Struggling for the perfect present? A monogramed item may be just the ticket. Interior Designer Jamie Hempsall explains their history and allure.

Never underestimate the attraction of the humble initial or monogram when it comes to creating a gorgeous Christmas gift. A carefully chosen item adorned with a personal mark will definitely set your offering apart from the norm.

The monogram has a wonderful dual role within the world of interiors. On the one hand it is a useful statement of ownership (much like the legion of name tags beleaguered Mum’s have to sew into gym kit at the beginning of school terms), yet on the other it has a true element of decorative style.

The monogram is one of the oldest methods of identification and came into use virtually as soon as the first coins were adopted as nations moved from the barter system to currency. One of the earliest examples found dates from around 350BC.

Initials have long been used by artists to identify their works and were used to authorise diplomatic documents in the Middle Ages. By the 15th Century sophisticated embroidery featuring illustration and lettering was being created by nuns for church vestments. However, in the 16th Century the Reformation saw all such adornments stripped from places of worship with the skills largely being lost as nuns fled to safety abroad.

The commercial adoption of the use of lettering for decoration began to increase in the later 16th Century when an emerging middle class wanted new ways to demonstrate their prosperity and position.

More general use of the monogram as a mark of ownership occurs in the 18th Century. By this time laundering linen was a communal activity in many places, adding an initial to your personals meant you could ensure you got back your rightful property.

The 19th Century saw the introduction of more sophisticated monogram designs and books of embroidery models began to be published in Europe. This marked the beginning of a greater adoption of embroidery and the monogram throughout society. Many continental girls were then being taught to sew and embroider at school with the skill becoming valued in higher circles as a symbol of both refinement and social stature.

Specific rules were applied to both the development of a monogram and also its position on an article such as a handkerchief (the Victorian convention states the surname initial should be larger and in the middle of a grouping with the forenames placed either side: so Jamie L Hempsall would be jHl ). However, this Christmas it is all about a grabbing a glorious initial and delivering it to your loved one.

You will have to be quick though, because cut offs are generally over the next 48 hours. However, there is still time to choose something spectacular.

There are a number of specialist sites on the internet where you can obtain initial based products, here are a few I think will make perfect gifts:The website Jonny’s Sister has an amazing range of gifts which can be personalised. Their chunky white wooden letters are ideal for use as initials or for creating words or phrases to brighten up your home. (£6.95 each; – 01935 873186).

Wall letters from

You cannot go wrong with candles and these are extra special. Personalised grapefruit scented candles in glass tumblers (£22.50 for a pair; – 01843 808061).


Personalised grapefruit scented candles from

There is something organic about the permanent nature of an engraved natural stone pebble. The perfect heartfelt keepsake for the side of the bed or on display in the bathroom (£14 each; – 01271 861825).

Engraved natural stone pebble

Mark the season (or a special occasion) with a beautiful initial heart hanging decoration created in rich velvet and adorned with gold trim (£8 each; – 01264 326339).

Velvet initial heart from

Happy last minute shopping!

Signature Range In Store

Initial gifts are not just found on the internet. The Rug Company at George Smith in Harrogate have just introduced the beautiful Alphabet crewelwork cushion range designed by Sue Timney. Each cushion in the range is a considerable 56cm square and has been meticulously hand-embroidered using the finest wool. The single letter is generally highlighted in one of a range of fresh, modern colours and is set against the background of one of Sue Timney’s signature monochrome stripes or exotic patterns.   They are wonderfully tactile and distinctly impressive (£95 each; The Rug Company at George Smith, Harrogate – 01423 275225).

Sue Timney’s Alphabet crewelwork cushion range is available from The Rug Company at George Smith in Harrogate

Jamie Hempsall is a multi-award winning interior designer.