The backstitch is a type of counted embroidery stitch that is worked backward to create straight lines. This stitch can also serve as a foundation for other stitches and is commonly used to create geometric designs.
Although it may seem tricky, you will be creating beautiful lines with even tension, using the weave of the fabric as a guide. Because of this reason, backstitching requires working with an even weave fabric, which allows you to “count” the tiny holes in the weave in order to create the right effect.
What does backstitching fabric mean? Backstitching fabric entails that the stitch runs backward, meaning the needle is pushed through the cloth from the back, and it is pushed down through the next hole. A series of backstitches will create a straight or curved line across the fabric to outline a design.
In this article, we will introduce you to various types of fabric that will work best with backstitching to help you choose the best one for your next project.
What Is Backstitching?
Backstitches are generally small. Usually, one stitch has the length of a thread of cloth. To work them, the needle is pushed through the cloth from the back, and it is pushed down through the next hole, going backward.
What “backward” means also depends on the embroiderer’s dominant hand. For right-handed crafters, they may typically stitch from left to right, but left-handed people can go in the opposite direction.
A series of backstitches will create a straight or curved line across the fabric to outline a design. The backstitch is also a foundation stitch for other stitches, like the Pekingese stitch. It is used to create a straight line first before sewing the stitches around it to create the braided pattern.
Woven fabrics come in all kinds that can be used for backstitching, each of which has a different texture, look, and fiber content. Before you “add to cart” some fabric for your next backstitching project, you’ll first need to make sure the fabric is intended for counted embroidery.
If you’d like to see a tutorial, check out the one below from Caterpillar Cross Stitch on YouTube.
Plain Weave Vs. Even Weave Fabrics
Backstitching, or any kind of hand embroidery for that matter, depends greatly on the look of the fabric you are embroidering on. Most of the time, the most important consideration when it comes to hand embroidery is the fabric that you plan to use.
When you think about it, this fact makes sense. If your embroidery is a painting, then the fabric is the foundation that helps highlight all the details of that painting. In counted works, the weave of the fabric is even more important because the needle will rely on the weave to anchor the stitches.
Since backstitching rely on the weave of the fabric in order to create uniform, even stitches, you will need to investigate the fabric carefully before choosing the right one for you. If you know the differences between even-weave fabrics and plain weave fabrics, you will be able to choose a great fabric for backstitching, even if they’re not included in our list below.
Even Weave Fabrics
Even-weave fabric is commonly used for various needlework techniques, but it is especially beloved when it comes to counted works because of its construction. Even-weave refers to the weave of the fabric that is equal in its warp and weft threads.
The threads form a grid pattern, and there are distinct holes in the corners of the intersection. These square holes are where your needle will go through when creating new stitches. This is the reason why even-weave linen works well for counted techniques; since the holes are uniform in size, your stitches will look nice and even.
Even-weave fabrics have various thread counts that are simply an indicator of the number of threads in each direction. If an even weave fabric has a low thread count, that means there are fewer threads in every square inch, and the weave is typically looser. On the other hand, if the thread count is higher, the weave is typically higher.
Fabrics that are designed for counted embroidery often have a 28-40-count composition, which allows you to see the weave easily but still tight enough for the stitches to appear small and help you add more intricate details to your embroidery.
You can also find even-weave fabrics with a thread count as low as 6, which are amazing to practice with if you are a beginner.
Plain Weave Fabrics
Not intended for counted work, plain weave linen is not very different from its traditional counterpart. Plain weave fabrics do not have a consistent thread count simply because the thread count varies greatly in a single piece of fabric.
Plain-weave fabrics are usually very closely woven, which means the little holes in the warp and weft threads don’t seem to be as distinct as those in the other fibers. You might find plain weave linens listed by weight rather than thread count.
If you are doing backstitching or any other kind of counted embroidery, you will want to avoid plain weave fabrics. This type of fabric is mainly intended for surface embroidery.
Even Weave Vs. Plain Weave Fabric For Backstitching
As you might have guessed already, when it comes to backstitching, an even-weave fabric is an ideal option. Even-weave fabrics are highly versatile, so you can use this type of fabric for surface embroidery or needlework projects.
Usually, a higher-than-normal count even-weave is the best choice for free-style surface embroidery. However, it depends on the weave’s natural features, and how well the threads are plumped, you can choose a lower thread count fabric if the weave appears tightly woven enough.
Whatever fabrics you are choosing for your embroidery work, make sure that it is not stretchy. This is often a mistake made by beginners, but it’s worth mentioning here. This is because the stitches you create with your embroidery will not stretch along with your fabric, and the fabric can stretch over time, leaving your designs looking crumpled and off.
If you know the difference between even weave and plain weave fabric, choosing fabric for your next backstitching project is pretty simple. If you want to know some popular fabric options for counted embroidery, read on to learn more.
1. Even Weave Fabrics
An even weave fabric is a uniform weave composed of tiny square holes that make it great for counted embroidery since they ensure an even, consistent look. Even weave does not only refer to a type of fabric construction, but it is so commonly used that it can be understood as a type of fabric as well.
Even weave fabrics range from those with a very tight weave (for example, silk) to those that are more loosely woven (like linen or canvas). For backstitching, a loosely woven fabric actually works best since it’s easier to see the tiny holes and work with the fabric.
