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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.

stitches More hand stitches:

• Video: How to Make a Figure-Eight Stitch
• Video: How to Sew a Pickstitch
• Silk-Ribbon Embroidery: Five More Stitches

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.

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Comments (4)

Iindasusewing2009 Iindasusewing2009 writes: I just used this stitch in one of my wedding alterations and it is also used in beading. I found it to be strong and durable. Thank you for sharing this very practical technique.

Posted: 8:09 pm on October 5th

MrsHGW MrsHGW writes: I love your step by step pictures. Just being picky here: wish you also showed the backside so that I can reassure myself that I too am doing it right on both sides of the cloth. This was one of my first stitches to learn but in my senior years coddled by decades of machine use, I have gotten sloppy and wish to return to the years of precision my mother insisted on so long ago. Thank you.
PS How do you tell which size is which, of needles in a pincushion or lying mixed in a case? I have inherited many.
Posted: 8:55 am on October 3rd

oneilda oneilda writes: As always Claire provides a great tutorial that offers an invaluable skill. Many thanks.
Posted: 8:35 pm on October 2nd

BarbaraHewitt BarbaraHewitt writes: This was an excellent reminder--Thank you.
Posted: 7:51 pm on October 2nd

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