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Back to the Future Free Motion Quilting Tutorial by Free Notion

Posted on Aug 25, 2015 by in 1980's Films, Season 3 | 13 comments

Hey there fellow crafters!! I’m Becca DuVal, blogger and photographer over at is my crafting con debut, thanks so much for having me and my handsome little man along for the ride! Apologies in advance for the many terrible puns you’ll be subjected to. It’s just how I roll. 😉

I shared my 80’s childhood with a remote-dominating older brother. Which means most every movie I’ve come to identify with the decade are the power-male types. Think: the Smokey and the Bandit trilogy, every episode ever of the A-Team, good ol’ 007, and – of course – Back to the Future.

So today, I honor Mr Back-To-The-Future himself with a toddler-friendly Back-To-School spin. Here’s my 2.5 year old rocking the iconic Puff Vest (See Kate Sew, Aztec Vest), Denim-on-Denim (Chambray: Sis Boom, Ethan; Pants: Charming Doodle, Kudzu Cargo) and “Really, Marty? Another Layer?”ing tee (Terra’s Treasures, Suburban Basic Tee):

GREAT SCOTT! Look at that handsome boy! Some might even say… he’s so …(Mc)Fly 😉

I have really begun to LOVE boy sews. But it’s been a long road here. (Who am I kidding? Where we’re going… we don’t need roads. Yeah. That one was a stretch.)


See – with girl sews, I can have myself a blasty-blast picking and pairing prints. The more the merrier. But for my son? My husband intervenes. It’s hard to create one-of-a-kind pieces for my kid when my fabric choices are limited to the same stripes and solids I could pick up at the Target down the street for the same cost as a yard of fabric.

But – as Marty will remind you “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” And that’s exactly what I did. I started by sneaking in contrast fabric for yokes, the undersides of collars, the insides of cuffs.

A photo posted by Becca DuVal (@beccaduvalphoto) on

Then I introduced some faux piping here and there…. (The Kudzus are great for that!)

A photo posted by Becca DuVal (@beccaduvalphoto) on

And then I got bit by my friend’s oh-so-infectious Free Motion Applique bug… and it hit me. The really inspired idea I was hoping to have for a guest tutorial post like this one…


“Self, why not introduce the concept of FREE MOTION FAN ART?” What a great way to add interest and texture to a solid fabric garment!

First up, of course, is applique. I did this Delorean Time Machine applique to liven up my son’s layering tee. It couldn’t have been easier. I just printed off an image from google, traced the outline and select details on wax paper, and transferred it to some Heat’n Bond Light to affix to the contrast fabric and the shirt. But – not before [I digitized a copy for you all] <<<<


But then there’s also Free Motion Quilting (FMQ). Which is done just like Applique, without the contrast fabric. So let’s delve into that with more detail, shall we??

“Quilting” is the act of fusing multiple layers of fabric/batting together with stitches. So I grabbed my puff vest – with multiple fabric layers needing to be stitched together – and allotted the top back portion to my FMQ tutorial. It’s kind of small (My son IS only a 2T), so my first (of many) “do as I say and not as I do” tip today is – pick a larger area. It’ll give you more freedom to design, and be more forgiving in your overall design as you learn FMQ.

I traced myself a template on wax paper, and got to work sketching some possible designs. Mine was pretty intricate (yeah, don’t do that either) so I transferred it to tissue paper. Once you have finalized your design, my preference would be using a vanishing fabric pen or chalk pencil to carefully sketch out your fan art on the garment itself. My tissue paper idea got kind cumbersome.. starting with pinning a 2D template onto a 3D garment. Behold:
To do any kind of Free Motion art, you’ll need a quilting, darning, or embroidery foot. Mine looks like this:
You’ll also have to drop your feed dogs. My machine has a little switch on the back to make this step super simple. Check your manual if you’ve never done this before.

Now the only thing moving YOUR fabric across YOUR design… is you. Play around with it on some scraps first, to get a feel for it. I like to go at a medium speed, using a regular stitch length and tension. Some like to go much faster and vary their tension. I guess it depends on how much of a perfectionist you are (GUILTY) 😉 My friend Jeanine made a great video of this process in action – you can check it out here.

Carefully stitch overtop of your design, and try to keep a sense of humor and embrace the chaos of your first few attempts. Once you get the right balance of speed and control, you’ll be on fire!
When you’re done – since you followed my suggestions instead of my example – you’ll just wipe off your vanishing ink with a damp cloth, clip your threads, and enjoy your end result!

I……. spent an hour with tweezers tearing tiny pieces of tissue paper out from under tiny stitches… and never did quite get them all out. Bad call, self. Bad call.

Now, I could have quilted in a contrasting thread. But feeling rather confident passer-by’s would think there was a clock tower taking a leashed car for a walk, I thought it best to go the camouflage route. It’s there for me pat myself on the back and know it exists – but I’ll go bolder with my threads and designs the better I get at FMQ.

So there you have it! Free Motion Fan Art! Perfect for incorporating designs of all kinds to your garments: your calligraphy, your art, or even your kids art – how fun would that be?? One of a kind for sure! What are you waiting for?? Go give it a whirl 🙂

Thanks so much for having me here at Crafting Con! XOXO, Becca DuVal,


  1. Wow~Becca you did an incredible job!
    I love that trilogy and I think you captured Marty’s essence perfectly.
    LOVE that you did free motion quilting too!

    • Thanks Michelle! It’s fun and addictive – and the possibilities are endless :-O!!!

  2. WAAAYYYYYY cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! love how you did on the back of the vest!

    • Thanks Terra! His basics T is his favorite now. It’s his “car shirt!” and he doesn’t want to take it off 😀

  3. Wow, such a great vest! It can be very difficult to make interesting boys clothes — those little details you added are perfect.

  4. Great job Becca – this looks amazing!!!!!!

  5. LOVE this outfit. I think the fma done like that is such a great way to try it out. I bet it shows up in person pretty well. i like subtle details like that. I havethe foot andthe drop feed dogs switch, so iIjust have to find time to play aaround.

    • Yeah!! It’s much harder to see in photos than in person, I wasn’t thinking “how will this photograph???” when I chose the red thread :/ I hope you give it a whirl! I wanna see what you make!

  6. What a fun idea! My kids would love having their artwork hidden on a garment!

  7. This is amazing Becca! I love it! And my husband is going to go wild for the back to the future applique!

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