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I took a week off from the Beginner’s Sewing Course here on Cucicucicoo because I wanted to share some other things, too. Our last lesson was about how to use the straight stitch (and we then used it to some some simple quilting). Today I want to tell you about the straight stitch’s natural complement: the backstitch.
The backstitch (sometimes called a staystitch because it keeps stitches from pulling out) is very useful and also very simple. To do it, you press the reverse button or lever while you are stitching. Check your manual on how to use your sewing machine’s reverse function. Not all machines have this function, unfortunately. If this is your case, just do a few stitches at a zero stitch length to staystitch your sewing (read more about stitch length here).
The backstitch is used most often with the straight stitch, which is generally the first stitch in a machine’s stitch selection. My Elna Lotus sewing machine has a special stitch (#2 in the stitch selector panel) which I use almost all the time instead of the regular straight stitch. It automatically starts and ends the stitch with a backstitch so that it comes out perfectly every time and you don’t accidentally forget to do it. But today I will show you how to do it manually.
Use two layers of regular quilting cotton and a 90/14 sewing needle for woven fabric. Place the fabric under the needle and lower the presser foot.
Sew a straight line of stitching. It doesn’t matter how long it is. You can just let the feed dogs pull the fabric through.
Remember when we talked about how feed dogs effect stitch length? When you push the reverse lever or button, the feed dogs move forwards, instead of backwards, pulling the fabric back towards you and sewing back over your last stitches. Try it! Push the reverse lever or button and press down lightly on the pedal to go slowly. See how the fabric moves in the opposite direction and the needle goes right back over your line of stitching?
When you look at it, you can see that the portion of stitching with the backstitch is slightly thicker. The beginning of this line (without backstitching) could easily come undone and unravel, especially in the wash, but the end (with the backstitching) is much more resistant.
When sewing something that you want to stay in place (because there are times when you purposely don’t want it to stay in place, but we’ll deal with that another time), you generally put the needle where you want to start your stitching and go forward three stitches. Then you push the reverse button to go back three stitches (without going beyond the first stitch), and then you continue stitching normally. When you get to where you want the stitching to end, press the reverse button to go back three stitches and then go forward three stitches again, without going beyond the last stitch, or it will come loose. You can see how this looks in #1 above.
Let’s say that you have to start your stitching right at the edge of the fabric, like I did in #2 above. This can be problematic because sometimes the fabric edge can get caught in the needle plate and jam everything up. To avoid this happening, position the needle slightly ahead along the imaginary line you’ll be sewing along. Start sewing with a backstitch first so that the stitching goes back to the fabric edge, then release the backstitch button and continue sewing as normal.
Let’s say that you are sewing a closed shape, not just a line, for example a rectangle. In order to close the shape, you need to overlap the first stitches, so there’s no need to backstitch when starting to sew. If you backstitch for both the first and last stiches and they are all overlapping, it will look very thick and not so nice. In the above rectangle I started sewing along one side without backstitching. When I got around to closing up the shape, I was careful to line the needle up with the first stitches so that I could sew directly over them for two or three stitches, then backstitch another three stitches to keep the last stitches from coming out.
Another option is to start and end at a corner, backstitching at both the beginning and end. This way there will be more backstitches visible, but they will not all be overlapping.
You can see the difference in how these two methods look. I wasn’t perfectly precise in joining the first and last stitches in either one of these, but it wouldn’t have been so noticeable if I’d used a matching thread color. (I chose to use a color that would be easier to see in the photos.)
See how easy it is to backstitch? Now play around with the backstitch and get nice and used to how it works because for our next practice tutorial I’ll show you the best way ever to patch up holes in your jeans with… you guessed it: the backstitch! (edit: here’s the tutorial on patching holes!)
Did you enjoy this lesson on how to backstitch? Take a look at the other lessons in this beginner’s sewing course!