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How to Backstitch by Machine and Hand

What is it?

Backstitching refers to two different types of stitching, depending on whether it is done by hand or by machine. Backstitching by machine is when you stitch backward over the previous stitching to secure the ends. Without backstitching, seams can unravel at the start and end points. Backstitch also refers to a type of hand stitching that is worked backward. Hand backstitching is strong and flexible. Most times, when you see the term “backstitch” in modern sewing instructions, it refers to the machine stitching definition.

Backstitching done by machine

Backstitching done by machine

Backstitching done by hand

Backstitching done by hand

When do you use it?

Backstitch every time you sew a seam by machine. The only time you don’t backstitch is when you’re planning to remove the line of stitching later, for example, when basting (page link) or gathering (page link). Permanent stitching is always backstitched; temporary stitching is not.

Backstitching by hand is used when sewing seams by hand. It’s the strongest hand stitch! Before sewing machines, this was the most frequently used stitch for sewing seams in clothing. Hand backstitching is still used in couture sewing, even though it has rarely been used in home sewing since the introduction of home sewing machines.

Tips + Notes

  • When machine backstitching, if you don’t want visible backstitches at the ends of your stitching, you can “zero stitch” instead. Change the stitch length to zero, and make several (five to eight) machine stitches in place to secure the row of stitching. This is effective when you are topstitching (page link) in a visible area, especially when sewing with a contrast thread color. Substitute zero stitching for backstitching anywhere that backstitching would be unsightly.
  • Another way to secure the threads by machine is to stop stitching without backstitching, clip the threads but leave long thread tails and remove the piece from the sewing machine. Use a pin to pull the top thread tail to the underside of the fabric, then tie both thread tails in a knot to secure.

How to Backstitch by Machine

Find the backstitch function on your sewing machine. Most modern machines have a backstitch button that has to be pressed down to keep the machine sewing backward; when you release the button, it will sew forward again. Older machines might have a backstitch switch or lever that allows you to switch between sewing forward and sewing in reverse. Check your sewing machine’s manual if you aren’t sure.

How to Backstitch by Machine (1)

Starting at the top of your seam, sew about five stitches forward, then press the backstitch button and sew four or five stitches backward. Release the button and sew the rest of the seam normally.

How to Backstitch by Machine (2)

When you reach the end of your seam, sew right to the edge of the fabric, press the backstitch button and sew five stitches in reverse, then continue sewing to the edge of your fabric. Trim the thread tails on each end of your seam.

How to Backstitch by Hand

Thread a handsewing needle with thread. Tie both ends of the thread in a knot so you’re working with a doubled thread. In the demonstration, I’m using embroidery thread and a big needle, so it’s easy to see. Stitches will be smaller and less noticeable with regular sewing thread.

How to Backstitch by Hand (1)

Working from right to left, take a small stitch in the seam and bring the needle through to the right side of the fabric. Insert the needle back into the starting point, slide it under the first stitch and bring the needle through the right side, one stitch ahead of the previous stitch. Repeat until you reach the end. There should be no space between the stitches.

How to Backstitch by Hand (2)

Here’s what it will look like on the opposite side. You’re essentially sewing loops of thread around the two layers to hold them together. The reverse side shows the loops of thread.

About the Author : Tasia ST. Germaine