Hand towels with whitework hand embroidered monogram J


Hand towels with embroidered J monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Hand towels with embroidered J monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

I have just finished embroidering a couple of linen hand towels for a friend to give as a Christmas present. I’m a bit uncomfortable about hand embroidery on such things as hand towels. However, as this was what was wanted, I tried to make something that would withstand rough treatment and a high temperature wash – which shouldn’t be too difficult when you consider how well all the vintage embroidered linens you see around have endured and survived what was probably a much harder life.

Design for J monogram for hand towel

Design for J monogram for hand towel

I was asked to come up with a design very like some of the embroidery seen on the blog, in particular this one done in chain stitch on cushion and for a while I played with the idea of using chain stitch again. But those vintage embroideries kept coming back and I realised that a padded satin stitch, giving the whole design a bit of 3 D would probably work best.


C19 German letters, after C16 Renaissance Alphabet (from Historic Alphabets & Initials, Woodcut & Ornamental: ed Carol Belanger Grafton, Dover 1977)

For reference I went back to the alphabet I’d used for the cushion mentioned above which had come from Historic Alphabets & Initials Woodcut & Ornamental, edited by Carol Belanger Grafton (pub.: Dover 1977). For all the wonders of the internet at our fingertips, there are still times when books come up trumps and this one in particular is a stimulating source of ideas for ornamented lettering. You can see from the photograph below that I’ve taken elements here and there from different letters and used a quite different style ‘J’.

Hand towel with J monogram in Renaissance style (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Hand towel No 1 with J monogram in Renaissance style (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Hand towel No 2 with J monogram in Renaissance style (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Hand towel No 2 with J monogram in Renaissance style (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

The towels themselves were sent to me already made up and before I began I washed them on 60 degrees to limit any shrinking of the linen after embroidery. I scaled the design to the size wanted, went over the lines with a fine tipped black pen and then, with a light box beneath, traced the design onto the linen using an ordinary pencil, which I find is fine as the pencil lines get lighter and lighter as I work on it. I then outline the whole design in running stitch, or stem stitch, in just 2 strands of  embroidery cotton. (If I have  made a mess with the pencil and it’s still very visible or grubby, I will often wash it again at this stage.) All the solid areas I fill with chain stitch, stem stitch or running stitch for depth and padding before I go over them with satin stitch. Sometimes I remove the original running stitch for things like stems where I want to make the embroidery look fresh or where I want to use another stitch. The holes of the previous stitches will still be visible so you can tread in the old footsteps without having to draw a line again. As I sew I often make a few changes to the design.

Hand towel with J monogram in Renaissance style (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Hand towel with J monogram in Renaissance style (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Making 2 of anything can be a bit of a challenge as they never come out exactly the same (and I could play ‘spot the difference’ with the two designs). But that’s handmade for you. My husband’s sermons are just the same. Having 2 services on a Sunday, the sermon at the second is always very different from that he gave first and sometimes he spontaneously departs entirely from what he said before – same notes, but different recipients and this too is as it should be. (The one thing we can rely on is that they are never too long and for this we are all grateful.)

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  1. Posted December 19, 2015 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    They are lovely, and yes, padded satin stitch is surprisingly robust!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 20, 2015 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Rachel – here’s hoping the satin stitch performs well.

  2. Posted December 20, 2015 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Hello Mary

    Your beautiful monogrammed hand towels are exquisite – I love the leafy alphabet you describe so well. I am not sure that I could bring myself to actually use them for drying my hands – and most especially they would not be used in my house as someone not too far away may just dry his hands after being under the bonnet of his car. A place he is often to be found!

    The Vicar’s sermons are I am sure also a delight and an excellent length on a cold frosty winter Sunday morning in England.

    Wishing you and your family the very Happiest of Christmas Greetings! I look forward to a New Year of exquisite embroidery tales.

    Best wishes as ever. Lydia

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 20, 2015 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

      Well I agree with you, Lydia about not being able to use them myself and equally they wouldn’t last a second in our house either (even though nobody will have had their head under a car bonnet).
      When the vicar’s sermons are good they are very good and he’s not at all preachy, which we appreciate.

  3. Juliette
    Posted December 23, 2015 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    What a lovely J! As is the K, to which you link. Your J is more satisfying to me than the J of the design because the needle-worked J seems more complete with its lovely curve up from the bottom. Included in the joy of having two J towels done by you would be the very slight differences in the two, showing that they are indeed beautifully made by hand.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 23, 2015 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      You are right about the J Juliette – the J in pencil was too bulky and thick for embroidering. I did think briefly about appliquéing it but dismissed that on the grounds of wear. Sometimes what needs to be done only appears once you get started. Thank you for telling me you like the monograms.

  4. Posted December 23, 2015 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    They are so beautiful and will likely last for generations, both because of your skillful needlework and because they will be treasured and cared for.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 23, 2015 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      I know the recipient is very appreciative of hand work, so I think they will have a good home.

  5. Posted December 30, 2015 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Mmm, so gorgeous. A very robust and elegant ‘J’ ( I am sensitive about capital letters ‘J’ and ‘I’ as you might remember because my sons’ names begin with these slender letters) . I shudder to think of the fate such exquisite items would meet in our rather rough and tumble household, and am in slight awe of anyone who could guarantee these beautiful towels the life they deserve. What an amazing gift, sure to be treasured for generations to come X

    • Mary Addison
      Posted December 30, 2015 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      Glad you approve of the ‘J’ which always causes much thought – how long should the top bar be, is the vertical stroke thick enough to stand out, or should I ditch the straight lines and go for something more curly?
      I too would never dare to put such hand towels out but I believe the recipient lives a very different life.

  6. Kristina
    Posted May 3, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Dear Mary,

    These are beautiful! I have been trying to find a way to contact to you but haven’t been able to find an email address. I work for an artist in Berlin Germany. We are currently working towards a big exhibition in Ireland and need to have a handkerchief hand embroidered. Please email me if this is something you’d be interested in working in. You can contact me at: kj.simonfujiwara@gmail.com

    • Mary Addison
      Posted May 3, 2016 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for getting in touch. This sounds very interesting and I will email you directly vert soon.

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