some tips on trailing stitch and on working in miniature.

    Really looking forward to your helpful lessons, Mary.

  14. Mary,
    I LOVE lettering, monograms, calligraphy, typography of all types and media.
    A “beatnick” sign painter friend of my father’s taught me lettering with a brush when I was a teenager. My favorite book for stitching or drawing monograms is “Treasury of Floral Designs and Initials for Artists and Craftspeople” a Dover book, edited by Mary Carolyn Waldrep.

    I will send pictures to your email address.
    I look forward to more monograms on your newsletter.


  15. Mary, I am so pleased you are doing monograms. I love them on all kinds of items. I especially love them done in white. Looking forward to the progress.


  16. This is off the monogram subject but… relates to the finishing ebook you just released.
    Would you discuss interfacing and stiffeners. I frequently run across references to skirtex. When I get a kit with skirtex it is much nicer than what I have been able to find. I dont want to use thin cardboard as some finishers suggest.

    1. Skirtex is a heavy, non-woven, non-fusible interfacing used in upholstery. It’s very much like the heavy Pellon interfacing called for in the Little Things. Pellon brand is more readily available at sewing stores here, but it’s pretty much the same stuff. For the Pin Keep, the board and the pellon glued together are really essential to get a nice, smooth, snug, wrinkle-free, pucker-free look. What you’re looking for is an interfacing – it’s the heaviest you’ll find at a sewing store – that is super-stiff and about the thickness of mat board. It’s also called Peltex I believe (by Pellon), and it’s not much different from Skirtex. There are so many stabilizers and brands out there, and of course, all the names seem to differ from country to country, that it’s difficult to sort through which one is which. But just look for Peltex or Pellon extra firm or heavy or extra heavy, non-fusible interfacing, and it’ll be the thing to use. I prefer it to card, too, except when a really firm card is needed, and then I prefer mat board. For larger sized things – for example, a fabric covered box – neither Skirtex or the really heavy Pellon or Peltex would do it – a firmer board is really essential. But I like to put a layer of the interfacing over the board, to give it that neater, not-wrapped-around-a-board look. But that’s just me…! ~MC

    2. Never heard of Skirtex either but my quilting store sells the Peltex and I have some. Great to know I can use it for another purpose. I bought it to make fabric “boxes” with. It’s ultra stiff and “easy to cut-easy to sew. Will not flatten out or distort in steam pressing”. I am out of mat board right now but would “book board” be too stiff? I have some left from handmade books I made. It is more heavy duty than mat board.

  17. Hi Mary

    My letter is not about monograms particularly but more the fabric you are using. I notice on your tutorials that your fabric has bigger holes than mine and being new to embroidery on this type of fabric I don’t really know what to buy. I have 3 different types but none of them are the same as yours. So what is it please? Maybe this could be your next theme, I am sure I am not the only one.

    You said to start another project other than Mission Rose and I have two more on the go, so it’s all your fault when I get nothing else done. A little info for you, I was practising one of your stitches from the site recently and you mentioned Erica Wilson’s book from the 70’s, I have that very book bought nearly 40 years ago, I have read and re read it but never thought I would be retired before enjoying it to the full.
    Take care

    1. Hi, Mollie! Ah – Erica Wilson. She was my hero in a lot of ways!

      The fabric you’re seeing in the photos is really up-close, so the holes look much more pronounced than they are. In the photos above, I’m using shadow work linen by Legacy, which is a handkerchief weight linen. I think for this type of monogram, I like linen cambric better. But in any case, it is a nice linen! What you’re looking for with surface embroidery is a fabric that has a fairly close weave – something that fills the whole fabric without large or far-spaced holes. If you’re looking at linen that is “counted” (most of the linen you’d find in the US at local needlework stores is for counted cross stitch, so it is usually an even weave or at least close to it), you’d want to find something with a high count, like 36 – 40 threads per inch. Even then, though, some of the even weaves sold for x-stitch are not necessarily suited to surface work, even in higher counts, because the warp and weft threads don’t fill the weave. They have spaces between them, and it’s difficult to work surface stitches smoothly on fabric like this. You can always back the linen with a good cotton muslin, to give the stitches something to grip into, and that helps. But I prefer just starting with the right linen. You can’t really go wrong with Legacy linens in the higher counts. Alba Maxima is a favorite for surface embroidery (as is Alabaster Angel). They can both be found at Hedgehog Handworks online.

