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In Print

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Personal Touches

by Jill Keller
Stitches Magazine April, 1999; Volume 13 No 5, pp. 78-92

Monograms are coming back with a vengance. They never really went away, they just moved indoors. The monogrammed sweaters and shirts of the early 80s have given way to personalized linens, towels, furniture and more in the 90s. People are decorating their homes with pride and are searching for interesting, fresh monograms that reflect their individuality and spirit. For home-furnishing retailers, embroiderers and monogrammers, it's an exciting opportunity to reach beyond the norm in search of new, creative ideas.

Growing Trends
The Company Store, a mail-order, home-furnishings retailer based in LaCrosse, Wis., received 11,000 more monogramming orders in 1998 than in 1997, and designers promise the trend will continue. "It's never gone out of style with the upper class" says Ernie Smith of Penn & Fletcher Inc., New York, "but it goes in and out with the middle class. Right now, people are looking kindly on monograms. Monograms are considered smart."

While monograms could always be found on bedding, linen and towels, people are now monogramming everything in sight - bed covers, slip-covered chairs and chair backs. Sharon Gonyier, a 14-year veteran of The Company Store's custom department, notes that people who like fine bed linens or decorate their bedrooms to the fullest tend to monogram more than people just starting out with their first home. "If they're familiar with our product and familiar with our quality, they often choose mnograms as well."

"People have seen towels done in mass markets," says Smith. "Now they want something a richer, a little fuller and a little nicer than the run-of-the-mill product"

That's one reason why Richards Jarden, owner of Intarsia Arts, Nyack, N.Y., thinks monogramming is making such an impression on home furnishings. "People associate monograms with expensive products," he says. "Good monograms attract a different audience - a more affluent, stylish crowd able to spend money. Today, though, monograms are appealing to everyone."

This trend's popularity is in part due to today's take-a-number world. Consumers are reasserting themselves and this individuality is spilling over into their homes. "People are taking pride in themselves again, and they're taking pride in their names," says Smith. "Unlike the 60s and 70s, when it wasn't cool to be cocky, people now want to display monograms as a mark of pride."

Charlotte Morrill, owner of CRM & ME, Southwest Harbor, Maine, claims multiple marriages also add to the monogram's atttraction. "A second wife comes into a home and wants her name throughout the house." says Morrill. "In a sense, shes marking her territory." Morrill also says people are "tired of seeing the same kind of things in stores" and personalization makes home products distinctive and fun.

A Step Back in Time
Monograms on home furnishings provide people with a sense of self that's hard to find in today's computerized world. To recapture their ideals, people are reaching back to Victorian times when monograms symbolized class. "People identify something positive and glowing with the Victorian era," says Jarden. "The name is a buzz-word of sorts." As proof, Intarsia's current best-selling product is the Victorian Monogram Set 1.

Family crests, which were popular for the middle class at the turn of the century, are also making their way back into the monogram style of the 90s. "People want monograms that look like old Victorian crests," says Smith. "They want the same experience people had back then today in modern times."

The tradition's holding, but the ettiquette of monogramming has changed. People want to decorate their homes with a degree of finesse and originality, so monogrammers need to be prepared to be creative with the customer, instead of relying on basic patterns. "Monogrammers once relied on the artistry of stitches and artists," says Smith. "Then computers came along. At first, they were terrific because everything was identical. Now, though, people want unique, unusual, new ideas instead of the same old boring sets."

To answer this call, designers are reaching beyond computerized monogram sets to the printing industry, where monogrammed stationery has enjoyed consistent popularity. "Customers want the beautiful monograms they see on silver, china and stationery," says Smith. "It's what embroiderers aspire to."

Smith sought out John Poppin, owner of Calligraphix, Rolling Meadows, Ill., in hopes of translating these monograms to embroidery for home furnishings. Poppin, working with Morrill and her designs, created a series of computerized monograms for the stationery industry, whose monograms were limited because of engraving, hot stamping and embossing. His software enables these monograms to be fully scaleable.

"The stationery and embroidery industries are very similar," says Morrill. "There's more and more of a demand to cross the two. People want a monogram that works for their stationery, their linen and even their glassware." Translating Calligraphix to embroidery has met limited success so far. "We've found that we need to work with the basic design of the monograms because they look good on paper but the stitch count needs work," says Poppin. "We're in the process of adding features to make it more useable for embroiderers."

When that happens, probably in the next two to three years, the popularity of monogrammed home furnishings will rise even more. "Customers want a hand in the design," says Smith. "Caligraphix enables customers to choose their own design, and it eliminates long sales meetings for the monogrammer. This is the answer for those of us who service monogramming needs - we need it."

"Retailers are wanting more monogram variety, but they don't have the resources," says Morrill. " The current monogramming trend is for the home. With good monograms available, that trend will continue to rise."

Dress it Up

To make unique, high-quality monograms available to everyone, Smith suggests monogrammers display "run-of-the-mill" pieces next to the same pieces with enhancements. "Put more padding under the letters; make the letters nicer - anything to bring pedestrian monogramming back to an art," he says.

Some monogrammers are working on expanding color choices for their customers in an effort to offer unique, individualized monograms. Gonyier notes that customers opt for discreet monograms for master bedrooms and baths, in particular, because "the tone-on-tone monogram makes a statement of elegance." The Company Store is working to achieve a range of color choices to accomodate the various looks throughout a house. "Kids' rooms tend to be brighter. but kitchen and bathroom linens vary with each customer," says Gonyier. They offer three different tones in each category to broaden their monogram choices.

Jarden has also found that customers tend to choose muted colors and admits that the traditional monogram looks better in earth tones. Intarsia also offers patterned open fill letters with applique that employs up to seven colors. The letters are available in large or small sizes and feature interior stitching directly influenced by handwork designs of the 19th century. The stitches appear to be done by needle and thread.

Another option for diversity is monogram placement. Look inside any home catalogue and you'll see monograms everywhere: Top, center, bottom, corners. "What matters is that the customer's monogram is displayed," saus Jarden. "Where it's displayed is personal preference."

The Name Game

People are inventing new ways of interpreting their names. The way men and women announce themselves in a married relationship has changed in the last 30 years, and the traditional monogram style doesn't always work in the married home. Women don't always take their husband's name, and many who do choose to hyphenate it with their maiden name. The trick, says Smith, is creating a monogram "that reflects the way people use their name in daily life." To do so, the large letter flanked by two smaller letters has largely been cast aside in favor of single initials, multiple initials or full names.

Gonyier says names are particularly popular on children's comforters and bath sheets, but her customers tend to choose initials on less personal items like hand towels and adult linens. Even pets are sleeping on monogrammed beds - The Company Store brought back monogrammed dog beds in 1998 to a successful reception. "Married couples don't necessarily rush to have kids anymore," Gonyier says. "They treat their pets as if they were their children."

"All the rules are breaking down," says Morrill. She notes some married couples opt to flank their last initial with the first initial of each spouse in a combined monogram; others use 4-letter monograms to indicate either hyphenated or separate last names.

Home Sweet Home

The sky's the limit when monogramming home furnishings, and it looks like the only cap on this trend is imagination. "the need is there," says Morrill. "People want new and interesting things in their homes." Jarden believes monogramming is an art form people will continue to appreciate in their homes, "It's not just plopping three letters," says Jarden. "The true monogram is a specialty."

And in the home, special is what counts. "people love their names and people love their homes," says Smith. "It's only natural to see the two combined."

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