Why Does the Back of My Work Matter?

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This is one of the oldest and most often asked questions usually followed by, “No one sees the back anyway” plus some muttering and gnashing of teeth.

Before you go to the pulling-your-hair-out stage, here’s my take: the back is a true indicator of technique and the technique sure does show on the front. The most common practices that will show on the front have to do with carrying strands and ending a strand of floss.

Let’s start with those pesky single stitches scattered over an area. If the floss color is either lighter than or close to the fabric color, you can get away with a whole lot more than if the floss color is darker so there are really two ways to approach this dilemma.

For the lighter or almost-matching-the-fabric floss strands: carry floss strands as far as need be as long as your tension is good. This means the floss strands are not stretched so tight that your fabric will never lie flat and not so loose that the stitches start drooping over time. Do try to minimize the distance. Personally, I would not carry a strand more than three inches.

If the floss color is darker you just can’t get away with as much. The first technique that will help avoid problems is to begin each strand with a loop starting method. Next, wherever possible, carry the floss strands on the diagonal rather than horizontally or vertically. To do this, plan out your stitches. You will find that when you carry a strand across the holes (in either a thread-count fabric like linen or in an even-weave like Aida) the strand will show. By going on the diagonal, your strand is actually hidden behind the fabric threads.

In this design, I was careful to avoid trailing my dark green floss from one stem or leaf to the next closest. I would tunnel under the finished stitches to get to the next stem/leaf or just end the strand and start another.

In this design, I was careful to avoid trailing my dark green floss from one stem or leaf to the next closest. I would tunnel under the finished stitches to get to the next stem/leaf or just end the strand and start another.

You do need to consider this: What is the end use? If the project is to be framed, made into a pillow or in some way finished so that the back is protected there is less to worry about. But if it’s a baby bib or an afghan or something that will be laundered often, any unanchored floss carry is likely to get snagged. Two solutions come to mind. Either add a lining as part of the finishing or use a lingerie bag when laundering.

If you cannot carry the floss strand, you will have to end it with very little space to bury the tail. Weave the thread under whatever stitches are nearby … if there aren’t enough, weave in one direction and then make a u-turn and go back in the other direction under the same stitches.

In addition to being mindful of how you carry floss strands across the back, you also need to take care to clip the strands after you have secured the tail. My philosophy on this is pretty straightforward: once the tail is securely woven under existing stitches, you can cut the tail off close to that last buried stitch. Do not leave a tail as insurance! That pesky tail is bound to show … regardless of the color! I have watched students inadvertently pull the tail end of a floss strand to the front of their work as a new strand is introduced. If in doubt, tunnel under a few more stitches. How many is enough? I aim to anchor under five to six stitches on the back. Keeping in mind that a cross stitch on the front produces two upright stitches on the back, that really isn’t a huge requirement.

Murphy’s Law will always prevail. What doesn’t seem to show while you’re working will certainly show after you’re finished. A corollary is this: the more you spend on framing, the more likely something will jump out at you when you go to pick it up. Jus’ sayin’.

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