      Hope that helps!


  18. I am excited that you will be talking about monograms. I find them elegant and beautiful. While I’ve stitched a few on my machine, I’ve never done one by hand. With your insights and ideas I think I will try it. If it works out, I’ll send you a picture. Thanks for the inspiration.

  19. I would really be interested in seeing monograms suitable for a little girl. I do a lot of embroidered pillowcases for my granddaghter and would like to monogram or, even better, stitch her full first name on some pillowcases. Most monograms are too formal and the letters would not be recognizable to her at 4 years old.

    1. I’ve had good luck creating a more varied assortment of lettering options by
      1. Finding a font I liked — a good start is just searching the font choices on any word processing program you might have on your computer, but there are lots of websites with free fonts or that provide a sample with text of your choosing like a name.

      2. Taking a screenshot of the text (if you don’t have a screen capture tool already, HoverSnap is a good download option; free and a small file that does only what it needs to)

      3. Making a vector image out of that, which will allow you to scale and resize the image however you want without it becoming blurry or fuzzy — http://www.vectorization.org/ works pretty well, just remember to set the Form_Outformat to PDF — so it can be traced or printed like any other pattern.

  20. Victoria mag. just came out with a new special issue on Monograms. As I was browsing my copy last night, you popped into my mind. You’d love it–gorgeous embroidery but also monograms on china, silver and in unusual uses.

    Thanks for the tips. I’m feeling a monogram project coming on.

    1. Hi, Marjorie! I know, I know!! I saw a sneak peek of it – and I’m dying to get it!! But I need to get into the city, where I can find it. They don’t quite carry it at our little country grocery store…. It’s on my list, though, and almost a good enough excuse to make a special trip! (I suppose I could order it online, but I love finding pretty, useful magazines in a bookstore…!) Thanks for thinking of me! ~Mary

  21. Mary, I love hand embroidered monograms and initials too!! I am so happy that you are going to devote some time to show/tell us how we can learn to make one. I love the white on white. I would really like to know what type of fabric to use, and do we need to use a fusible product on the back? I know you will share all of this information. I love your board of samples too! I can’t wait to start one. I just ordered a “Victoria Magazine’s” new “Victoria Classics Monograms” book with the renewal of my subscription. (no affiliation) It should arrive just in time for your instructions!
    Thanks. Connie

    1. Hi, Connie – I don’t generally use interfacing behind my embroidery fabric for this type of stitching. There’s not really a need to. I’m hoping to pick up a copy of that magazine next time I’m in town! I’ve got it “on my list” – can’t wait! ~MC

  22. Thanks so much for collecting the monograms. I’ve spent a chunk of my morning admiring those and following threads from there. One was to ecoledebroderie.com, a French embroidery school (according to Google translate). That led me to this thought: Have you ever considered leading a “tour” to an embroidery course in an interesting locale? I don’t usually vacation with tour groups, but access to such instruction under your supervision would tempt me.

    1. Ahhhhh – a dreamy idea! Perhaps some day! In the meantime, though, there are already folks who do tours like this and do them really well and beautifully. They have all the right connections to get you to all the right places – like Marie Yolande, who visits the French needlework schools and houses, and also similar places in Italy. Or Phillipa Turnbull and the Lady Anne’s Needlework Retreats involving English / Scottish castles and the like, or Michelle Hill and her William Morris tours, or any of the Whitecroft tours. I believe the market is probably saturated… It would certainly be fun, though!

