Back Stitch

backstitch with pink thread on white fabric with title.

In the embroidery world, back stitch is the equivalent of a pair of well-fitting jeans.  It is comfortable, can be easily dressed up or down depending on what you put with it and most embroiderers already have it in their toolbox.  Although I don’t recommend wearing jeans alone with nothing else, back stitch can even stand alone.  You can embroider a nice design or picture using only back stitch.

When to use it:

  • outlining
  • lettering
  • flower stems
  • buildings
  • stripes
  • geometric shapes
  • anywhere you want a solid line with no frills
finished backstitch house embroidery.
back stitch embroidered lettering.
flower motif embroidered with back stitch

Types of backstitch

Basic Backstitch

Basic backstitch is a line, and it is usually worked from right to left.  Bring the needle up to the front, and then put it down to the right of where it came up.


Tip the needle over, and bring it up on the left side of where you started.


Pull through, leaving a stitch at the end.  For the next stitch, put the needle in right at the end of the first stitch.  Bring the needle up ahead of the starting point.


Continue in this way.  For each stitch, you go one step back then two steps forward.


It leaves a continuous line of stitches with no breaks.

Stem stitch

aka: crewel stitch, South Kensington stitch

Stem stitch is a common back stitch variation that gives a smoother line. The stitches overlap, so it is more continuous. When stitching, the thread always stays below the needle and stitching line.

Outline stitch

Outline stitch is often confused with stem stitch. It is very similar. The only difference is that the thread always stays above the needle and stitching line.

Wrapped back stitch

This variation involves adding another thread to the basic back stitch. The thread is woven into the stitches, it doesn’t pierce the fabric. It is always taken under the stitches in the same direction so that it wraps the stitches.

Laced back stitch

Laced back stitch involves weaving another thread through the stitches, but the directions are alternated. Up, then down, then up, then down.

Split Stitch

This variation of backstitch has the needle piercing the thread.

Interlaced back stitch

Two lines of back stitch can be laced together. This is called interlacing stitches.

Back stitch in embroidery projects

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Elizabeth DeCroos - Epida Studio.

Elizabeth DeCroos

Elizabeth DeCroos is the designer and teacher at Epida Studio. She loves to work in quilting, pojagi and embroidery and teach these techniques to others.
Learn more and get her to speak to your group.

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