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At its most basic, monogramming is the stylized marking of items with an individual’s initials. Historically, this served the purpose of identifying either the craftsman who created an item or the individual for whom the item was made. Even into modern times, it was common practice for all household linens to be marked with initials and date of purchase. Eventually, monogramming evolved to embellish appearance and add value to items, as well as to signify ownership.
Monogramming of one or two letters may be used, but the three-letter combination is considered standard. The three-letter form traditionally includes the initials from the individual’s first, last, and middle names — in that order, when read from left to right. The initial representing the last name is centered and made larger than the letters on either side.
Regardless of how many letters are used, typically they are all formed as capital or “upper case” characters. As with typography in general, other characteristics in the appearance of monogramming letters vary depending on the desired tone. Shape, size, color, and placement can all be used to convey a feeling of masculinity or femininity, formality or informality, and so on. Sometimes, multiple letters are overlapped, set in an unusual shape, or otherwise embellished for a more artistic effect. However, the letters themselves must be legible for the monogram to remain distinct from any other decorative motif.
Items such as jewelry are sometimes fashioned into the likeness of a monogram. However, monogramming is more likely found printed, engraved, embossed, or embroidered. Printed forms generally appear on inexpensive or mass produced merchandise. Engraving is carved or etched into surfaces such wood, metal, or glass. The initials may be embossed &mash; appearing as raised images — on items such as high-end, personalized stationery.
Most commonly, monogramming is stitched or embroidered on fabric and leather goods. In some cases, printing the initials may be possible, but stitched or embroidered work is the optimal choice. For example, letters stitched or embroidered onto a terrycloth towel would likely wear better than those printed onto the towel.
Embroidered lettering was especially popular in the past to convey messages, often with a high moral tone. Monogramming per se has been used in badges, banners, and heraldic work to convey the ideals of church, state, and family. It now appears widely on items for home decor and household use, as well as on clothing, accessories, gifts, and keepsake items.
With advancements in technology and mass production, embroidered monogramming has become more common in commercial and promotional items as well. Home sewers can purchase computer-controlled machines that perform a variety of embroidery, which often includes monogramming. For those who prefer to work by hand, comprehensive references on embroidery frequently include details on the materials and techniques used to create these marks.