Learn how to backstitch, a guide featured by The Sewing Korner

The backstitch is an important stitch with many different uses, so learning how to backstitch is an important thing to master. In many cases, you’ll be backstitching by hand because this is often the simplest way to do it. This means that learning how to backstitch by hand should be a priority when you’re learning how to do this stitch.

Backstitching is done when you start a stitch by placing the needle in back of the last stitch that you did. This is the opposite of standard running (forward) stitches, which are accomplished by placing the needle in front of the last stitch you did in an even manner.

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    The Basics of Backstitches

    Backstitches are used when you wish to repair a hem, sew on a zipper, and for various other small sewing projects. Rather than using a sewing machine, many sewing enthusiasts feel it is easier and certainly much quicker to do a backstitch by hand.

    The first thing you should know is that starting with a thicker, stronger thread—such as thread that is made for quilting—often works best when you want to learn how to backstitch. It is easier to work with in many ways, and because backstitches are often used when you need to make sure something is secure when you’re done, thicker threads just seem to work better.

    Backstitches are not just used to attach zippers and fix hems. They are also used in embroidery to create designs and even produce the perfect straight line. It is a flexible stitch that is really very simple to do once you’ve done it a few times.

    How to Backstitch by Hand: Making It Easy

    The directions for the backstitch might sound confusing at first, but if you read through the directions thoroughly before you try it yourself, it’ll be a little easier. Try it yourself with a needle and thread as you read through the directions the second time around, which makes it a lot easier to understand.

    Here are the steps to do the perfect backstitch:

    1. Get Your Supplies Together

    To get started, you’ll need the following items:

    • Needle
    • Thread
    • Fabric
    • Ruler
    • Pencil
    • Sharp scissors

    2. Thread the Needle and Make a Marking on the Seam

    When you thread the needle to make a backstitch, don’t make the thread too long because you don’t want it to get tangled up at some point, which it’s more likely to do if it’s too long. A good rule of thumb is to make sure the thread is one yard long or even shorter.

    You can place the marking on your seam one of two ways: first, you can use your ruler and a sewing pencil if it’s a straight line that you want. Or you can do a curved line by making several short marks, which you’ll connect later on once you have the pattern in front of you.

    3. Start Your Stitching

    To start your stitching, choose the spot where you want to stitch to begin, then place the needle into the fabric there. Find the knot, then bring the needle up right in front of the location of that knot. The needle should then be pushed into the fabric and located right in between the spot where you put the needle in and out to create that first stitch.

    When you look at the stitch at this point, it will look like the thread that comes out of the fabric is right in the middle of the first part of the stitch and the last part. Once the first stitch is complete, you’ll place the needle on the other side of that stitch, making it about the length of the first stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric, and bring it down at the place where the other stitch ended.

    4. Continuing Your Stitch

    At this point, you’ll continue to do what you’ve already done, creating stitch after stitch until you’re finished. Keep in mind that when learning how to backstitch by hand, your stitches are often going to be touching one another, but you can also leave spaces between them if the pattern calls for this.

    If you’re securing a seam and not merely creating a decorative design, it’s best to make your stitches very small and as close together as possible. This makes the stitches tighter and much more secure, making them perfect for repairing seams or even making sure your zipper is attached properly.

    Let’s say you want to work faster, or it isn’t necessary to make the stitches secure because you’re just sewing cute designs. In these cases, your stitches can be much longer if you need them to be because, in designs, it usually doesn’t matter how secure the stitches are.

    How to Backstitch: Some FAQs

    As you can see, the backstitch is really a very uncomplicated and simple stitch. Even if you’ve never sewn or embroidered before, you can have this stitch mastered in no time. That being said, there are still a few things you should know that make learning how to backstitch a little easier for you. Here are a few frequently asked questions to help you master the technique a little easier.

    1. Do You Have to Use a Certain Needle?

    While in theory you can use any needle you like, it helps if it’s a needle that is between 1 1/4 inches to 1 3/8 inches in length and no longer. For even better results, use a “between” needle, which is also called a quilting needle. Shorter needles such as these tend to work better with backstitches.

    Be careful when choosing this needle. There is a needle called a crewel needle—also called an embroidery needle—that is short but has a long eye. For learning how to backstitch by hand, you’ll want a short needle with a small eye.

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    2. What Type of Knot Should I Use?

    When doing the knot at the very beginning of the process, try to use a waste knot instead of any of the other types of knots. Why? Because it is easier to trim away this type of knot once you’re finished stitching. It also makes a very clean and smooth stitch, which is important when you’re making a backstitch. The last thing you want is to have a bump in your fabric once your stitch is complete.

