Why you shouldn’t worry about the back of cross stitch

Why you shouldn’t worry about the back of cross stitch

with 38 Comments

Do you have friends who look at the back of cross stitch projects you do and say, “The back is supposed to be as neat as the front you know”? I’m sure every cross stitcher has had that happen to them at some point, whether it was from a friend or a family member. Many people become disheartened with the hours they’ve spent on a project when they hear this claim (even from non-stitchers). Some stitchers even quit cross stitch and embroidery forever, because they think they’re doing it wrong, or they feel so judged they don’t ever want to show anyone their work again.

 

This is such an incredible shame! Nowadays, with all the many modern ways of decorating fabric and clothing, cross stitch and embroidery has moved from a functional craft to one of pure enjoyment and relaxation. To think that you’re doing it “wrong” completely defeats the whole point of creating a lovely stitched piece for relaxation and maybe even a piece of cherished home decor or an heirloom.

 

The topic of how neat the back of cross stitch pieces need to be is highly controversial, incredibly enough. Many admins of online forums and groups won’t even permit photographs of the reverse side of pieces, simply because people get very cantankerous and have very firmly held beliefs. It’s possible that this concept of having a neat back stems from traditional embroidery techniques. Some traditional styles of embroidery (like Italian blackwork) are indeed reversible. In that case, stitches like the Holbein stitch (or double running stitch) are used to create a fully reversible garment or project. Cross stitch on the other hand is not a fully reversible stitch, and the back will never look exactly the same as the front simply because of the way it’s formed.

 

So, if you enjoy making the backs of your pieces look as neat as possible, please continue to do so! It’s actually amazing how many stitchers have the patience and skills to do that. But if you don’t want to worry about what the back looks like, please don’t! Stitching is meant to be enjoyable, and there are so many ways to stitch as each person is an individual.

 

But there are instances when you do want to take care with what the back of your cross stitch piece looks like, and these are outlined in the video below. A summary of the tips can be found below the video, and links as discussed in the video.

 

 

 

Tips about the back of cross stitch projects

 

  1. If you’re entering it into a fair or competition to be judged, they’ll want the back very neat and tidy.
  2. If you’re using very fine and delicate fabric with dark floss colours, you’ll want to not carry your floss too far across open areas or it will be seen from the front.
  3. You don’t want giant lumps of knots and tangles at the back, as they’ll make the front look lumpy when the piece is framed.
  4. If you travel really far between stitches without ending and restarting your thread, you may find you use up more floss (which may be a problem if you have a kit with a limited amount of each colour).

 

Links mentioned in the video:

 

If you have any questions or comments, or if you disagree with me, please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your point of view!

 

Summary
Why you shouldn't worry about the back of cross stitch
Article Name
Why you shouldn't worry about the back of cross stitch
Description
If you have friends who look at the back of cross stitch pieces and say, "The back is supposed to be as neat as the front you know", this tutorial may help!
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Publisher Name
Peacock & Fig
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38 Responses

  1. Caitlin
    | Reply

    Also in regards to putting work into shows… because I have always done either framed pieces or ornaments I have the back covered anyway and it doesn’t matter what it looks like. I like to strive for a smoother back because it sits neater and doesn’t have any lumps when framing but that does not mean I’ll make my life harder just to save the back of the fabric.

    Oh and I park threads on my big HAED projects…. there is NO way to make that neat but the coverage on the front is so thick it doesn’t matter and it saves me so much time in the making!

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Yeah, it depends on the show, I’ve heard some do make it a requirement that the judges can access the back. I’ve never done one (I don’t even think there are any around me, and my style definitely wouldn’t fit with the norm), but that’s good to know that you can just frame it and be done with it. 🙂

  2. Loretta
    | Reply

    I always tell people not to worry about the back of the work so much. I have left quite a few Facebook stitching groups where members are ‘shaming’ those who won’t show the back of their pieces or lecturing those who have backs they think are too messy. Just enjoy the stitching and carry on!

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      I know it’s awful isn’t it! People get so righteous about how they were taught, and they completely forget the fact that it’s a hobby and it’s meant to be relaxing and enjoyable… 🙁

  3. Susan Pearson
    | Reply

    I stopped worrying about the back of my work, as my projects are for the home or a gift. For the most part, they look pretty good in back, but then you have French knots, start-and-stop ‘confetti’, wallpaper striping, a gazillion shades of one color, etc. Framing usually hides the back anyway. As long as the front looks beautiful when assembled into the frame or whatever, that’s the important thing. A piece of felt can be glued to the backs of hoops, etc. I’m self-taught and have actually gone in reverse directions to save time and stress, making sure the stitches are crossed correctly. Anything to keep enjoying this wonderful pass-time!

