Stitch of the Month
February 2006: Wrapped Backstitch

by Kathy Fenchel

The wrapped backstitch is one of my favorite stitches. I'm embarrassed to say that after 30-plus years of stitching, it has only recently come to my attention! It is indispensable when working on a painted canvas!

It is difficult to stitch a curved line on canvas, simply because of the nature of canvas: it's square! It's the old round peg/square hole problem! So, as stitchers, we are usually reduced to tent-stitching a broken line that gives the illusion of a curve, but in reality is usually not very satisfying in the overall scheme of things. The stem/outline stitch is another alternative, but it can sometimes be difficult to get a smooth arc when using them.

The wrapped backstitch is a no-fail solution.

In the diagram below, the red line represents a curved line that has been painted on the canvas.

The second part of the diagram shows the path of the backstitches along the line, indicated by numbered black arrows. Notice that the stitches are not necessarily on the line, but are as close to the painted line as possible. Each backstitch is over two canvas threads, but the stitches are not always vertical, horizontal or diagonal. They are often oblique. In other words, the stitches angle whichever way is necessary to follow the curved line on the canvas.


And yes, it is a very choppy line!


Figure 1: The backstitched arc

The next steps pull everything together. Once the last backstitch has been made, bring your needle to the front of the canvas in the same hole in which you began your last backstitch. In the diagram above, that is hole #17. In the photo below, the needle has come up in hole #17 and is sliding under backstitch #17/18 from the top. Notice that the needle stays on top of the canvas!


Figure 2: Beginning to wrap the first backstitch

Give the needle a gentle tug and then slide it under stitch #15/16, entering from the same side of the backstitch as you did on stitch #17/18. (In these photos, the needle slides under each backstitch from the top, which is the outer side of the curve.) Now your first stitch has been wrapped and you are beginning to wrap your second stitch (15/16).


Figure 3: Wrapping the second backstitch

Bring the needle to the top of stitch #13/14. Slide the needle under #13/14 and tug. Now stitch 15/16 has been wrapped! Slide the needle under #11/12 and bring it to the top of the next backstitch. Stitch #13/14 has been wrapped. Continue until you have reached the end of the backstitches. Take the needle to the back of the canvas when you run out of backstitches!


Figure 4: Wrapping continues

Remember that all of the wrapping is done on the surface of the canvas, and that you must always enter from the same side of the backstitch, unless your curved line changes direction and starts curving the other way! You will get a smoother wrap if your needle slides under the backstitch from the outside of the curve, as shown above.

You may be wondering what type of thread is best for this technique. The simple answer is that it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Perhaps you are stitching a Christmas angel in a flowing gown. Stitch the darker lines that have been painted to show the folds of fabric in her gown in a wrapped backstitch. Use a thread that is one or two shades deeper than the color of the gown. The wrapped backstitch, which is slightly raised, will do a wonderful job of accentuating the folds of fabric.

If you are stitching a flower with multiple overlapping petals, try wrapping the edges of the petals using the same thread, but with fewer strands than you are using to stitch the interior of the petal.

Perhaps you are stitching on a piece with a distinctive circular object within the design, such as a moon, a piece of fruit, or the crook of a candy cane. It is difficult to achieve a smooth, rounded edge as you stitch the interior of the shape. So, before you begin stitching the interior, define the edges of the shape with a wrapped backstitch. You may use the same thread, or try using a contrasting thread. Be adventuresome. Use a metallic, or backstitch with one color and wrap the backstitches with a contrasting color! (Hint: try backstitching the edges of a candy cane with a white thread and wrapping the backstitches with a red thread. It creates a wonderful effect!)


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