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How to Backstitch - a tutorial for cross stitching!

How to Backstitch ◦ a tutorial for cross stitchers

Sure, you can finish tons of projects with just the cross stitch.
But that doesn’t mean you have to stop learning new stitches!

All cross stitchers should know how to backstitch. It’s easy, awesome + really useful!

The backstitch is a super simple, fast stitch that adds an extra element to your projects. 

what is the backstitch?

The backstitch is an embroidery stitch. Think of it as drawing a line with your floss (because that’s basically exactly what you’ll be doing).

Backstitching is about as close as you come to playing connect the dots with the holes in your Aida fabric. You know where you need your lines to be – they’re on your pattern – and you use the floss to draw those lines in.

It’s called the “back”stitch because you actually end up working backwards. When you finish a stitch, you want to continue your line/shape by using the hole you just used for the next stitch.

If you’ve stitched before, you know you can’t do that. If you try, you’ll just undo your previous stitch!

We avoid this by constantly doubling back. The front of your project will have a single line of floss, but the back will actually have a double, side-by-side line.

when do I use the backstitch?

Is saying “whenever your pattern says so” too snarky? 
Ha, I’m only kidding. I love adding extras to a design.

The backstitch is the perfect outline stitch.
If you want to make any part of your design POP – backstitch around it!

I really like outlining letters/words. Often you want your words to stand out in a design – so outline those cross stitch fonts with some backstitching.

Play around with colors, too. I typically choose a floss color for my backstitch that’s 1 – 2 shades darker than the cross stitching. If you’re outlining something, choosing black will give you a more cute or cartoony look.

You can also use the backstitch as a functional stitch – it can be used to repair ripped clothing, or sew on patches. Bonus!

Now let’s learn how to backstitch!

Planning on stitching along with this tutorial?

Here’s what you’ll wanna grab: Aida (or other fabric), needle, floss, scissors + pattern (optional)

learn to backstitch in 7 steps

  1. Anchor your floss.
  2. Bring needle up through fabric.
  3. Read your pattern.
  4. Put needle down, making first stitch.
  5. Bring needle up through fabric.
  6. Put needle down, making next stitch.
  7. Repeat Steps 5 + 6 as needed!

This nifty images illustrates all the steps + keep scrolling for more info!

How to do the Backstitch Tutorial

step 1: thread needle + anchor floss

If you’ve never stitched before, start with the Loop Start to anchor your floss first.

Tip IconPay attention to THIS tutorial’s hole numbering (or your pattern’s).
You might not want to make a diagonal stitch as shown in the Loop Start tutorial.



step 2: bring needle up

Bring your needle up through your fabric from back to front.

I always start at the hole that’s the beginning of whatever line or shape I’m stitching. It’s just easier. However, if you’re super particular, you should start at the hole that ends that first stitch, so you can stitch back. 

I promise, it doesn’t make a bit of difference.
Starting this way seems to “click” more for beginners.

step 3: read your pattern

If you’re following along with the tutorial and stitching a straight line, this part should be pretty easy.

However, not all backstitching is straight lines.
Often we’ll have to go diagonal to outline shapes. 

Pay attention to your pattern while backstitching to make sure you’re always choosing the right hole.

step 4: down at two

Put your needle down into your fabric from front to back at Hole #2.

You’ve made the first stitch in your backstitch line!

step 5: up at three

We want to stitch right next to the one we just made to continue our line, but we can’t re-use Hole #2 yet, so we use #3.

Bring the needle up through the fabric at #3, from back to front.

step 6: down again at two

From front to back, put the needle down into the fabric at #2… again!

Did you catch the “back” part of backstitching right there?
You’ve now done your second backstitch!

step 7: repeat steps 5 + 6

Again, we want to stitch right next to our line, but we can’t reuse Hole #3, so we’ll go to #4 and come up through the fabric.

Then you can stitch back to Hole #3 to finish the third stitch.

Repeat this until you’ve finished your backstitch.

Backstitching is simply looking for the “end” point of your next stitch and then finishing the stitch using the “beginning” hole.

congrats! you can backstitch!

Was that easier than you thought it’d be?
I know a lot of beginners can be intimidated by the backstitch, but it’s pretty simple and works up quickly!Free Cross Stitch Pattern from Purple Leaf Designs

tips + tricks

Backstitch is generally done after your cross stitching.
That doesn’t mean you have to do ALL the cross stitches for the entire project, though. As long as the area touching the backstitching is fully cross stitched, you’re good.

If you backstitch first, and cross stitch over it, the backstitch lines are often lost under cross stitching.

how many squares can I backstitch over?

Personally, I will only backstitch over 1 square at a time. The only exception is when the line to stitch is at a steeper angle, and it simply doesn’t cross over any holes in the Aida. Then you really don’t have much of a choice.

It’s all just preference though.
I find the look of the line more aesthetically pleasing when I stitch each square.

But I know plenty of cross stitchers that like to go over as many as 5 squares in one backstitch. They prefer that look more.

So try both – stitching one square a time and stitching over 2, 3 or more squares and see which effect YOU like.

All that really matters is that you’re happy + enjoying your time spent stitching, so don’t worry too much about what other people do or like!

how to I finish my backstitching?

When you’re done stitching, check out this tutorial on how to secure your ends.

Ending your stitching with backstitch works pretty much the same as cross stitch!
You can even use nearby cross stitches to help hold down your backstitch tails, if you have nearby stitches. If you don’t, just run it under your backstitch lines (on the BACK of your project) a few times before snipping.

what’s next?

Are you ready to give a whole backstitched project a try?

Blackwork Easter Eggs Pattern by Purple Leaf Designs

I have a super cute Blackwork Easter Egg pattern in the shop that uses only the backstitch!

Check it out in the Purple Leaf Designs shop, or click that image.

How to Backstitch - a tutorial for cross stitching!

  • How do you know where to back stitch on your pattern because the cross stitch is covering the lines showing you where?

    • Most of my tutorials are for counted cross stitch, which is what I teach. If you’re doing counted cross stitch (versus stamped cross stitch), you’re not stitching over your pattern, so this isn’t an issue.

      If you’re using a stamped cross stitch pattern, this can get tricky for sure. Sometimes manufacturers provide a separate pattern in addition to the one printed on your fabric. I’d contact them to see if they can help you.

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