Does the back of your cross stitch matter?

I’ve heard a shocking amount of people talk about the backs of the cross stitch, including some of my stitching friends. And honestly; no one cares. At all.
Here’s the thing; the back of your cross stitch CAN be neat, but sometimes it just CAN’T. The reason is all about the pattern.
 
Let’s explain with some examples. Here, we have a fantastic Mew cross stitch by The Celtic Crafter. Its a pattern made up of about 4 colors and they’re all nicely placed, so the back is nice and neat.

Mew cross stitch back by The Celtic Crafter (source: thecelticcrafter.blogspot.com)
Mew cross stitch back by The Celtic Crafter (source: thecelticcrafter.blogspot.com)

However let’s take another example, of a highly skilled cross stitcher, My Poppet Makes, who’s back looks a little less clean. Now, this back HAS to be like that, with small stitches all around and colors on both sides of the work, the threads have to jump on the back, with its small size making them look much less neat. But let’s be clear; its not better or worse. Just less neat.
Cross Stitch Backs by My Poppet Makes (source: mypoppet.com.au)
Cross Stitch Backs by My Poppet Makes (source: mypoppet.com.au)

So I should never care about the back of my work?

You often hear people talk about the back of your work in terms of two things; framing and skill. So let’s address both.

Framing

I’ve heard a few people mention this, even really experienced stitchers, however, the back has no impact on the framing of cross stitch. The issue comes from home framing and people not using the correct framing system. You can check out a great guide on framing cross stitch, in which we mention the use of foam board. This foam; super important. It means that any of those little messy blemishes on the back are hidden, and can’t be seen when framing.

Skill

Here’s where those naysayers are slightly right. When stitching the lack of mess on the back of your works usually means you’re more economical. Some take this to mean skill. However, we circle back around to the original statement; sometimes you can’t make a clean back. I know people might be nervous about their work, so I’ve taken an example from Shutterstock that shows the back is sometimes just messy, and its all thanks to the pattern. This pattern has colors all over it, with floating confetti stitch plenty, meaning you just won’t be able to make it neat.

Shutterstock cross stitch backside example (source: Shutterstock)
Shutterstock cross stitch backside example (source: Shutterstock)

If you’re still bothered by the comments though, be rest assured that your back will be cleaner as time goes on and you learn those little secrets about cross stitch. But don’t be surprised when sometimes your back is a mess! It happens.

So where does the rumor come from?

When the Japanese first came across cross stitch when a samurai accidentally brought cross stitch to Japan we started seeing neat backs. Backs that were far neater than European examples and the idea that the backs should be similar to the fronts came with it. However, that’s simply down to culture. Japanese people have a rich history with embroidery, and in particular, sashiko, which includes a stitch called ‘cross stitch’. You can see what when counted cross stitch came to Japan is was obvious that they would follow the same rules they did for their sashiko. One of these rules, in particular, is that the front should look like the back. This is mostly down to how they stitch sashiko, but when the European’s started seeing Asian cross stitch the rumor came about that they were far more skilled and everyone should try to make their backs neat.

Hitomezashi sashiko (source: sakepuppets.com)
Hitomezashi sashiko (source: sakepuppets.com)

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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Nancy Garcia

    One suggestion when skipping spaces on the back, is to avoid letting the floss cross directly under open holes. Doing so may allow the thread to show through the open holes. Try to cross so the floss is under the solid blocks either straight or at angles so the floss is hidden.

  2. Melissa

    Picture Framer here, started my career with 5 years at the Big Red Box Store That Starts with an M, so you can imagine how many cross stitches I have framed (and have done a number myself). The back doesn’t *have* to be neat to frame your piece properly. However, it is helpful if the back is as even/flat as is reasonably possible. This can help to prevent excessive lumps, bumps, and ripples when the fabric is stretched taut and flat. Long floats and large areas of half stitches can also affect the way the fabric stretches. It also pays to be aware of floats of a highly contrasting colour to your fabric – for example, a blackwork piece on white. Most boards used for stretching (in a professional framing context) are white or off-white, for a number of reasons we won’t get into right now. So, if you want to hide the floats in this case, you would use a black backing. While these are available, they aren’t always exactly the same as their white counterparts (quality, material content, etc), AND this makes the little holes/spaces in the white aida much more apparent than a white backing would. So it is a tradeoff, but some people opt for it. Actions, meet repercussions.

    All that said, your hobby should be fun. Making *some* effort for a neater back may be worth it for many people, but if it’s making you enjoy stitching less than what you feel you gain by doing it, its a net loss that doesn’t make sense for you.