All About Backstitch


Backstitch Drawing 1


Revised and updated with new photos and text (and drawings I found in my sewing class materials), this tutorial is now better than ever! Feel free to grab a fabric scrap and some thread and follow along.

If I had to name the single most useful hand sewing stitch I know, it would probably be the backstitch. I love it for repairs, for sewing in zippers, and for anywhere I need the control and flexibility of hand stitching with a hard-wearing stitch.

When you think of hand sewing, you probably think of running stitches, like the ones below. The needle dips into the fabric and comes up going in the same direction. You can make several running stitches on the needle before pulling the thread through, and the thread slides easily through several running stitches at once.


new backstitch 1


In a backstitch, the thread loops around itself, which makes the stitch much harder to pull out. To make one, take the needle backwards from the direction you’re stitching in, stab into the fabric, and bring the needle out at the further end of the next stitch. Then go backwards again and take the next stitch.


new backstitch 2


You can see the overlapping loops on the wrong side (backside) of the stitching. By contrast, the running stitches look the same on both sides.


new backstitch 3


If you make backstitches touching each other, from the right side (public side) it looks almost exactly like machine stitching, which makes this a great stitch for repairs and touch-ups.


new backstitch 4


You can also leave more space between small backstitches. This is sometimes called a prickstitch. It’s the stitch I use to sew zippers into just about everything, including my trousers! I love sewing zippers by hand, it gives me great control and precision, and more flexibility about when I attach them. Susan Khalje wrote an article for Threads magazine about hand-picked zippers that’s worth looking up if you’re interested, that’s what got me started doing them this way.


new backstitch 5


Because each one is almost a knot in itself, backstitches are really sturdy. The zippers I’ve sewn with them have lasted at least as long as the pants!


Pickstitch Drawing 1


Backstitches are also useful for securing your thread anywhere you don’t want to have a knot. I often use one or two to secure the beginning or end of a seam, and when I’m burying yarn ends in knitting. In the days when most garments were sewn by hand, it was common to use running stitches with a backstitch thrown in every few stitches for extra strength. (I know that from reading The Mary Frances Sewing Book, which is amazing).

Happy stitching!


new backstitch 6



Quick and Easy Ski Straps

We are hanging out and skiing with some wonderful friends this week in Oregon, so it seemed like a good time to add this project!

We got these ski straps for Christmas, but for some reason the foam part only extended partway between the skis, so they could still rub on the other side (imagine the cardboard here is the skis).  The top strap is how they started.



This is how I get into trouble, of course this could be better, and so I have to make it better.  The bottom strap is after I altered them.



It would be super easy to make your own for cross country or downhill skis, all you would need is something thick and squishy for between the skis, like felt, fleece, foam or batting covered with fabric.  Plus wide velcro.  Make the squishy part a little wider than the skis, plus enough to overlap and sew to the velcro, and enough velcro to reach around skis and stick to itself (fuzzy side out, hook side in).  Sew it together with a sturdy X pattern, and you’re done!

These would make a great little present for skiers you know.  Here’s hoping for some more snow in Flagstaff this winter, we love to xc ski right near our house when there’s enough.

Note: to sew an “X” for extra strength: sew in a rectangle first.  When you get back to where you started, sew diagonally across to the other corner, then along one side a second time.  Sew diagonally to the other corner, and back along the opposite side.  Overlap a few stitches where you started.