Are you wanting to know how to backstitch? Backstitch is a popular hand stitch used for seams to give them strength and durability. It is still used by many couture clothing designers to sew their creations and has a wide variety of uses and applications. If you have some mending to do or just need to hand sew a project then learning how to backstitch is perfect for you even if you are a beginner!
How To Backstitch Tutorial
A back stitch is a basic hand stitch where the thread is sewn in a back and forth motion. The top of the stitch looks like a series of small touching stitches while the back is overlapping.
Which is the Strongest Stitch by Hand?
The backstitch of course! Due to its back and forth motion and the ability to get really small stitches, the backstitch is the strongest stitch you can use when you don't have a sewing machine.
Tools Used to Backstitch
LIGHTING - As with all hand sewing, make sure you are sitting in a well-lit area. You will be amazed at the difference good light makes, especially if you are sewing something where the backstitches will show on the outside and need to be small and neat.
MAGNIFYING - If you wear glasses like me, then grab them now!
THREAD - If you are sewing a backstitch as a decorative feature on your sewing project then use embroidery floss which comes in a rainbow of colors. Otherwise, if you are mending or hand-stitching when you can't use a sewing machine, a regular thread will do. Try to use a thread that is polyester and fairly strong so your seams will withstand washing and wearing.
Further Reading: Types of Sewing Thread
NEEDLE - You don't need any special needle to backstitch. Just use a hand needle suitable for the fabric and thread you are using. If you are using embroidery floss you will need something with a large eye such as an embroidery needle and should thread it using a needle threader.
Further Reading: Types of Hand Sewing Needles
EMBROIDERY HOOP - A hoop is only needed for holding the fabric taut if you are sewing embroidery. For using back stitch on seams, you do not need one.
Embroidery for Beginners
Learn how to embroider and the best embroidery stitches with this easy beginners guide.
When to Use Backstitch?
One of the main purposes of the backstitch is to sew strong seams without a sewing machine. It is stronger than the simple running stitch and although it takes a little longer, is still relatively quick. Read more about the basic stitches of embroidery.
As well as hand sewing seams, backstitch can be used for decorative purposes. See how I used a backstitch for the doll's face in her eyelashes and mouth. These were done in really tiny stitches in embroidery floss.
When using the backstitch for outlines or embroidery, always mark the pattern first with a removable pen or chalk.
How to Backstitch Video
Watch this video from my YouTube channel which shows you how to backstitch. In addition to showing you the basic backstitch, it also shows how to backstitch around corners and how to change threads.
I post sewing and craft videos weekly so don't forget to subscribe. All the videos are fast and focused so you don't have to waste too much time getting the information you need. Grab a coffee, press play and enjoy. It is only 2 minutes long.
How to Backstitch - Hand Embroidery Step by Step
Step 1 - Knot the Thread
First, start by knotting your thread. If you are using a regular thin thread then thread it double for a strong seam. For a thicker embroidery floss like my sample, I just threaded it single and knotted one end.
Further Reading: How to Thread a Needle
Step 2 - First Stitch
For your first sample, it can be easier to draw straight lines to stitch along.
Bring the needle up from the back of the fabric at (1).
Insert the needle down in the fabric at (2) which is approximately ¼ inch (6mm) away. This is exactly the same as sewing a running stitch.
Bring the needle up at (3) which is the same distance as that between (1) and (2). For our sample this is ¼ inch.
How long should your stitches be?
For our sample we will do a stitch length ¼ inch (6mm) apart but you can do any length for your project.
- The distance of the stitches depends on you. For best results make as small a stitch as you can. Remember shorter stitches are stronger.
- You might choose ¼ (6mm) long stitches the first time you practice your backstitch and aim for ⅛ inch (3mm) stitches after a few completed projects.
- Finer fabrics will require smaller stitches than thicker fabrics such as denim.
- When I need to sew really small stitches I use my craft magnifying lamp to make them extra neat. This is probably a little excessive for most projects but when I'm photographing my work up close, I want to impress you! Just do your best. Even if the stitches look a little uneven and wonky they will be really strong.
Step 3 - Stitch Backwards
Take a small backstitch in the fabric inserting the needle in the same place as the last stich at (2).
Bring the needle up in front of the next stitch at an equal distance at the position (5).
- If your first stitch was ¼ inch (6mm) then this means you will bring the needle up ¼ inch in front of the second stitch.
- Try and keep the stitches straight and in line.
- If you need really neat stitching you could even measure and mark equal distances with a ruler. Don't forget, the smaller your stitches the stronger the seam will be.
Step 4 - Pull Needle Through
Pull the needle through to reveal your very first back stitch!
Step 5 - Repeat
Repeat all the way along your seam until you reach the end. This means placing the needle in at the first stitch and up at an equal distance from the second stitch.
