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
Which is the strongest stitch by hand?
The backstitch of course! Due to it’s 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
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.
If you wear glasses like me, then grab them now!
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
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 and should thread it using a needle threader.
Further Reading: Types of Hand Sewing Needles
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.
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.
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.
In addition to showing you the basic backstitch, it also shows how to backstitch around corners and how to change threads.
- Yarn Weights – Standard Weights for Crochet & Knitting
- What is Flannelette – Fabric Explanation, Uses and Care
- What is Georgette: The Ultimate Fabric Guide
- What is Grosgrain? Fabric Guide, Uses and Types
- Sewing Trims – Best Techniques for Great Results
How to Backstitch – 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 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
Put the needle down through the fabric (position 1) and bring it up 1/4 inch (6mm) away (position 2).
Pull the thread through up to the knot at the end. This is exactly the same as sewing a running stitch.
How long should your stitches be?
- The distance of the stitches depends on you. For best results make as small a stitch as you can.
- You might choose 1/4 (6mm) long stitches the first time you practice your backstitch and aim for 1/8 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 you started. (Position 3 which is the same as position 1) Because this is our first stitch, this means we will be inserting the needle at the knot.
Bring the needle up in front of the next stitch at an equal distance at the position 4.
- If your first stitch was 1/4 inch (6mm) then this means you will bring the needle up 1/4 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 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 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 to 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 – 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 in my hand stitching series
- 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.
- 6 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.