Update: March 2, 2018
To hear it said by people outside North America, we, as stitchers, are far, far too concerned about our backsides. No, not those backsides, but the backsides of our needlepoint. Susan Battle, from The Point of It All, mused on this subject and how her backs look. Practically I’m with her, I rarely worry about my backs and generally they are on the messy side.
But, in all fairness, your backs do matter. The needlepoint police won’t come and snatch you away if your backs are messy but understanding why they are important can make your needlepoint look better. In needlepoint the thickness of the back of the stitching is important.
Most importantly, you’re making a fabric with needlepoint and this means there needs to be structure. Without the fuller backs on the stitch, the structure is not as strong. This is less important when you stitch on fabric because the fabric is its own support.
Your back becomes thick by starting each stitch on the same side. This makes the stresses go in the same direction, making a prettier stitch. Think about a Scotch Stitch. You start in the lower left corner. This means the stress goes from lower left to upper right. The next stitch starts above it on the left. Once again the stress is lower left to upper right. And it continues this way, all the stitches pulling in the same direction, like a well-trained set of carriage horses.
But let’s make that same stitch again and go back and forth instead of starting each stitch on the same side. The first stitch went from lower left to upper right and the stress is in the same direction. BUT the second stitch goes from upper right to lower left, as does its stress. One stitch pulls in one direction, the other stitch in the opposite direction. The result is an uneven square with sides that aren’t straight.
A thicker backside is also useful because it creates a layer of padding between the face of the needlepoint and the finishing. This is particularly important for things that get wear. It’s the back that wears not the front. Shortchange the back and the piece wears badly.
That layer of stitching comes in handy. It can be used, instead of the margins of the canvas to move from line to line in pattern darning. It can hide traveling threads when you go from one area to another. You can use it to begin and end threads.
Your backs don’t have to be beautiful to serve these purposes, but they are important.