  23. I love love love monograms. I’m currently working on one right now for my step daughter as an anniversary / Christmas gift. I’m stitching with floche on linen, and it is so enjoyable to do. I love the curve and flow of the lines, the challenge of perfect satin stitch and the glorious finished product. I have been waiting anxiously for the monogram class you hinted at over a year ago! I hope it comes to fruition soon. Thank you for your website and tutorials– your instructions have improved the quality my work tremendously. Thank you!

  24. Looooooove Monograms! Would love to learn how to do those classic ones, you know the really raised ones with the letters criss-crossing (ciphers); how to tackle the curves, corners, overlaps… everything really.
    I can’t get enough of them!

  25. I like monograms very much .most of all white on white or
    Ton sur ton. We made a sampler with different letters like B,P,H,M a.s.o in white with a little piece of red. In the past they
    Did it so to show that they had much money. The more you stitch the monograms the better they look
    I hope you can understand my note .
    I like your newsletters very much.
    You are a great stitcher !!!
    A warm goodbay from BONNIE JANSEN

  26. I am currently working on the “Joy” pattern as a white monochromatic monogram type thing. I am also using the book Letters and Monograms from the House of Malbranche to help guide me. Threads I am using are from Mulberry Silks and a teeny tiny needle. I think straight stitches are some of the hardest to execute because if they are not stitched well the outcome is messy. But practice, practice, practice…

    SO bring it on Mary! I want to learn more!


  27. I love all things monogram! I would love to learn how to put letters together so they don’t look tangled with 2 initials, or 3. Any ideas, guidelines?

  28. Love monogram and initials of any kind. I look forward to all 52.
    Now I have a question. Have yu ever looked at the old French magazines that had all the embroidery patterns in them. I don’t have any complete sets of initials but some are very beatiful. And the patterns are amazing.

    Happy Stitching

  29. I <3 monograms and hand stitched makes them more special so I'm looking forward to all that you share. You're so generous as are your followers. I love calligraphy also so classical or decorative, I'm all for it. What I need the most help with is how to determine the best fabric to use, i.e. for hankies as opposed to pillowcases as opposed to napkins, etc. Thank You

  30. I have of late, been thinking about monograms too. Both my son, DIL and I are making good use of handkerchiefs – for the heat makes us “glow” (or svitz as my son rather dryly opines). I am also beginning to collect a few sets of very fine percale sheets which are mostly white – I may love fine linens but I also love a good bargain! Colour choice is seldom an option. I thought all of the above would profit from some monogram-ish attention. I would most like to see the best way to do monograms on fine, fine fabrics such as handkerchiefs and which threads are best suited to these items. The rest I feel comfortable with in terms of execution. I do feel intimidated when it comes to putting a monogram together. If you write about this part please use some initials that are rather problematic rather than say, beautifully symmetric “C” and “G”. I have always felt that my initials MS or MLS (or my son’s for that matter CTMS)do not lend themselves to pleasing monograms. I would love to read more about composition.
    Thank you again for all of your hard work. It is a bright spot in my day when I open your posts.

  31. I LOVE – LOVE – LOVE monograms. I would like to do a sampler or fabric book someday of
    different ways to monogram my initals.

  32. Hi Mary

    Just love anything to do with monograms, especially on eg handkerchiefs, where the embroidery is finer. I love any size, as I like variety in designs and fabric. I think I could be classed as a ‘monogramoholic’. I would love to see this in another one of your fabulous ebooks. I would ‘snap’ it up immediately it was finished.



  33. Dear Mary,
    Thank you for broaching the subject of monograms! My husband recently requested some monogrammed handkerchiefs. It’s the first time he’s asked me to embroider anything for him, so I feel honor-bound to fulfill his wish! I tried some iron-on patterns and guess what? They don’t wash off! So you’d better be sure to iron them on correctly the first time. I bet you knew that already. I wonder what other gems of basic monogram embroidery knowledge you have to divulge? One other issue: finding an appropriae masculine alphabet. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  34. Thank you for the link to your Pinterest monogram page. Loved it. Noticed one monogram was embroidered on fine Irish linen. Thank heavens I identified the material in time as I recently bought a pretty embroidered work from a charity store for a few cents. Horror of horrors, it almost went on a crazy quilt I’m doing. Now, I can use it for its rightful purpose – a monogram. Is there another e-book in the ether?

