#2 Fast & easy Pouch,  Back Stitch,  Craft with Racaire,  Embroidery,  Hand-Sewing,  Klosterstich,  Refilsaum,  Stem Stitch,  Stem Stitch - "looks like Chain Stitch",  Surface Couching

Craft with Racaire – Project #2 – Step 1.2 – Hand sewing stitches: Back Stitch & its connection to Stem Stitch

Craft with Racaire – Project #2 – Step 1.2 – Hand sewing stitches: Back Stitch & its connection to Stem Stitch

I hope you enjoyed the progress pictures of my short side-project: “embroidered 14th century pouch for the 9th birthday of my blog” and the birthday raffle.
…but now it is time to get back to the second “Craft with Racaire” project – the fast and easy pouch tutorial.

Some time already passed by since the first two postings for this project therefore here a short summery for you:

1) “…fast and easy pouch tutorial (handsewn) & how to work with “rapports”
In this first posting of the pouch tutorial you will find useful information about the materials you will need for this project. It also explains how you can calculate the needed fabric yourself or you can also use the measurements I provide. As a little bonus for you, I also added some extra information of “how to work with “rapports”” (repeating fabric patterns).

2) “…Hand sewing stitches: Running Stitch & more thoughts about hand sewing
In this second posting of the pouch tutorial you will find an in-depth description of the first and most basic hand-sewing stitch you will need for this technique – the Running Stitch. Furthermore you will also find some additional hints how you can use this stitch for sewing or fitting and how you can speed up your sewing when you are using it. One of my favorite sections of this posting is the part about the Running Stitch and its possibilities of usage in medieval embroidery.

I am still amazed how much information I could put together for you for the posting about the Running Stitch. I think the following text about the Back stitch is at least as long as the one about the Running Stitch. It is about the Back Stitch and its connection to Stem Stitch and its usage in medieval embroidery… but we will come to all this soon.

Btw. I just added the new page “Medieval hand-sewing techniques” underneath the “Medieval embroidery techniques”. You can find both pages underneath the menu option “Premium”. When you place your curser on the word Premium the drop down menu containing both pages should appear. On this pages I put together all useful information about medieval embroidery and hand-sewing I posted till now for a faster overview and an easier access for you. I will do my best to update this page whenever I post something about medieval embroidery or hand-sewing techniques.

…and now back again to the topic:

Back Stitch & Stem Stitch

We already started with the most basic hand-sewing stitch – the „Running Stitch“ – and all it’s versatile usage possibilities concerning hand-sewing, fitting and medieval embroidery techniques. Today we will take a look at the next hand-sewing stitch for our project – the „Back Stitch“. …and yes, also the „Back Stitch“ has a rather well known and popular counterpart in medieval embroidery – the Stem Stitch. How this two stitches are related, how they are worked and what you can do with them – I will tell you all this little secrets today.

Der Rückstich / Steppstich
The Back Stitch

But first things first – the Back Stitch is also a very basic and useful stitch. In my opinion it is just a variation of the „Running Stitch“.
Yes, I really like the idea that everything is somehow connected and related. It’s just a small step from a stitch that is worked forward to a variation that goes a half stitch back before it moves forward again. Well, when you are already “going” forward, you have only two possibilities to vary your stitch. You can either vary the stitch length or you can move into the another direction – most likely backwards.

When you make a simple line worked in the Running Stitch, you can „go” backwards and fill up all the „empty spaces“. This way you can create rather simple but wonderful patterns (like for Blackwork, Lagartera – read more about it in my posting about the Running Stitch – especially my section about its use in medieval embroidery for more information). Working a whole line backwards is one thing – but there is also the other possibility – working the stitch forward in a slightly backward movement. Yes, you can take a half step back and move a whole step forward and you are still moving forward. 😉

And well, that’s what it is all about – the Back Stitch is worked in going forward one whole stitch length underneath the surface and going back a half stitch length on top of the surface and then you start again. It’s really that easy and here a drawing of the technique for a better understanding of what I mean:

Hand-sewing_back-stitch_1Based on my personal experience I can say that the Back Stitch can be worked rather fast with some practice but it is still a technique you can only work stitch by stitch and that really slows down every working process.

