Everything You Need To Know About Backstitching

Backstitching is a fundamental sewing technique renowned for its strength and durability. Ideal for both hand and machine sewing, this method is pivotal in ensuring the longevity and finish of your projects. It is especially crucial in areas requiring extra reinforcement, making it a cornerstone in embroidery, quilting, and garment construction.

Based on the type of fabric you are using, we at SewingWithEase.com also list some alternatives to backstitching.

Key Takeaways

  • Fundamental Technique: Backstitching is crucial for creating durable and strong seams. It’s versatile and suitable for both hand and machine sewing.
  • Versatile Application: Whether you’re reinforcing a seam, finishing a quilting project, or adding details to an embroidery piece, backstitching is your go-to stitch.
  • Skill Development: Practice is key to perfecting backstitching. Consistent stitch length and tension are critical for a professional finish.
  • Fabric and Tool Selection: Choosing the correct needle and thread for your fabric is essential to achieving the best results with backstitching.
  • Advanced Variations: Once you’ve mastered the basic backstitch, explore variations like the double backstitch for extra durability or the whipped backstitch for a decorative effect.
  • Embroidery and Quilting: In embroidery, backstitching adds precision and detail, while in quilting, it ensures the layers stay together securely.
  • Continuous Learning: Experimenting with backstitching and its variations can significantly enhance the quality and durability of your sewing projects.

The Role of Backstitching in Sewing

Backstitching serves multiple purposes in sewing, from securing the start and end of seams to adding decorative accents in embroidery. Its versatility and strength make it an indispensable technique for sewers aiming for professional-quality results.

How to Perform Backstitching: Step-by-Step

Preparing Your Sewing Material

  1. Choose the right thread and needle for your fabric.
  2. Thread your needle and knot the end.

Executing the Backstitch

  1. Starting Your Stitch: Begin at your desired starting point, bringing the needle up from the back to the front of the fabric.
  2. The First Stitch: Insert the needle a short distance ahead of the initial point and bring it back through the fabric, near the starting point.
  3. Forming the Backstitch: Move ahead the same distance as your first stitch, then insert the needle back through the end of your previous stitch.
  4. Continuing the Pattern: Repeat this process, ensuring each new stitch starts at the end of the last, forming a continuous, unbroken line.

Finishing Your Stitch

Secure the end of your seam with an additional backstitch or a knot, depending on your project’s requirements.

Everything You Need To Know About Backstitching

Tips for Perfecting Backstitching

  • Consistent Stitch Length: Keep your stitches uniform in size for a neat appearance.
  • Tension Management: Maintain consistent tension to avoid puckering or loose stitches.
  • Practicing on Scrap Fabric: Hone your technique on scraps before moving to your main project.

Advanced Techniques and Variations

Explore variations like the double backstitch for added durability or the whipped backstitch for decorative purposes. Experimenting with these can significantly elevate your sewing projects.

The Importance of Backstitching in Embroidery

In embroidery, backstitching adds definition and texture, making it essential for outlining and adding intricate details.

Utilizing Backstitching in Quilting

Backstitching ensures that your pieces stay together securely, which is particularly important in quilting with layers.

How do you backstitch without the reverse function?

The problem is, if your sewing machine’s reverse function isn’t available, how will you backstitch it? You can backstitch without reversing your fabric by turning it 180 degrees, sewing a few stitches, then turning it back to the original position and sewing the rest.

The needle can also be repositioned to be back at the beginning of your seam by sewing a few stitches, then lifting the needle and repositioning the fabric. Follow up with the rest of your seam by stitching over your existing stitches. Stitching them over twice keeps the stitches locked in and prevents them from unraveling.

If you are stitching something visible on the right side of the garment, multiple lines of stitching at the beginning and end of the seam may not be desirable.

How do you backstitch a zigzag stitch?

To prevent zigzag stitches from unraveling, you should backstitch them. You can do this by stitching a few stitches backward on your sewing machine and then sewing forward again. You can backstitch a zigzag stitch using a walking or regular presser foot. In the video below, you can see that you can backstitch a zigzag stitch using a walking foot, despite some online sources saying you can’t.

However, backstitching zigzag stitches results in an unsightly ‘clump’ of stitches, so this method may not be suitable if you are zigzag stitching on the right side of the fabric (like hemming stretch fabrics).

Do you have to backstitch lightning, three-step zigzag, or triple stretch stitches?