My stitches went a little crooked in the middle but you can prevent that by drawing a line along the seam with chalk before you start.
If you are sewing a hand seam then it doesn't matter if it is not perfectly straight, but for embroidery, you would want it to look as neat as possible.
Alternatives to Backstitch
If you are having trouble with the back and forth motion of backstitch, then substitute a simple running stitch. This is the easiest hand stitch you could ever learn and is a simple up and down motion. While not quite as strong, if you take small stitches you will still get a great result.
Here you can see how running stitch looks different from backstitch. Notice the gaps between stitches in the running stitch.
- BACKSTITCH - slower but stronger
- RUNNING STITCH - faster and easier for beginners but not as strong
Further Reading: Running Stitch
In the sample above I have stitched right to left but you can equally sew in the other direction. It will just depend on which feels most comfortable to you. As long as you are continually going into the previous stitch you will get a nice strong row of backstitch.
Backstitch Variation - The Whipped Backstitch
Once you have your basic backstitch perfected, you can make a beautiful rope-like stitch called the whipped backstitch. This stitch is sewn like a regular backstitch with a second thread woven up and under the thread.
Backstitch - In Conclusion
If you are confused by any of the steps you can go back and watch the video or look at the numbered illustration below. The video also includes how to turn a corner when backstitching and how to change thread. Because you are going forwards and backward continually it uses a lot of thread and you will be knotting on and off continually.
Give it a try. Like many things, it is easier than it looks and is sometimes faster than setting up your sewing machine for small projects.
All done! What are you planning on using your backstitch for? I have lots of free sewing projects on this site for you to try.
More Hand Stitching
- How to Sew a Seam by Hand – How to hand-stitch a seam 2 easy ways. This includes the basic running stitch and backstitch
- How to Sew Whip Stitch - This is used to hand applique fabrics such as felt.
- Basic Hand Stitches - These include the running stitch, backstitch, whip stitch, satin stitch, ladder stitch (sometimes called a slip stitch), and blanket stitch.
- How to Backstitch
- Running Stitch - This is one of the simplest hand stitches and is great for decorative stitching and as an alternative to backstitch when sewing seams.
- How to Sew Blanket Stitch - The blanket stitch can be used on edges or to sew felt together.
- How to Sew a Ladder Stitch - A ladder stitch is used to give an invisible finish to openings. Use it to close pillows, mend toys, and more. It is one of the most commonly used hand stitches.
If you have been looking up how to backstitch because you don't have a sewing machine yet, then these articles might help you.
- Best Swing Machine - I look at some of the best for different budgets.
- Sewing Machine vs Serger vs Coverstitch - Find out the differences and which is the best machine for your needs
- Learning to Sew - 21 tips for beginners.
- Knot the needle either single or double and bring it up at 1. Insert the needle back down into the fabric a short distance away at 2.
- Bring the needle up at 3.
- Take the needle back to 2 and insert it down (this is now called 4), bring it up at 5 which is the same distance away.
MORE EMBROIDERY ARTICLES
- Blanket Stitch
- Bullion Knots
- Buttonhole Stitch
- Chain Stitch
- Chevron Stitch
- Couching Embroidery Tutorial
- Cross Stitch
- Double Herringbone Stitch
- Embroidery Basics
- Embroidery Flowers
- Embroidery Leaves
- Embroidery Letters
- Embroidery Roses
- Embroidery Tools
- Faggoting Embroidery
- Feather Stitch
- Fern Stitch
- Fishbone Stitch
- Fly Stitch
- French Knots
- Hand Embroidery Stitches
- Herringbone Stitch
- Lazy Daisy
- Long and Short Stitch
- Outline Stitch
- Running Stitch
- Sashiko Embroidery
- Satin Stitch
- Seed Stitch Embroidery (Rice Stitch)
- Split Stitch
- Stem Stitch
- Straight Stitch Embroidery
- Web Stitch | Embroidery Tutorial
- Whip Stitch
- Whipped Backstitch
I have been reading/watching tutorial after tutorial and still was unclear how to do this. Then I found this! You explained it so perfectly and simply that I was able to understand within minutes. Thank you so much!
Thanks for the video tutorial. I found it extremely helpful! Keep up the good work.
Just go into the corner and have the needle come up on the new side. If you draw yourself the corner on the fabric it will make sense.
I missed the part about how to turn corners. I've watched several times. Can you help? Thanks.
Very helpful, well-presented, and organized!
Hi Mel, thanks for reading my backstitch article.
Hey the video really helped. It is much easier than I thought. Thanks for a great tutorial.
Thanks. Just what I was looking for to hand sew my doll pillow as I don't have a machine.