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
- If you’re entering it into a fair or competition to be judged, they’ll want the back very neat and tidy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Vintage Sass cross stitch pattern collection (the patterns featured in the video)
- Cayce Zavaglia’s embroidery art
- How to frame your cross stitch tutorial
- Loop method and pin stitch tutorial
- Pin stitch on linen tutorial
- Sign up for free cross stitch patterns
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!
So thankful you added those comments. Being a cross stitcher my entire life, self taught at nine, now in my 50’s, I used to think about the back all of the time. Then one day I asked myself why? You don’t see a French knot on the back but do on the front. Some pieces did have what is called a clean back because it was easier to cover with material when flat, but when framed who sees it? I have done many large pieces 3’ x 5’ with clean backs and marriage announcements. Just to have the piece completed made people happy.
But doing a clean back can cause more stress than doing the piece itself. Just have fun. Life is too short. I know because I was diagnosed with cancer in 2019. Stressful enough. Still cross stitching and working on a large piece for myself.
When something like this makes you happy do it for you! No one else.
So sorry about your diagnosis Tina, that’s so hard, but yes, it makes you realize what you’re spending your energy on. The fixation on having a perfect back just for the sake of it seemed like such a huge waste of energy to me (unless you enjoyed it), I’d much rather put my time into completing the project and starting on the next. 😊
Finally! Thank you for saying it. I’ve been stitching most of my life and there’s nothing I dislike more than someone who back-shames another stitcher. It’s arrogant and mean! As long as I’m happy with the end result of my work that’s all that matters.
Exactly, no one would ask to see your underwear in public, I hate the “back shaming” that happens… Glad you enjoyed the article Kathy! 😊
Each piece I complete is more beautiful and than the last one, the backside, too. Thank you for the good advice about not worrying about the backside. For me, a beginner who has been away from needle work for too many years, your advice is appreciated. I back each piece with nice fabric. Thank you for your site.
You’re very welcome Katherine, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the craft! 😊❤️
I’m planning on starting a table topper. The fabric is a very loose weave (Anne cloth, 18 ct). I’ve never used this kind of cloth before so I’m at sea. Do you have any advice on how to stitch this project? I’m rather curious as to how to finish the stitches so they won’t come undone – thread (pearl cotton size 5) under stitches or knots or what? In the instructions the designer says it is washable (by hand without doubt), so obviously will need the stitching to stay put and firm.
Hi Karen! You’ll just have to experiment, I don’t know what would be best for that project. Pearl cotton would be potentially harder to anchor over so much as it’s twisted as a whole strand (and not able to be separated like embroidery floss). I’d contact the designer, they’ll be able to help. 😊
I have a question, do I need to put something on the back to protect/seal the stitching. I have cross stitched a xmas stocking, the canvas is now fairly limp, I put it on a frame only half way thru, I’m a beginner of sorts. I love your site, and the advice and tutorials. Thank you so much.
Hi Martha! No, you don’t need to do anything at all to the back, any kind of sealant (other than say iron on interfacing) will actually start to degrade the stitching and the fabric which obviously isn’t great. So just keep on trucking, I’m sure it will come out fine in the end. 🙂
I liked how you mentioned that cross stitching and crafting can bring enjoyment and relaxation to your life. My wife is wanting to lower her stress levels and she was wondering what kind of hobby she could pick up to make her happy. I’ll be sure to tell her that she should consider learning how to cross stitch clothing.
Yep cross stitch definitely can be very relaxing. 🙂 Normally it can’t be done on clothing though, it’s done on fabric that has very exact holes so your x’s always look the same. You *can* stitch on clothing, but you have to use what’s called waste canvas, it’s quite the process, I most definitely would never recommend that for a beginner. 🙂
As to learning anything new it can be a little difficult to start, but once she gets the hang of it I am sure she will enjoy it. I find it relaxing until I am counting and my husband keeps talking to me. LOL Some people like it and some don’t. Start off with something easy and move up in difficulty as she goes.
Just another stitcher.
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!
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. 🙂
If I were making a baby blanket, can it be thrown in the wash? I don’t want it to come unravelled.
I know some people do put their stitching into the washing machine on a gentle cycle, personally I wouldn’t, that’s a lot of unnecessary friction and movement. I’d just hand wash it. 🙂
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!
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… 🙁
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!
Exactly, so many people forget the whole idea is to enjoy yourself while stitching, not adhere to a bunch of “rules” that mean nothing… 🙂
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 🙂 –
Haha I know right, some of the huge full coverage patterns take so much dedication. 🙂
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!
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. 🙂
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.
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. 🙂
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?
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. 🙂
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 🙂
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. 🙂
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)
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. 🙂
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.
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.” 😀
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!! 🙂
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? 🙂
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!
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. 🙂
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
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. 🙂
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
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! 🙂
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!
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!
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.
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! 🙂
Great article, Dana!
Haha thanks so much Nancy! Happy stitching! 😀
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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. 🙂