Lightning, three-step zigzag, and triple stretch stitching do not require backstitching because they will not unravel when stressed. Unlike straight stitches, lightning and three-step zigzag stitches do not unravel since they move from side to side, which makes unraveling them more challenging. Since the sewing machine stitches over the same stitch three times, the triple stretch stitch does not unravel. This repeated stitching ‘locks in’ the stitches so they don’t unravel.

Do you have to backstitch when stay-stitching?

If you stay stitch, you can backstitch, but it may not be necessary since the stay stitches will catch in the seam allowance and not unravel. Another seam frequently catches these stitches, preventing them from unraveling as well.

Do you have to backstitch when overcasting?

In contrast to sewing a seam, zigzag or other overcasting stitches do not need to be backstitched. Due to their lack of stress, overcasting stitches are less likely to unravel. Whenever two pieces of fabric are pulled apart, the stitching at the beginning and end of a seam is stressed, so backstitching is necessary to keep the stitches from unraveling.

Are there any alternatives to backstitching?

A double knot can be tied manually, stitches can be sewn in place, or short stitches can be sewn at the beginning and end of seams. These are the three most common alternatives to backstitching. Backstitching can cause clumps or lumps in the backstitched area, and they can cause the fabric to bunch and gather.

Make a double knot by manually tying the loose threads

Ensure you tie a double knot at the beginning and end of a seam to secure the loose threads. Once the bobbin thread is pulled through to the other side of the fabric, I tie a double knot with both thread tails on the same side. Instead of dangling from the edge of both layers of fabric, the knot lies flat on one side of the fabric.

This method is ideal for slippery fabrics such as crepes or charmeuse that tend to bunch up when regular backstitching is used. It is also useful for sewing off the points of darts because you can not the loose thread ends after sewing off the edge of the fabric. Backstitching creates a ‘lump’ of thread at a dart’s apex, preventing it from pressing out nicely. Tying a knot is preferable to a backstitch. If the knot is hidden on the fabric’s wrong side, this method of securing stitches might be okay, but if the knot is visible on the right side of the fabric, it’s not ideal.

Use your sewing machine to sew a few stitches in place

To ‘lock in’ your stitches, you can use a stitch length of zero on your sewing machine or drop the feed dogs on your machine. A stitch sewn multiple times creates a knot that prevents the stitch from unraveling.

With backstitches, you’ll get a nice, clean stitching line without the unsightly clump of stitches since the knot is not visible on the right side of the fabric. Alternatively, your sewing machine may be unable to sew several stitches in place if you use this method on lightweight fabrics.

Start and end the seam with a few short stitches

You can instead sew a few very short stitches at the beginning and end of your seam if your machine does not stitch in place. The simplest way to do this is to reduce your stitch length to the shortest amount available on your machine (on mine, it’s 0.5), then sew a few stitches at that length before increasing it to the length you’ll be using throughout the seam. At the end of the seam, do the same thing.

While this method is simple and fast, it causes stitching to appear visually different from the rest of the stitching line, which is undesirable if the stitching is visible on the right side of the garment (for example, when topstitching).

FAQs on Backstitching

What is backstitching?

Backstitching is a hand and machine sewing technique to create strong, durable seams. It involves making overlapping stitches and ensuring the fabric pieces are securely joined.

When should I use backstitching?

Backstitching is recommended at the beginning and end of seams to prevent unraveling in areas requiring extra reinforcement and for decorative purposes in embroidery.

Can backstitching be used for all types of fabrics?

Yes, backstitching can be adapted for almost all fabric types. The key is choosing the right needle and thread for the fabric you’re working with.

How can I ensure my backstitches are even?

Practice is essential. Consistent stitch length comes from muscle memory, so it’s beneficial to practice on scrap fabric before starting your main project.

Is backstitching only for hand sewing?

No, backstitching can also be performed on a sewing machine. Most machines have a backstitch function specifically for this purpose.

Can backstitching be decorative?

Absolutely! While primarily used for strength, backstitching can also be used decoratively, especially in embroidery, to outline designs and add texture.


Backstitching is a cornerstone technique in sewing, offering functionality and versatility across various projects. From the reinforcement of seams to the delicate art of embroidery, mastering backstitching is essential for anyone looking to elevate their sewing skills. Its ability to provide durability, coupled with the potential for decorative flair, makes backstitching a valuable skill in your sewing repertoire.

Adhering to the tips and practices outlined in this guide ensures that your projects last longer and carry a mark of craftsmanship and quality. Whether you are a beginner looking to learn the basics or an experienced sewer exploring advanced techniques, backstitching offers endless possibilities to enhance your sewing projects, making them stand out in strength and beauty.

Here are a few notable readings for you:

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