When I started with hand-sewing I tended to work complete dresses just in back stitch. That was before I read about the medieval seam techniques and found out that there is a better way. But during the time when I was new to hand-sewing, I just knew about the Running Stitch and the Back Stitch. And the Back Stitch seemed to be very reasonable because it has one major advantage in relation to the Running Stitch.

This major advantage shows especially when the thread breaks. This small back stitches can slow down and finally even stop the seam from further ripping. Well, everyone of you who once stepped on her dress and experience the ripping of a seam will exactly know what I mean… *lol*

If you like you can make a small test for yourself to see this major difference between the Running Stitch and the Back Stitch. Take two pieces of fabric, lay them on top of each other and first do about 2cm / 1inch of running stitches and then about 2cm / 1inch of back stitches – both stitches should be worked in the same stitch length. Then take the top fabric of the upper side – before and after the seam – into one hand and grab the other side with your other hand and pull both layers apart. Then hold it up to the light. What you will see is that you have about double as many stitches at the part where you used the Back Stitch.

That doesn’t mean that you have to work all your seams in Back Stitch – knowing about the Running Stitch and the Back Stitch and their advantages as well as their disadvantages gives you the possibility to choose and also to mix! Yes, indeed, knowledge is power – even when it is just about some simple hand-sewing techniques. Please don’t forget that even the best hand-sewing technique is wasted if you don’t use a good thread or don’t have good needles to work with.

When I am sewing now, I normally use a combination of „Running Stitch“ and „Back Stitch“. I start every one of my hand-sewing stitches with a Back Stitch. Just one Back Stitch and then I continue with a row of Running Stitches on my needle as I described and showed in my posting about the „Running Stitch“ technique.

Btw. here a picture of the “row of Running Stitches on my needle” from the posting about the „Running Stitch“ for your information.

Hand-sewing_Running-stitch_2 This way a lot of sewing can be done with just one stitch – just one Back Stitch + several Running Stitches done at one time with one stitch and needle. That does not only sound fast – it is really fast. It is also one of my secrets why I managed to complete the hand-sewing of my red 12th century silk dress and my pink dress in so little time.

I am glad to say that I found a progress picture of the hand-sewing for my 12th century silk dress for you. At the picture underneath you can see such a row of Running Stitches which start with a Back Stitch:

Hand-sewing_Back-and-Runningstitch-sewingFurthermore, when you work this way, you can still adapt to fabric and further needs of your sewing project. One of this special needs can be tension – especially how your stitches can handle tension. A very important point when it comes to close fitted clothing like fitted dresses or hand-sewn stockings.
You can decide to make a Back Stitch followed by less and shorter Running Stitches in areas with more tension (like for the upper body, the heel of your stocking,…) – which also gives you more Back Stitches at a shorter distance. You can also decide to make a Back Stitch followed with more and slightly longer Running Stitches in areas with less tension (like for long seams for set in gores or maunches,…). And in areas of very hight tension you can even decide to leave away the Running Stitches and to work them just in Back Stitch.

Btw. you don’t need to use a Back Stitch at all if you don’t like but for me it adds a nice feeling of security when I think about my seams. Well, if you ever needed to get rid of a simple Running Stitch and one with small Back Stitches – the one with the Back Stitches is definitely harder to get rid off. Therefore I hope, if any of my seams will break, this small Back Stitches will keep the damage to a minimum…

Concerning the mixing – with mixing I mean not only the mixing of stitches – there are also several medieval seam techniques you can use with this hand-sewing stitches. A good mix of this hand-sewing techniques as well as of the medieval seam techniques is a good basis for many successful sewing projects in the future.

…and another short hint concerning sewing, before I continue with the connection of Back Stitch and medieval embroidery:
I really like to start my sewing with a series of about 2-4 small stitches on just one small spot before I proceed. As simple as they are and as little time as they take to make them – this little stitches work like a small „stopper“.
They keep your thread at one place and prevent it from slipping through. Furthermore this stitches makes a knot unnecessary. It really just means that you „go back“ over one stitch – again and again – until you can pull at this thread and it doesn’t move anymore. Well, in this case you can make one more if you like, just for sure. 😉
Btw. this is not only good when you start a row of stitches – you can also use this for the end of your stitches – just to keep your thread in place and to keep it from becoming loose again.