  35. Oh my! Yes! Please show us how to get those heavy satin stitches to look so flowing and without shredding the fabric or having the back look like I ran the lawn mower over it! lol Also- I don’t know what it is called, but I would like to decorate some table runners with a motif created by a cursive name and it’s reflection (You know the ones that, at first glance, you don’t quite know what it is you are looking at?) that crosses over at the base/line the regular name is written. Wow! That really is hard to explain! :[ Anyway, I can’t wait to hear your tips and expertise!

  36. I love all the examples you show. Really elegant. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about gifts we give babies, and kids, because I’m trying to clean and organize my college-age son’s room. I cringe remembering the huge mountain of stuffed animals he was given as gifts over the years. Too many, most not played with, but a nuisance to store. And all the silver baby gifts that I didn’t bother displaying because they tarnished quickly and I certainly didn’t have time to polish them. And banks, endless banks. There aren’t many toys that newborn babies really play with, and those that they do play with are put aside after a few months. Likewise, they outgrow clothes quickly.
    While I was reading this post I thought that a hand-embroidered monogram would be a lovely baby gift. It wouldn’t tarnish, or take up much space, but would be a treasure forever, always tasteful and appropriate. It only remains to decide how to display the embroidery. I think even a boy would appreciate his own initials as he grew older. The idea of a hand-embroidered monogram made just for one person in the world is a lovely thought.

  37. I love monograms.Especially on linen. Always so elegant and timeless.
    I absolutely love your emails and look forward to many more. My desire is for any decorative embroidery,dimensional, crewel,thread painting, all of it!!!!
    Denise, North Haven NSW. AUSTRALIA

  38. I would like to monogram a set of pillowcases for a golden wedding anniversary. Do you have a preference as to the kind/brand/thread count that would be best? Thanx.

    1. Hi, Susann – If you’re monogramming pre-made pillow cases, I’d look for high thread count cotton (anywhere from 200 percale up), or, if you’re willing to pay for them, 100% linen (they can be rather pricey!). If you’re making your own pillowcases, there are two linens that I would recommend: ecclesiastical linen by Legacy, or linen cambric (a bit lighter than the ecclesiastical, but oh-so-soft, with a beautiful hand) by Legacy. Both of those can be found at Hedgehog Handworks. But if you don’t want to work with a more expensive linen like that, then try looking for 100% cotton with a high thread count. Don’t forget to pre-wash the fabric before making the pillow cases or embroidering them! ~MC

  39. Mary, please keep writing about monograms! I grew up in a Southern WASP family in the 80s so my entire childhood was filled with monogrammed outfits, linens, jewelry and just about everything else. I’d love it if you offered a few hints of how I could do a custom monogram on needlepoint canvas.

    P.S. If it’s not moving, I monogram it!

  40. I think monograms are nice when properly and elegantly executed…I prefer somewhat simpler monograms, but it does depend on what’s being monogrammed I guess!

  41. Getting ready to hand embroider monograms is my current needlework preoccupation, and my hope is that if you teach monogramming here, I will be more about doing and less about dawdling.

  42. Oh I adore anything monogrammed, I want to learn so so bad. I have now ordered a few books , I have brought a few monogrammed old french sheets. I cannot wait till I get it all and start to learn as much as I can, I am a dabbler in anything with craft, But I have stopped and looked at these wonderful letters, Embroidery that goes with it and am in ore, I want to do this so bad and yet I know no one near me that can teach or that has done one or any knowledge, I am out on my own and everything you write and give out I take in. Thank you so much. D

  43. I have probably missed the instructions but what do you wrap your embroidery hoops with? How much should it overlap when you are wrapping it?

    Thank you for your great instructions. I really learn a lot.

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