Ask the Ghost: Making Memorable Monograms

Ghost in the Embroidery Machine

Dear Ghost,
I monogrammed a bag for myself on a whim; now that people have seen it, I’m constantly asked to create monogrammed gear; I get stuck on the rules and regulations; I don’t want to do the same thing over and over during my creative time, even though I like the idea of monograms. What should I do?

-Initially Confused

S Monogram with Purple and Green Frame
Cathy Sundermann of Stichfork Designs is my Rule-Breaking Monogram Hero, but even her traditional work is sublime.

Dear Initally,

Though monograms in their current form have been gracing the fiber-arts for far longer than any of my gentle readers have been walking the earth, that’s no reason monogramming must be boring. These time-tested triads are the most basic form of personalization. They can, and to my mind should, be a unique expression of the individual for whom they are created.

Making memorable monograms begins with discovering what the person for whom the piece is created wants to express. This may sometimes mean following tradition, but even a traditional setup can allow plenty of chances to break the ‘rules’. If we take time to consider the receiver and to play with the many variables at our disposal, even the simplest monogram can be counted among truly custom pieces.

The simplicity of the monogram lends itself to an incredible variety of applications and styles. The great luck is that you don’t necessarily need to be a digitizer to achieve them; With so many available styles of digitized monogram alphabets hailing from different design eras and so many ways to execute them, it’s more important to get a feeling for the look your intended recipient wants than it is to sweat creating it yourself. Ask how traditional they would like the piece to be, what styles or genres of design they like, if they want a script or block style, a rounded or sharp look, intricate or simple rendering, colorful or tone-on-tone palettes, letters alone, or a graphical design that contains or complements the letterforms. Get to the essence of their character well before needles hit fabric.

Erich Sketches Monograms from a traditional exemplar
Digitize, but don’t fancy yourself a designer? Classic public domain exemplars are readily available online to inspire.

If your intended recipient is cool to break curly-letter conventions, don’t let yourself get too hung up on the rules. I’ve fielded innumerable emails from decorators desperate for answers to correct letter placement and style. Though a classic monogram stitched on wedding regalia may conventionally have the groom’s surname in the center position, we live in a world with many conventions of naming in and out of marriage. Even clothing companies sometimes use classically-influenced monograms for corporate names; there’s little use to slavishly following these monogramming ‘rules’ when when our lives stretch beyond these boundaries. If you want to stack last names, only use first names, or intertwine the letters of all the people in the room, do it. It should mean something to the person who will wear the mark; serve them up something all-new, and all-them. It’s fine to know and present the original conventions, but the reason for the modern monogram is often self-expression and identification. Nobody should have to change the way they express their name to fit a monogram, so it follows that we should alter the monogram to fit the needs of the wearer, no matter how unconventional the usage. They should describe, not constrain, how we represent ourselves.

The stylistic creativity you can bring to bear on those simple letterforms is limitless. Let the following list of tips and tricks serve as a starting point for your experimentation.

3 monograms stitched in different thread types.
Thread choices alone can vastly change the look of even a very basic monogram.

Switch your Supplies – Even modest stock monograms can be stunners with the right materials. Imagine two-colored twisted threads, sparkling metallics, striped variegateds, wooly and thick threads to add texture; glow in the dark threads to enhance nighttime viewing, and solar color-change threads to make for a surprising daytime shift. When creating large, outlined pieces, add applique materials to the mix. The aspects of the design ruled by your choice of supplies are color, sheen, and texture; mix and remix them with abandon! Bold and bright vs. understated tone-on-tone, smooth and shiny vs. rough and fuzzy, it’s up to you!

Monogramming on your mind, or at least pretty close to it, with my favorite monogram I’ve ever executed.

Play with Placement – Try a monogram on the hip, shoulder or yoke of shirts, cap sides, pant legs, or the side of a sweatshirt’s hood. Make it half-hidden or even entirely secret with placements in jacket linings, the inner fold of a necktie, or the inside of a collar.

Delve into Designs – Pair your monogram with a stock design that fits its character. Elegant tableware with regal coronets, kidswear with cartoon bears, resort-ready bags with ships. For extra impact, edit the design or lettering so the elements mesh into a cohesive whole that feels like a bespoke creation.

A Viking Design of mine, Crowned and Monogrammed by Stitchfork Designs
A Viking-age design of mine, crowned, recolored, and combined with a monogram by Stitchfork Designs

Mix and Match – mixing styles can add dramatic tension to a piece and create an eclectic feel; classic monogram letters used out of sequence, paired with modern typefaces; old-school blackletter forms paired with ultra-clean sans-serifs, script layered with no-nonsense block type- no matter the combination, you’ll be sure to make a statement.

Shades and Shadows – Add a shadow or textural element to your lettering in a second color; the layering lifts the monogram to the fore, and the additional color creates opportunities to explore a more complete palette.

jmc with a textured shadow
Stitchfork knows texture and shadow.

Tie it Together – Add elements based on something in the fabric or garment on which the monogram will stitch; whether it’s a flower from a background print, a color from a tote-bag’s strap, or a pattern that takes a textural cue from the substrate, adding matching elements makes your monogram look like it belongs on the decorated piece.

Treat it with Texture – texture isn’t only achieved with specialty threads. Digitizers can use stitch-patterns in their fills or sculptural carving with their satin stitches to create interesting textures in their letterforms. This is another great place to mix and match the smooth with the rough, the regular with the erratic. Moreover, the carved-satin style lends itself to monograms; making strokes in the letters appear intertwined can add a sense of depth, solidity, and dimension to your design.

dragonfly monogram by Stitchfork Designs
The way the S intertwines with the dragonfly- perfect integration by Cathy Sundermann

Whether you stitch classic monograms or one-off eclectic creations; make the attempt to know the recipient of your work, serve their style, and express something authentically suited to them; the recognition they feel will make your work more than memorable- like those monogrammed heirlooms that precede it in the long history of the art, it will be cherished.

Erich Campbell, Embroidery Digitizer Erich Campbell is the Partner Relationship Manager at DecoNetwork, an award-winning machine embroidery digitizer and designer and a decorated apparel industry expert, frequently contributing articles and interviews to embroidery industry magazines such as Printwear, Images Magazine UK, and Wearables as well as a host of blogs, social media groups, and other industry resources.

Erich is an evangelist for the craft, a stitch-obsessed embroidery believer, and firmly holds to constant, lifelong learning and the free exchange of technique and experience through conversations with his fellow embroiderers. A small collection of his original stock designs can be found at The Only Stitch

Erich Campbell

Erich Campbell

Partner Relationship Manager at DecoNetwork
Erich Campbell is the Partner Relationship Manager at DecoNetwork, an award-winning machine embroidery digitizer and designer and a decorated apparel industry expert, frequently contributing articles and interviews to embroidery industry magazines such as Printwear, Images Magazine UK, and Wearables as well as a host of blogs, social media groups, and other industry resources.Erich is an evangelist for the craft, a stitch-obsessed embroidery believer, and firmly holds to constant, lifelong learning and the free exchange of technique and experience through conversations with his fellow embroiderers. A small collection of his original stock designs can be found at The Only Stitch
Erich Campbell

@erichcampbell

Partner Relationship Manager- DecoNetwork - Long-time Embroidery Digitizer/Designer, E-Commerce Manager, and Industry Columnist, Contributor, and Educator.
Here too, folks. Apparel is everywhere, what markets are you missing? #tshirt #screenprintinghttps://t.co/lkYrpYJzK6 - 14 mins ago
Erich Campbell