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Exactly, so many people forget the whole idea is to enjoy yourself while stitching, not adhere to a bunch of “rules” that mean nothing… 🙂

  4. Pam
    | Reply

    I love cross stitch (among other types of needlework) and have found that a neat back is something I aspire for (makes me feel like I have accomplished something) so some of my pieces are ocd neat and some of them are just so so – one thing I have found in having a pretty neat back is I do my stitching with a continental stitch instead of a half cross stitch – it hides a multitude of sins and allows for plenty of thread to hide behind – . in answer to becca and the dark felt – may I suggest that she try a medium charcoal gray – it would dark enough to blend the dark threads and light enough for the light ones – just a suggestion – and Helen, anyone who works and completes a “Heaven and Earth” design deserves a gold star simply for the effort the heck with the back 🙂 –

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha I know right, some of the huge full coverage patterns take so much dedication. 🙂

  5. Anne
    | Reply

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the fact that if you start a project at the top left hand corner and NOT THE MIDDLE your back will be much neater. Great for towels!

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Hi Anne! I’ve never found that actually, it completely depends how you stitch (cross country versus parking) and your pattern, like whether it’s full coverage or has a ton of confetti. If it’s not a full coverage pattern it’s really difficult for most stitchers to start in one corner and accurately calculate their fabric margins and where exactly they should start. 🙂

  6. Linda
    | Reply

    I have wondered about the back. I wasn’t told when I had taken a class in counted cross stitch. The instructor didn’t tell me. Thank you! I am relieved to hear it.

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Ahaha well it depends on the instructor. Some are very strict and will teach you to make it absolutely perfect, but to me that takes all the fun out of just enjoying stitching. I say do whatever you want, it’s your project. 🙂

  7. Becca
    | Reply

    Hi Dana,
    I am already half way through a piece and unfortunately haven’t kept it neat at the back (the piece is writing) and I’ve used a dark floss on white fabric so you can see it on the front. I am hoping to hang the piece so just wondering if you had any tips on how to now tidy up the back just so you can’t see the floss carrying through?

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Hi Becca! What I’d actually do is get a piece of dark felt and put that over the entire back of the piece before you hang it. Then the entire background behind the white fabric is dark, so the dark threads won’t show through. Lighter threads might though, so you may have to experiment and see what looks best. 🙂 Otherwise, if you’re carrying the floss really far across the background, it might be long enough you can snip the carried section in half and weave the ends into the back of other stitches so the stitches don’t unravel. 🙂

      • Becca
        |

        Ahhh thank you Dana, that’s a great idea about the dark felt! Yes cutting now unfortunately may cause some unravelling ….
        Thank you so much 🙂

      • Dana Batho
        |

        Welcome! If you do end up needing to cut, you could use Fray Check (like a fabric seam sealant) and put a dab of that at each end of the floss that’s being carried across. Then let that dry, cut the floss strand in half, and stick down the little tail with a bit more Fray Check. Be careful to just use a little so it doesn’t leak to the front of the piece, but that would work too. 🙂

  8. Missy B
    | Reply

    This may sound weird, and I’m a complete beginner (I’ve literally been doing this for only two weeks and I’m obsessed!), but when I’m carrying my floss a long distance (I just learned about a pin stitch so I didn’t know how to anchor if I couldn’t secure the back without a knot or several squares) I actually pull my needle through a section of the back stitches (like when you finished a piece of floss) to help “hide” the long string within the pattern so it won’t show through when I mount it, but also help keep the tension even when I pick the pattern back up, most especially when doing back stitch accents. (Working on a Halloween pattern with metallic floss that has steam coming from a cauldron with no real place to anchor a thread. I went really ambitious on my first big pattern lol)

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha yes that’s a great idea Missy, there’s a name for that but I can’t remember it at the moment. 🙂 And there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious on your first pattern, sometimes it’s good incentive to keep going and finish it. 🙂

  9. Bonnie
    | Reply

    I too try have the back of my cross stitch looking good. I’ve decided who cares if I’m going to have it framed and no one sees the back. I’ve made a couple of table toppers and was concerned about the back especially if I wanted to wash them. I have clear plastic over my table. This helps protect the top. I added a piece of fabric that matched the color of the table topper and I think it adds a lot to the table topper. I hide my needle work if I know certain people are coming as they look at the front and back and pass it around so everyone can handle it.

