Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry showing text and outlines in stem stitch.
Basic backstitch

Backstitch or back stitch and its variants stem stitch, outline stitch and split stitch are a class of embroidery and sewing stitches in which individual stitches are made backward to the general direction of sewing. In embroidery, these stitches form lines and are most often used to outline shapes and to add fine detail to an embroidered picture. It is also used to embroider lettering. In hand sewing, it is a utility stitch which strongly and permanently attaches two pieces of fabric. The small stitches done back-and-forth makes the back stitch the strongest stitch among the basic stitches.[1] Hence it can be used to sew strong seams by hand, without a sewing machine.[2]

Description of the technique

A versatile stitch which is easy to work, backstitch is ideal for following both simple and intricate outlines and as a foundation row for more complex embroidery stitches such as herringbone ladder filling stitch. Although superficially similar to the Holbein stitch, which is commonly used in blackwork embroidery, backstitch differs in the way it is worked, requiring only a single journey to complete a line of stitching.

Basic backstitch is the stitch used to outline shapes in modern cross-stitch, in Assisi embroidery and occasionally in blackwork.

Stem stitch is an ancient technique; surviving mantles embroidered with stem stitch by the Paracas people of Peru are dated to the first century BCE.[3] Stem stitch is used in the Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered cloth probably dating to the later 1070s, for lettering and to outline areas filled with couching or laid-work.[4]

Split stitch in silk is characteristic of Opus Anglicanum, an embroidery style of Medieval England.[4]

Stitch diagram for working Back stitch

Backstitch is most easily worked on an even-weave fabric, where the threads can be counted to ensure regularity, and is generally executed from right to left.[5] The stitches are worked in a 'two steps forward, one step back' fashion, along the line to be filled, as shown in the diagram.

Neatly worked in a straight line this stitch resembles chain stitching produced by a sewing machine.

The back stitch can also be used as a hand sewing utility stitch to attach two pieces of fabric together.[1]


Variants of backstitch include:

Stitch gallery

See also


  1. ^ a b "Back Stitch". Sarah's Hand Embroidery Tutorials. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
  2. ^ How to do the Back Stitch, archived from the original on 2021-12-13, retrieved 2020-06-22
  3. ^ Enthoven, Jacqueline: The Creative Stitches of Embroidery, Van Norstrand Rheinhold, 1964, ISBN 0-442-22318-8, p. 65
  4. ^ a b Levey, S. M. and D. King, The Victoria and Albert Museum's Textile Collection Vol. 3: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1993, ISBN 1-85177-126-3
  5. ^ "Understanding the Backstitch". Teach You To Sew. Retrieved 2019-02-17.
  6. ^ Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework. The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (March 1992). ISBN 0-89577-059-8, p. 48