As you may have guessed, even weave fabrics are made with various fibers such as cotton, linen, rayon, and bamboo, but it is most often available in 100% cotton.
The thread count also varies greatly depending on the fiber and how tight the weave is, but it typically ranges from 32-count (very tight) to 18-count (loosely woven).
Check out this lovely 100% cotton 28-count even weave fabric that can help you create intricate backstitching details for your project.
2. Aida Cloth
Aida cloth (also known in some areas as Java cloth) is a type of versatile fabric that is often used for cross stitching and other counted embroidery methods, thanks to its simple-to-count square pattern.
If you are a beginner at backstitching, then Aida cloth is definitely the most readily available and the easiest to work with.
This cloth is made with grouped fibers that form easy-to-follow square patterns, with a thread count ranging from 22-count to 8-count, which is more loosely woven than even weave fabric.
The one that you can find in most craft stores is 14-count Aida cloth, which has a moderate weave that is very easy to work with but still allows you to create fine details with your embroidery.
This fabric has a particular weave that shows groups of threads together at the corners, counting as one thread. You can then create stitches over the thread, and the fabric lets you see where your needle goes because you can easily identify the small holes between the thread.
Aida cloth is often made of 100% cotton, but nowadays, you can also find Aida cloths that are made from cotton, linen, or rayon fibers. Aida cloths are often starched to become quite stiff, but depending on the fiber composition, you can find softer Aida cloths that work better for your project.
Because of its loosely woven nature, Aida cloth can fray very easily. This problem can easily be solved with a serger, or you can seal the edges of your fabric using a blanket stitch.
Since the weave is often very big, you can expect that the stitches you create with Aida cloth are very big as well, which means it won’t work for more intricate patterns that require smaller stitches.
This is why Aida cloth is often used by beginners for practice, but experts may want to opt for fabrics with a higher thread count in order to create more complicated designs.
Aida cloth comes in several variations. For example, Herta is a 6-count version of the Aida fabric that is perfect for beginners and even children.
Since the thread count is so low, meaning the holes in between the threads are big and easy to see, Herta cloths are great to practice with. When working with Herta cloth, children can use a blunt, plastic tapestry needle, which will work with the cloth without potentially injuring the child.
Another variation of Aida cloth is Fiddler’s Cloth, which is a woven fabric made from cotton, polyester, and silk. They have very low thread counts ranging from 14 to 18 counts, which means they are also quite friendly to beginners.
A fabric that is very similar to Aida that can also be used for backstitching is Hardanger. Hardanger fabric is made from 100% Cotton with a 22 thread count. It is a plain, even weave fabric that resembles Aida, but the threads are placed in groups of two, meaning one stitch can cover two threads.
This Norwegian fabric is very popular for cross stitching as well as other counted works, but they are not as readily available as Aida cloth.
Linen is a great choice for embroiderers wanting a soft fabric with a higher thread count. Although linen is a type of even weave fabric, it may have an uneven nubby surface due to the composition of the thread.
Natural irregularities in the weave of linen can make it more challenging to work with, but they also provide a more natural finish for your embroidery. Many people believe that this is part of the charm of the fabric, but it may not be the most beginner-friendly fabric.
If you invest in good-quality linen, they will have both warp and weft threads in the same size, which helps the fabric achieve an even-weave look, which makes your embroidery look more uniform. The cheaper the linen, the more likely it is that warp and weft threads are uneven, which may also affect the appearance of your stitches.
You can find linen with a wide range of thread counts, and some linen is tighter than others, meaning the weave has smaller gaps in between the fiber. The most common thread counts are 28 and 32, which is already tightly woven linen, but you can find linen in an even tighter weave.
One reason you don’t often see linen used in embroidery is that it can be expensive to purchase and not readily available in craft stores compared to other even-weave fabrics. More often than not, you will have to go to specialty shops to purchase linen with an even thread count designed for embroidery.
If you can afford the higher price point and love the look and feel of linen, this is a great fabric for backstitching, thanks to its durability and elegant finish. This lovely 32-count linen, for example, has a tight weave that helps you add intricate details to your design while adding a natural, rugged finish to your piece.
Canvas fabric has a mesh construction, and thick thread is woven into the mesh to cover the open holes. It is commonly used for needlepoint work and other needlework projects, but it can also be a great option for backstitching and other counted embroidery projects because of its construction.
Although most of us understand canvas as a type of fabric, there are many different variations of canvas out there. There are two main types of canvas, one consisting of two threads twisted together to form warp and weft threads (duo canvas) and one consisting of an individual thread (mono canvas).
For embroidery, mono canvas is more widely used. Mono canvas is a stable, single-weave canvas that can be commonly used for many needlework projects and counted embroidery. You can find mono canvas with thread count ranging from 10-18, ranging from very loose weave to medium-loose weave.
Mono canvas comes in several variations. For example, congress cloth is a tightly woven, 24-count mono canvas, often used in needlepoint and counted works.
Interlock mono canvas is a stable, non-fraying canvas often used for small projects. It has a slightly loose weave, and the threads are bonded together in the weave to secure the construction.
Mono de Luxe Canvas is a premium canvas that appears smooth thanks to its round, polished threads. This type of canvas is easy to work with and very popular in needlepoint craft.