One of the most rewarding aspects of being in the design world is the privilege of working closely with so many creators and makers. In relaunching my blog, I’ve begun to highlight some of the talents I work with right here in Iowa.
This post starts with the ABCs—the actual ABCs as used in monograms and personalization. Over the past 10 years, the opportunities to personalize everything from handbags to linens have exploded. Here is one of our best local secrets.
I befriended Joanne Roth of Modern Monogramming long before we ever met in person. Just after I moved to London with my family for a three-year stint across the pond, Joanne and her husband relocated to Des Moines. Joanne and my husband Mike were both alumni of the Tuck School of Business. When Joanne found herself moving to a city where she knew no one, she reached out to us for advice. I shared our list of go-to doctors, favorite salons, shops, restaurants, etc. Upon returning to Des Moines from London, I became fast friends with Joanne. Our sons even ended up in the same class at school. Fast-forward 10 years to 2017 when Joanne quit her day job and launched Modern Monogramming as a full-time gig.
Now we collaborate regularly. We have hosted popups in my shop for occasions like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Joanne takes a simple monogram or motif to another level—from pillows to bed linens to napkins to unexpected details in my clients’ homes. She’s a savvy businesswoman. She’s forward-thinking. She’s creative. Because of all of this, Joanne’s business has grown past the local realm to the national stage. Currently, she’s splashing her designs on canvas products from Neely & Chloe (the chic sisters, who also happen to be Tory Burch’s nieces).
We both hail from the Northeast and love color and the marriage of classic and contemporary design. Welcome to my conversation with Joanne, as we chat about our home base—Iowa.
We’re not saving the best for last. Let’s go straight to fashion. Tell me about your collaboration with Neely & Chloe.
Let me say that women do business so differently. My work was in a booth of someone else I collaborate with. The Neely & Chloe team saw my embroidery, asked for the source, and reached out to me. I produced several samples for them based on conversation alone. There was trust and loyalty from the get-go. It all works.
Monograms are certainly nothing new. What sets yours apart?
In college, I studied semiotics, the interpretation of signs and symbols. What I culled from that was the idea of giving something uniqueness by naming it. I want to give connection to the things that I love. I think of a monogram as creating your own cipher. Proportions and symbols and colors drawn from different life sources make a monogram truly unique. Otherwise, I’m simply asking the question, “What are your letters and do you want them in block or script?” I want my monograms to have visual significance and layers for the person it is representing.
You’ve monogrammed christening gowns and wedding pillows and cowboy boots. You’ve also served as a conduit to translate the original work of artists to embroidery. What does custom embroidery mean to you?
I love that it’s another form, a beautiful form, of documenting history. And it’s no longer just the big life events that we consider to be milestones. I just did bags for a 40th reunion for a group of women who are traveling to Georgetown. It’s about celebrating the day-to-day, not just weddings and babies, but those are so much fun, too. There are so many wonderful ways that people want to capture a sentimental moment of life. I’m always so inspired by the creativity of people who reach out to me.
We both moved from the East Coast. With pros and cons of living there just like any place, what do you miss?
Well I don’t miss the commutes! I love history, and there’s no way to replicate the centuries-old charm of New England. Stone walls around houses, you don’t see that here. And you could drive 30 minutes and be in a place that was completely different from where you just were. City to beach. That level of visual contrast doesn’t exist here.
Name something that you’ve done that you are especially proud of.
My Iowa State Fair ribbons! I love that Iowa calls in such skilled masters from the national level to judge their state fair competitions. I enter something every year and have won almost 70 ribbons.
You beat me to the most important topic. Finally, Iowa. We both now call it home. What is it about this place that makes you happy?
So much. Let’s start with the entrepreneurial community. Sure, lots of cities have a positive entrepreneurial spirit. But Des Moines’s manageable size allows you to connect to other like-minded people so easily. The culture—people are genuinely nice and helpful and truly want to share and collaborate. When I first moved here, I didn’t know how to sew or embroider, and I had to learn. Sewing and quilting play such a strong role in Iowa’s heritage. While the aesthetic was not mine, the masterful craftmanship was intense and taught me so much. I recognized that what I could do would be a viable business. Des Moines is small enough that you cross and connect so broadly.
2020 is one of your moments. Find something old and sentimental or buy something new. Have it monogrammed to make a memory into a keepsake!