What Color For Backstitching?


The Great Outdoors cross stitch by Funk & Weber Designs

The Great Outdoors uses both dark and self-colored outlines. In fact, the backstitching instructions are about a whole page long. When I stitched this, I had no intention of selling the pattern, so I was just doing what I liked.

Nancy asks, “What is the best color to outline a cross stitch picture when you have bright colors? It does not have outlining now, and I thought it would look better with some.”


I want to state up front that there is no single right answer to this question. In the end, trust your instincts and go with what you like.

That said, I tend to go two ways with backstitched outlines: dark or what I call “self-colored.”

Dark-colored Outlines

By “dark” I mean black (DMC 310), dark gray (DMC 3799), dark brown (3371), or some other dark color. Black can sometimes be harsh, so I always give gray a look before making up my mind. I tend to like gray and black with brights, jewel tones, and cool colors (purple, blue, teal, green) and a dark brown with warm and natural colors (red, orange, yellow).

Do you see the discrepancy? “Brights” includes red, orange, and yellow, and while they are also warm colors for which I might choose a brown, when the palette is bright, I tend toward black/gray.

You mention bright colors, so I’d start with black and dark gray, especially if the palette includes both warm and cool colors.

Self-colored Outlines

The “self-colored” option is interesting. It might mean using the same color as a single-color object; it might mean using a contrasting color, but one that is in the multi-colored object (say, a blue tent with orange highlights might be outlined with the orange color); it might mean using a darker shade of the dominant color (a bright red outlined with a maroon-ish color, perhaps).

I know some people will ask, “What’s the point of outlining with a ‘self-color’?” Some people hate backstitching—I cannot relate!—and might think this pointless, even irritating, but backstitching, even in a self-color, defines a shape or line. It just does. Try it and see.

Oh, and you can combine dark and self-colored backstitching in a single piece.

What About Light-colored Outlines?

Most of the time, I’m not a fan of light-colored outlines. Backstitching with light colors highlights the holes between the stitches because they wind up comparatively dark. It looks like a dotted line instead of a smooth line.

Of course, there are times when such dotted lines might be called for and interesting.

If you really want to outline with a light color, consider long straight stitches or couching the fiber in place rather than backstitching.

What are your thoughts on outline colors for cross stitch?

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