How to Master the Backstitch
In the October/November 2012 issue of Threads, couture expert Claire Shaeffer shares her method for creating a backstitch. The backstitch is one of the strongest, most adaptable, and permanent hand stitches. It's also a bulk-free knot replacement for the beginnings and endings of hand-sewn seams.
It's called a backstitch because the needle goes into the fabric behind the thread of the previous stitch. By contrast, a forward stitch, usually called a running stitch, is made by inserting the needle into the fabric in front of the thread from the previous stitch.
The primary function of the backstitch is to join seams that require strength and elasticity. For some couture houses and Savile Row tailors, the backstitch is the preferred stitch for setting sleeves and joining the crotch seam on trousers. When setting sleeves, it's easier to control the fullness of the sleeve cap and match the fabric pattern when sewing them by hand. For trousers, it makes the crotch seam slightly more elastic.
The backstitch can be sewn in two ways: as either a full or even backstitch or as a partial backstitch. The only difference between the two is the amount of space between the stitches on the right side. The full backstitch looks like machine stitching, which makes it very useful for repairing seams. The partial, or half, backstitch looks like a simple running stitch or a very short dash stitch on the right side. Sewn either way, backstitches can be varied in length and tension for a great deal of control.