Cross stitch monograms from the past

cross stitch monogram

Marking. — The art of Marking was carried to great perfection before the invention of the numerous modern marking inks, and during the years succeeding home weaving of linen, when the name was woven into the material as part of the design. To be able to embroider the name of the owner, and the numerals standing for the number of articles possessed, was an accomplishment that no lady of the eighteenth and earlier part of the nineteenth century was without, and the work executed then was frequently of a very beautiful description, and always conspicuous for its neatness and finish. At the present date Marking in England is almost exclusively confined to pocket handkerchiefs, bed linen, and woollen materials; but upon the continent, Initials beautifully worked often form the sole ornamentation of silk cushions, table covers,and work-basket covers. The marking of linen may be effected in a variety of stitches: in Cross Stitch, Embroidery Stitches, and Chain Stitch; but the orthodox style is after the first-named method.


Fig. 603 is a sample of the easiest kind of Marking. To work: Procure ingrain red cotton, and work upon Linen of a coarse texture, so as to be guided by the threads that are woven in it. Form the letters with Cross Stitch, and place the stitches at the distance apart shown in the illustration, counting the linen threads as squares.(…)

S.F.A Caulfeild and Blanche C. Saward, The dictionary of needlework : an encyclopædia of artistic, plain, and fancy needlework (Vol. IV), London, 1882

… Even today, cross stitched monograms are a great way to add a personal touch and a charming old-fashioned look to any household and personal items…

cross stitch purse 1

Metal-framed purse personalized with an embroidered monogram

cross stitch purse 2

The two cross stitch letters, V and S, were originally included in an old Italian booklet, and now you can find the recharted versions in the book “Vintage cross stitch alphabets


Here are a few simple rules and tips to follow:

  • Layout

The letters of a monogram can be intertwined using different colours for each of them (see photo below), or can be arranged side by side, in a specific order, using only one colour.
The following are guidelines for traditional monogram layouts:
for a single person: it can be just a single letter (first or last name initial), two letters (first and last name initials), or three letters (first name initial on the left, last name initial in the center and larger, and middle name initial on the right)
for a married couple: a three-initial monogram, with the wife’s first name initial on the left, the couple’s married surname in a larger size in the center, and the husband’s first name on the right

intertwined monogram

Monogrammed sampler, 1915

  • Colours

Cross stitched monograms had to be seen clearly, so they were usually worked in garance red, a rich and durable dye extracted from the roots of the madder plant (Rubia tinctorum), or in blue. However, this is not a rule, and you can choose the colour you wish.

monogrammed handkerchiefs

Two embroidered handkerchiefs, one with a whitework monogram, and the other with a contrasting red monogram in cross stitch and double running stitch. Charts from the book “Vintage cross stitch alphabets“.

  • Placement

handkerchiefs and napkins: in the center of one of the corners (straight or diagonal)
tablecloths: in one corner, in all four corners, in two diagonal corners, on each side, or in the center
towels: at the bottom center (2” / 5 cm or 4” / 10 cm from the bottom hem, depending on the size of the towel)
bed sheets: at the top center (about 2” / 5 cm from the hem stitching)
coverlets and duvet covers: centered in the middle
pillow cases: centered between the open end edge and the hem stitching
pillow shams: centered in the middle

monogrammed towel

This monogrammed linen towel reproduces two cross stitch letters, M and G,  taken from “Album Italia”, an embroidery booklet published at the beginning of the twentieth century.

monogrammed towel and antique cross stitch charts

The whole recharted alphabet of these letters is in the book “Vintage cross stitch alphabets

4 thoughts on “Cross stitch monograms from the past

  1. Nancy

    When designing a monogram with the letters on top of each other, like in the chart from 1910, which letter should be in front, the first name or last name?

    1. Ajisai Press

      Initials are generally ordered like your name: first, middle and last. So, in this case, you should first place the first name, and then the last name on top.

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