Cross stitch alone can be surprisingly effective, but to really bring definition and detail to your finished piece of work, cross stitch patterns often use a few additional stitch embroidery stitch types.
The most commonly used additional stitch type you will come across in cross stitch patterns is back stitch. It's often used to outline shapes making them pop, as well as to create softer edges of rounded shapes within the design. So it's really useful to be able to do and do well!
Back stitch is a progression of the simple straight stitch, so if you haven't already done so I'd suggest going back and having a look at the Straight Stitch Guide so you can master that first. But if you're ready to learn about and understand back stitch, then let's go!
What is back stitch?
Back stitch is an embroidery stitch type that allows you to create fluid lines of continuous small straight stitches where each successive stitch is worked back to front, ie backwards in relation to the direction of the growing row of stitches.
How do you do back stitch?
Start with one straight stitch. (From position 1 to 2)
Bring your needle up through the fabric at the far end of the next stitch (in cross stitch this is usually at a hole in the aida, but can be inbetween). (position 3)
Bring your needle back down through the fabric at the end of the last completed stitch (position 2)
Repeat steps 2-3 as many times as needed (position 4 to 3 etc)
Top Tips for back Stitching
How long should the stitches be you ask? That varies! The first rule for tidy and neat back stitch is to keep the stitches consistent on straight, or matching sections. Many embroiderers will say you should keep the stitches the exact same length throughout your project, but when you're dealing with cross stitch fabric that's just impossible. Most of the time when doing back stitch with cross stitch, the stitch length will be dictated by where the back stitch line meets a corner, or hole in the fabric.
When you do get a choice, it's useful to bear in mind that different length stitches have different benefits, so I like to use a mix dependent on the desired outcome. For example, shorter stitches are often best used for tighter or smoother curves, or to provide neat definition/outlining such as on the legs of the lighthouse on the Herd Groyne Lighthouse pattern.
On the other hand, longer stitches are useful for more of a 3D effect when using the back stitching to create an actual object, such as the railings on the Sunrise At Roker design. So, pick the length of stitches accordingly.
You can see how I've used various stitch lengths below.
What else can you do with back stitch?
Back stitch is the basis for a number of other embroidery stitch types. For example, Split Stitch is back stitch but instead of going back down through the fabric at the end of the previous stitch, you literally split the last stitch with your needle as you go back through the fabric even further back along. You can also embellish a back stitch base, for example in Whipped Back Stitch where a second thread is pushed through each back stitch in the same direction each time, or the Single/Double Threaded Back Stitch where a second/third thread is pushed through each back stitch in alternating directions each time, the Pekinese Stitch where a second thread is looped around the back stitches, and the fanciest of them all, the Interlaced Back Stitch where a second thread is laced back and forward between two rows of back stitch. If this all seems fiddly, don't worry, you're highly unlikely to come across any of these variations in cross stitch patterns, we like to keep it simple!
In the next stitch guide we will look at another commonly used stitch in cross stitch designs. Some people love them...some hate them.... it's the French Knot!