    And one more thing about the waste knot—when you get started, try to make sure the thread is brought through your fabric only 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch from that knot. This also helps you get a look in the end that is much smoother and neater.

    3. Does the Direction You Work the Backstitch Matter?

    The backstitch usually looks better if right-handers work from right to left and left-handers from left to right. Not only is it easier to work the stitch, but it’s easier to get the stitch to look exactly how it’s supposed to look.

    4. How Do I Finish and End a Backstitch?

    Most people find that finishing and ending their backstitches by doing two to three stitches on top of one another works perfectly when they want to make sure the stitch ends with a secure finish. This works great for both permanent and even temporary stitches.

    Backstitches are clean-looking, but you have to make sure all of the excess thread is trimmed away really well in order to get that clean look. If you have any excess thread sticking out of your design at any point in the stitches, take a sharp pair of scissors and trim it away.

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    Does the Type of Fabric You’re Working With Matter?

    To create neat, clean stitches, the fabric you’re working with does indeed matter. You can choose from among many different types of fabric, but the two most common types will be even-weave and plain-weave fabrics, both of which are described below.

    Even-weave fabrics are used in techniques such as counted cross-stitching and other forms of needlework where counting the stitches is important. The weft and warp thread of the fabric is equal in size, being made up of same-sized squares that have holes in all four corners, which is where you’ll place the needle for each of your stitches.

    These fabrics get their loose or tight looks from the number of squares in each inch. For instance, an 11-count fabric has 11 squares per inch, whereas a 22-count fabric has 22 squares. Because of this, the 11-count fabric will have a looser look than the 22-count fabric simply because there are fewer squares per inch.

    In “counted” cross stitch, two strands of embroidery thread are usually used, except in the backstitch, which normally uses only one strand and is usually used for lettering and outlining your designs. If you are a beginner, always use the lower-count fabrics because the squares are easier to work with since they’re bigger.

    Plain-weave fabrics are not intended for patterns that involve counted stitches, mainly because their thread count is inconsistent. With these fabrics, small holes are found in the weft and warp threads, and therefore, they can be very indistinct. When you buy this type of fabric, you’ll notice it is listed by weight instead of thread count.

    If you’re going to follow any pattern where the stitches have to be counted, using plain-weave fabric is not a good option. The same can be said of backstitching, which should always be done with an even-weave fabric and not a plain-weave fabric.

    Before we get off the subject of the perfect fabric for backstitching, keep in mind that stretchy fabrics should never be used for this type of stitch. They are simply too hard to work with and can end up producing uneven and even sloppy backstitches.

    Good Types of Fabric to Use for Backstitching

    In addition to basic even-weave fabrics, there are other fabrics you can use that make learning how to backstitch a little easier. They include the following:

    1. Aida Cloth

    This cloth is specifically made for cross-stitching and comes in both small and large squares. The Aida 14-count is a good size to start with because it is not too large or too small. Also called Java cloth, Aida cloth is usually made out of cotton that is starched and, therefore, somewhat stiff.

    Aida Cloth 14 Count
    6 pieces of white 14 count Aida Cloth 14. Each fabric piece is 12 inch by 18 inch. Cross stitch fabric for embroidery, cross stitch and needlework.

    2. Canvas

    Canvas uses thick threads that are woven into a mesh design, and it can be made with one type of thread or two. There are different types of canvas, and they are usually chosen for embroidery and many other needlework projects.

    3. Linen

    If you want a soft fabric that has a thread count a bit higher than the other types of fabric, this is the fabric you want. The weave of linen can be irregular and, therefore, sometimes difficult to work with, but it provides a very natural look once the project is complete.

    When you’re learning how to backstitch by hand, many even-weave fabrics, such as the ones mentioned here, will work nicely. And the more you work with any of these fabrics, the easier it is to master the backstitch, regardless of what you’re trying to make in the end.

    In Summary

    The bottom line is that learning how to backstitch is not that difficult, which is good because it is a very versatile and useful stitch. In fact, it’s possible that the more you do it and the better you get at it, the more uses you’ll eventually find for this amazing stitch.

    You’ll also notice that most articles written are there to teach you how to backstitch by hand and not with a machine. You can certainly backstitch with a sewing machine if you wish, but many sewing enthusiasts realize that it’s easier and much faster to simply do the stitch by hand.

    Regardless of how you learn, you might as well get used to the backstitch and master it quickly because whether you’re sewing, embroidering, or cross-stitching, this is one stitch you’ll be using quite often.

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