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha that’s a good idea Bonnie, hide away your lovely work from “troublesome” people. 🙂 I’ve only had someone (who knew nothing about stitching) comment on the back of one of my pieces once — I responded with “If you wouldn’t criticize someone to their face about their backside, then don’t criticize the backside of their projects either.” 😀

  10. Laurel
    | Reply

    I’m working on a baby blanket and am concerned the stitching on the back could possibly get pulled out here and there from baby. Is there anything someone could recommend to cover it or just let ‘er buck? It’s not a quilt, just a blanket made out of the cross-stitch material. Thanks!! 🙂

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Hi Laurel, thanks for your question! The only thing I can recommend is to line the blanket once it’s done. So choose a nice fabric that will go with your stitching, and sew that onto the back of the blanket. You’ll have to stitch the fabrics together right sides together, and leave a little gap so you can turn the whole thing right side out. Then you just need to stitch the gap where you turned the blanket together by hand. Does that make sense? 🙂

  11. Carolyn
    | Reply

    I am super ocd on my backs! But I would NEVER crititcize anyone elses. Needlework is becoming a dying art because of non-sence like this. I also started with making mainly baby blankets and projects that would not be covered, as I have gotten older I have relaxed, I no longer take out stiches to make my back prettier. I say as long as there are no knots, who really cares!

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha exactly, it’s all about enjoying your stitching. If you like having a neat back, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, I just see so many newer stitchers give up because they’re told the back is supposed to look as good as the front. And thankfully needlework isn’t dying, it’s just changing, there are a lot more stitchers buying online or making their own patterns to suit their personality. I love seeing all the variety. 🙂

  12. Helen Hernandez
    | Reply

    I have been working on a “Heaven and Earth” design for 3+ years now, and if I worried about the back looking as good as the front, it would not get done. It’s almost done and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I don’t care what the back looks like

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha I know right Helen — I’ve heard of people flipping their pieces (even HAEDs) each stitch to make sure the reverse side looks as neat as the front. How they manage with such a large piece I have no idea, but I agree — life is too short, just enjoy the stitching. 🙂

  13. Gloria B.
    | Reply

    Great article, Dana! I have been cross stitching for many years and always have had a fairly neat back. I really don’t worry about it too much. I just go by not bringing the thread no more than 4 or 5 spaces. I start and stop a lot on colors that are too far away (which I don’t mind). A long time ago, I found an easy way of threading my needle and starting a stitch. Thank you

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha you’re very welcome Gloria, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! And that’s great you’ve figured out what works best for you, that’s what it’s all about. Happy stitching! 🙂

  14. Paula Golden
    | Reply

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!! I love to cross stitch. There is nothing so deflating as to have someone who doesn’t stitch comment on the back side! I rarely show anyone my projects until they are completely finished. When you are working on a small count fabric & multiple color changes in a small area it is difficult to have it as “neat” as on the front! I try to be as neat as possible when doing breadcloths, towels, bins, etc. We need to encourage our needlework friends!

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha exactly Paula, I completely agree! Next time someone comments, ask them if they’d dare to comment about how your backside looks. If they say no, tell them your project’s backsides are off limits too. 😀 Happy stitching!

  15. Pat Nottle
    | Reply

    Good grief, I have enough trouble getting the front to look as good as it does. If anyone says the back should look as good as the front…..then they should cross stitch. No being critical.

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Hahaha I know eh, or you could ask them if they like their backside being criticized…. 😉 Thanks for your comment Pat, have a good day! 🙂

  16. Nancy
    | Reply

    Great article, Dana!

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha thanks so much Nancy! Happy stitching! 😀

  17. Rossy
    | Reply

    Thank you, thank you. I’m starting and I was really worried about how the back was going to be. But know I feel relieved. I want to enjoy my project.

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Hi Rossy, thanks for your comment! Sorry it took me a few days to get back to you, I didn’t get a notification you’d commented. And yes, please don’t worry about what the back looks like. There are no cross stitch police that are going to come get you, it’s meant to be relaxing and enjoyable. 🙂

  18. Lord Libidan
    | Reply

    I really agree with you, I’ve always worried about the front of my cross stitch, and in time the back has slowly become neater, but I’m still not concerned about it.

    • Dana Batho
      | Reply

      Haha I’m glad you feel the same. 🙂 There’s nothing wrong with striving to have a neat back, I just see a lot of stitchers get all bent out of shape over it and forget that the whole point is to relax and enjoy stitching. 🙂

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