How to Backstitch by Hand

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You can backstitch by hand to embroidery, hand sew seams, or mend.

The backstitch is a strong, versatile stitch that is both fun and functional.

As an embroidery stitch, the backstitch can outline a design element or you can use it for the design element itself.

An embroidery flower done with the backstitch and satin stitch.
The leaves and flower center are filled in with the satin stitch and outlined with the backstitch. The petals, stem, and grass are made with the backstitch.

If you are doing some hand sewing, the backstitch is a great stitch to use for mending, seaming, and topstitching, It can even be used to attach zippers.

The backstitch was used to mend the hole in the corner of the pocket.
The backstitch was used to mend the hole in the corner of the pocket.

Just So You Know: I’m right-handed and don’t know if my tutorials will work for those of you who are left-handed. Still, I encourage you to take a look at the videos and photos. Hopefully, the techniques will be something you can use.

Sanity Saver: When you’re hand sewing, it’s common for the thread to get twisted and become difficult to work with. If this happens to you, hold up the project and let the needle and thread dangle. The thread will unwind but the needle may fall off the thread so keep an eye on it.

Needles and Thread

To keep this post focused on helping you learn how to do the backstitch, I don’t talk in-depth about selecting needles and thread for your project.

However, these are two important factors in hand sewing.

Needles

If you have questions or want to learn about hand sewing needles, check out the Hand Needle Guide from Joann.com.

It features photos and descriptions of 14 different hand sewing needles, as well as needle threaders, thimbles and a couple of other hand sewing tools.

Thread

Does thread have you confused?

According to this sewingpartsonline.com article Thread Mastery: A Guide to Understanding Thread, all-purpose thread is what you’ll use 95% of the time. It is good for all weights of fabric and is usually made from polyester or cotton.

The Thread Mastery Guide is very in-depth and provides A LOT of information. If you want to learn more about thread, it’s a great resource to read and bookmark for future reference.

Books for Your Library

The above-linked resources on needles and thread are free, but if you are looking for some excellent books to add to your sewing library, I recommend the following two books.

The book Know Your Needles by Liz Kettle

Know Your Needles by Liz Kettle is a pocket-sized resource that provides easy-to-consume information about both machine and hand sewing needles.

For each needle, photos are included along with details such as fabrics, threads, sizes, and tasks that are appropriate for the needle.

There are 13 sewing machine needles and 17 hand sewing needles featured in this book.

Book - The Ultimate Thread Guide by Becky Goldsmith

The Ultimate Thread Guide by Becky Goldsmith lives up to its subtitle Everything You Need to Know to Choose the Perfect Thread for Every Project.

My favorite part of this book is the section on thread manufacturers. There are 14 manufacturers presented in the book and each has a 2-page spread giving a snapshot of their threads at the time of the book’s printing (2019).

Part of the snapshot is a quick reference chart of different threads and includes the thread name, fiber, weight/ply, use, and needle size.

In addition, there are several chapters to help you build foundational knowledge about threads.

Backstitch Variations

Visuals of the even backstitch, half-backstitch, and prickstitch.

There are several variations of the backstitch but they are all formed in a similar way.

Even Backstitch

Both the video and picture tutorials in this post will show you how to do an even backstitch. This is the strongest of the backstitches.

There is very little to no space between the even backstitches and it will look almost like machine stitching because the stitches are even in length.

Other Backstitches

  • Half-backstitch – The length of the space between each stitch is equal in length to the stitch.
  • Prickstitch – From the top side, the stitches are short with longer spaces between them. Mainly used to hand-pick (hand sew) a zipper, the prickstitch is often seen on vintage garments.
  • Pickstitch – This can look like the even backstitch, half-backstitch, or the prickstitch. The main difference is the stitch only goes through the top layer of fabric. The pickstitch is good for topstitching and understitching where you only need to see the top part of the stitch.

Backstitch Tips

  • Work right to left
  • The smaller the stitch, the stronger it is.
  • Keep stitches equal in length on the top.
  • Pull the thread enough to get the stitches to lay flat but not so tightly that the fabric puckers.
  • For embroidery projects, use a hoop.

Video – How to Do the Backstitch

To see the back stitch in action, watch the video below.

For a photo tutorial with a description of each step of the back stitch, keep scrolling.

Note: In the video and picture tutorials, I’m using a 1/4″ stitch. Depending on your project, the stitch length can vary.

After the tutorials, I linked other hand sewing stitches that are good to know. These include several basic stitches and how to tie off the thread.

Also mentioned near the end of the post are several projects you can find on my website that use hand stitching as well as some embroidery book recommendations for your sewing library.

Picture Tutorial – How to do the Back Stitch

Start with a piece of thread 15″-20″ long and tie a knot in the end.

Insert the needle from underneath the fabric approximately 1/4″ from the starting point and pull to the upper side.

Insert needle from back to front and pull thread through.

Working right to left, go back, behind the point where the thread emerges, insert the needle and pull the thread through to the back.

Go back, behind the point where thread emerges and insert needle front to back and pull through.

The next stitch, underneath the fabric, will be twice as long as the stitch on the top.

When you push the needle up to the top, the space created should be the same length as the stitch you see on the top.

Then push the needle back through the hole of the previous stitch.

Take a stitch underneath the fabric pushing needle to the top. Then insert needle through hole of previous stitch.

Continue pushing the needle up from the back and inserting it in the hole of the previous stitch.

You can sew one stitch at a time or sew the top and bottom stitch in one movement.

Make the top and bottom stitch at the same time.

When you’re done, tie off with the thread when with one of these methods.

Hand Sewing for Beginners

There are several basic hand stitches you need to know. Sometimes hand stitching does the job better than your sewing machine or it allows you to do something your sewing machine can’t.

The type of stitch really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

I created a series of picture and video tutorials to demonstrate hand sewing techniques you should know:

You can see all the above lessons in one place at Types of Hand Stitches: a Guide for Beginners.

Projects With Hand Sewing

Most of the sewing projects featured on The Ruffled Purse require the use of a sewing machine.

The projects below need a little hand sewing, too.

Looking for some projects that require only hand sewing? Check out the following posts:

Embroidery Books

The ability to hand sew can be used with a variety of sewing interests such as mending, quilting, clothing, and embroidery.

If you’re interested in embroidery, there are a couple of books you need to check out. Both are part of my own personal sewing library.

Two books with embroidery projects

Doodle-Stitching by Aimee Ray starts off with more than 20 pages of information to get you started with embroidery including a stitch library, materials and tools, and sewing essentials.

Then there are almost 30 fun projects with detailed directions to get you started on incorporating embroidery into all kinds of sewing and quilting projects.

Patchwork Loves Embroidery by Gail Pan has a few pages of general instructions and visuals of how to do basic embroidery stitches.

The best part of Patchwork Loves Embroidery is how most of the projects combine hand stitching with quilting.

Let’s Connect

My main goals are to support, empower, and inspire you to discover the joy of sewing.

Need help or have questions on this project, pattern, or tutorial? Send me an email at nicki@theruffledpurse.com and we can work together to get it figured out!

Make sure you sign up for Snappy Scissors (my FREE newsletter sent directly to your inbox) for ongoing sewing inspiration and education. You can find the sign-up box at the bottom of the post.

Also, like or follow The Ruffled Purse® on Facebook. This is another way to stay up-to-date on the fun things going on at The Ruffled Purse.

You can even follow me on Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube! 😊

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More Sewing Education

Looking for more sewing education? Here are a few other posts you may like:

Pinterest image of both embroidery and mending with backstitch

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