- Hem stitch
Back stitch is a basic flat stitch in which the visible element of the stitch is worked backwards to the general direction of sewing to create a continuous solid line.
Back stitch’s history is hard to ascertain: the earliest examples which we can be confident of dating are seen in English Jacobean crewel work (from the 16th century) but it is most probably considerably older.
Portuguese Guimarães whitework dates to the 10th century, and now employs back stitch as one of its many stitches but it is unclear whether it was one of the original stitches. Similarly, the Indian techniques of Chikan (popularised during the 19th century, but originating much earlier) and Rabari embroidery (done by the Rabari nomadic people to decorate the seams of garments) both use back stitch, but the origins of both techniques are obscure.
In the Middle East, back stitch was used in Jebel Haraz, Yemen to adorn indigo-dyed garments and by the first half of the 20th century, Syrian women in Aleppo were using it as part of a monochrome counted thread embroidery to decorate their future husband’s garments.
Decide how long you want your stitches to be and bring the needle up on the design line that distance from the start. Insert the needle through the fabric at the start of the line to make the first stitch.
Continue along the line, bringing the needle up at the desired stitch length from the first stitch.
Structure of stitch
Identifying Back stitch
Equally sized stitches following a line back to back.
S. F. A. Caulfield, Blanche C. Saward, The Dictionary of Needlework (1882) , p.177
Mrs Archibald Christie, Samplers and Stitches (1921) , p.21–2
Mrs Archibald Christie, Samplers and Stitches (1921)
Anchor Embroidery, 100 Embroidery Stitches
Jennifer Campbell, Ann-Marie Bakewell, Guide to Embroidery Stitches (2004)
Sarah Whittle, The Needlecraft Stitch Directory (2012)
Jacqui McDonald, RSN Essential Stitch Guides: Crewelwork (2010)
Becky Hogg, RSN Essential Stitch Guides: Blackwork (2010)
Ada Wentworth Fitzwilliam, A. F. Morris Hands, Jacobean Embroidery: Its Forms and Fillings Including Late Tudor (1912) , p.26
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Guimarães Embroidery', (2016). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/europe-and-north-america/embroideries/guimar-es-embroidery (Accessed: 12 August 2021)
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, Willem Vogelsang, 'Chikan embroidery', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/indian-subcontinent/chikan (Accessed: 20 August 2012)
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Rabari embroidery', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/indian-subcontinent/rabari-embroidery-india (Accessed: 20 August 2012)
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Jebel Haraz embroidery', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/middle-east-and-north-africa/pre-modern-middle-east-and-north-africa/jebel-haraz-embroidered-dresses-yemen (Accessed: 20 August 2012)
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Aleppo embroidery', TRC Leiden. Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/middle-east-and-north-africa/pre-modern-middle-east-and-north-africa/aleppo-embroidery-syria (Accessed: 25 August 2021)
Examples of Back stitch from the RSN Collection
Purificator (2), RSN Collection No. 2079
The leaves of the grapes are in back stitch.