Back Stitch used in embroidery

There is a rather well known and popular counterpart for the Back Stitch in medieval embroidery:

Der Stielstich
The Stem Stitch

Really, I am not kidding – both stitches are nearly the same. take a close look at the drawings of Stem Stitch and Back Stitch underneath:

The Stem Stitch:

Hand-sewing_back-stitch_1-stem-stitchThe Back Stitch:

Hand-sewing_back-stitch_1Can you see it? When you take the Back Stitch and turn it over you nearly get the Stem Stitch! But only nearly – because when you work the Back Stitch you normally don’t care about the back side and a nice row of stitches there and especially not if your stitch always starts at one side… Therefore, if you turn the Back Stitch technique around (upside down) and start to take care that you always start at the same side of your last stitch, you get – voila – a Stem Stitch. It’s really that easy – you learn one technique and get one for free. 😉

Back Stitch used in medieval embroidery

Oh, I tell you, this stitch is very basic but also so versatile. You can use it for the outlines for the Klosterstich / Cloister Stitch technique:

Klosterstich_Wallhanging_loversIn-depth information about “Klosterstich outlines“:

All outlines on my Klosterstich embroidery above and underneath are done in Stem Stitch.
But caution – the rare publications to this technique give the information that the outlines were worked in Klosterstich too. I really tried that and have to say that Klosterstich works really fine for outlines as long as you have a straight line. As soon as you come to a round or twisted outline it gets really difficult to work it in Klosterstich.

Therefore I decided for myself to work nearly all of my outlines of my Klosterstich embroidery in Stem Stitch. And I can tell you – anyone besides the embroiderer will have a hard time to tell if this outlines are worked in Stem Stitch or in Klosterstich – they look very similar. …and the round outlines are much easier to do this way.

Klosterstich_Queen-needlerollYou can use the Stem Stitch also for the lines and outlines for the Refilsaum / Bayeux Stitch technique:


At the picture above you can see a progress picture of my embroidery based on the Bayeux tapestry. My inspiration, a small section of the Bayeux tapestry, is visible on the right side of the picture above – it is from the book “The Bayeux Tapestry“.

I find the book “The Bayeux Tapestry” very inspiring. It is definitely one of my favorite books. As far as I know it is one of the best books about the tapestry for embroiderers because it contains huge photos of the Bayeux tapestry.

Btw. the motif shown above is not the only one which is mostly worked in Stem Stitch. If you would like to do some period but rather simple embroidery like the one shown above and underneath then you might enjoy this book and tapestry.

The Bayeux Tapestry” contains a lot of inspiration for rather simple but also cute and period embroidery projects. In the past I used my example of this book as inspiration for every of my Bayeux Stitch projects.
Amazon.com: The Bayeux Tapestry
Amazon.de: The Bayeux Tapestry

Underneath you can see the final result of my interpretation of the above shown motif from the Bayeux Tapestry:


And underneath you can see another embroidery based on an inspiration from the book “The Bayeux Tapestry” and from the Bayeux tapestry. All outlines are again worked in Stem Stitch.


And I also used the Stem Stitch for the outlines of my surface couching:

Surface-Couching_1 Surface-Couching_2…and last but not least, if you want to have some fun, you can use it for some decorative stitching:

12th century inspired embroidery…and last but not least a short side note about a rather rare use of Stem Stitch as medieval embroidery technique for surface filling:

I know about at least one period example of an embroidery where Stem Stitch is used to cover the surface – I actually don’t know a name for this technique in German or in English – therefore I simply call this technique „Looks like Chain Stitch“. There is one beautiful embroidery worked in this technique on display in the Bavarian National Museum. If you would like to know more about it I can see if I can find pictures of this certain piece among my museum pictures from this museum and write about it…

I hope you enjoyed our small journey today and that you are even more inspired to do some hand sewing and to try some embroidery… Yes, it can be that easy if you know the basics. …and don’t forget – enjoy it and have fun! 😀

Enough about hand-sewing stitches for now – next time we will already start working at the pouch – I promise… 😉

Best regards Racaire