Needles and a Pen » Knitting, Sewing, and Nursing School

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  • Welcome to my blog!

    Hi! I'm Traci. I'm a nursing student and CNA who loves quilting, knitting, cross stitch, Project Life scrapbooking, and the great outdoors. In my pre-scrubs life, I owned Real Photography, and you can still see my old wedding and portrait photography site here .

    I great big puffy heart *love* comments, so please let me know you visited! I try to always reply!

Gray Back Peak Hiking Trail Review


We checked out this new to us hike last weekend and were thrilled to discover that the dirt road to the trailhead is in fantastic shape (truthfully it was in better shape than the road to our house).  While the trail itself is not well maintained, the lack of other hikers and abundance of quartz earned it favorable reviews from my crew of hikers.  You begin with easy elevation gains to the top of a ridge and then traverse across it before making a rather steep descent (alarming because you know you’ll have to come back up on  your way back to the car) before coming to a fork in the trail.  Follow the trail to the right to continue up to Gray Back Peak.  Helpful along the route to keep you on track are yellow tags.  The final portion of the hike involves steepish switchbacks, but it is mercifully short.  There is a little fire pit at the top.

Pros:  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, but we only saw two other groups hiking–the solitude makes this a great hike.  You cross numerous veins of quartz along the hike, so much so that we took FOREVER getting to the top because Nic and the kids kept stopping and looking for rocks.  For that reason I renamed this hike Quartz Mountain.

Cons:  The first section of the trail is in really rough shape and deeply rutted out.  There are also many downed trees to cross.  While the dirt Old Stage Road getting to the trailhead is in excellent condition and accessible (at least at the moment) but any vehicle, it is 6.6 miles up the slow going road, making this a bit of a longer drive coming from Colorado Springs.

Distance/Difficulty:  3.9 miles, 900ft elevation gain.  This is a nice moderate hike for a family with young children who are comfortable hiking.

Directions:  This is an easy one to get to if you are a frequent zoo visitor!  Going south on Penrose Blvd take a right onto Old Stage Road.  Follow it for 6.6 miles (it begins paved but turns into a well maintained dirt road) before taking a left onto FR 371 with a sign for the Ranch at Emerald Valley.  After 1/2 mile you’ll see a sign for a Horse Trail.  This is the trailhead.  There are two trails visible here, take the one that heads uphill!

Trail teaching:

  • National forests – As a hike inside Pike National Forest, this represents an opportunity to explain National Forests and how they differ from National Parks.  The part the kids will most care about is that in National Forest, you can take the cool rocks home! Rocks that would be off limits to collect in a National Park are yours for the harvesting in National Forests.  You can explain that with permits, people can cut down trees in National Forest land (if your kids are used to more conversation style rules, this might be peak their interest).  According to Wikipedia, The Land of Many Uses (I love those signs–(a) it’s an awesome slogan and (b) the National Forest Service has the best font of any government organization I have ever seen) comprises of 155 separate National Forests across the US comprising almost 190 million acres (put together that’s about the size of Texas) or 8.5% of the total land area of the US.
  • Quartz – Since you will run across a ton of quartz on the trail, now is a good time to brush up your  quartz knowledge.  Don’t tell them that it is the most common mineral in the Earth’s continental crust, though, since that ruins its specialness.  😛  It is found in many igneous, metamorphic, AND sedimentary rocks.  Most quartz is formed when magma crystallizes.  Along this hike you’ll mainly see milky quartz, with the white color caused by gas or liquid trapped inside the crystal during its formation.  Its relative hardness/resistance to weathering is what makes it so abundant on mountaintop hikes–it is left behind when the softer rock wears away.  (Another great quartz summary is here.)



Craftsy Class Review: Pattern Drafting From Ready to Wear


(Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.)

Last spring I took my first Craftsy class, Pattern Drafting From Ready to Wear.  I was completely thrilled with the class.  I’m not normally a video tutorial person–in fact, I’ve resisted Craftsy for years because I thought the format wouldn’t work for me.  I like to move at my own pace and typically am frustrated with videos that go too slowly over the concepts I know and then speed over the things I don’t know.  I also hated the idea of sitting in front of a screen for hours when I could be DOING something.  But once I tried it, I was hooked.  The classes I have tried have been wonderfully paced and I have learned so many things that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  It’s really helped my clothing sewing and I wholeheartedly recommend checking Craftsy out!  To see if you like the format, they even have a bunch of free mini classes.  My recommendation would be the free zipper class.

For me, I found that watching the classes in the same way that I watch regular TV is very helpful–which is to say, while doing other things.  Folding laundry, doing dishes, or sewing an unrelated project, I was able to watch the lessons without feeling like I was ‘losing time’ to the class.

Pattern Drafting From Ready to Wear was well paced and easy to follow and I was excited to try out the techniques using a top I’d found at Bass Pro Shop where I liked the fit, but didn’t like the pattern.  For my wearable muslin, I used a knit with a lot of stretch that I got from years and years ago.

craftsy review

Drafting the pattern was easy, thanks to the class, and I felt confident using the techniques.  For the pin board, I used a yoga matt I happened to have around the house.  Everything went together smoothly, although I ended up waiting to hem the tank for months until I got my coverstitch machine because I really hated using the twin needle on my sewing machine for the neckline and armholes.

I would use a less thick binding next time (using a raw edge on the wrong side of the shirt versus encasing the binding completely.  I was being very critical of my wonky stitches until I noticed that the store bought tank had even worse stitching!!  It made me look more critically at the clothing in my closet and prompted the realization that I am WAY too hard on my own sewing projects–the clothes in my closet from stores are full of ‘mistakes’ that I’ve never noticed since I never turned a critical eye to them!



When I finished the binding on the neckline and armholes I panicked a little because it was very distorted and weird looking (no pics because of the panic).  I did some looking online and noticed that for many people working with knits, the moment of ‘ta da!’ is one of similar ‘oh no!’ and the key is to wash and/or iron it after you’ve finished sewing to make it all even out.  That helped a bunch.

My final finished tank is a meh.  The fabric I chose stretches a lot, which pulls the armholes down much farther than the original shirt.  The neckline is also a little wonky even after washing/ironing which I think is in part due to that big fat binding.  BUT the good news is that the actual pattern drafting was a success and the techniques I learned from the class were solid and I feel confident that I could tweak the fabric/binding to make the pattern work if I want to try this tank again.


My next class will be Custom Fitting: Back, Neck, and Shoulders.  I often have issues with the fit of the shoulder of shirts–the sleeves always begin before my shoulder has ended, so I’m excited to learn some techniques to fix that on clothing I make myself!

Central Park Baby Quilt

This quilt has been a long time coming.  I had the patchwork strips sitting in a basket just waiting to be finished, but when I went to make them up into a quilt for my nieces, I felt like they needed something more.

central park moda quilt

I added the border and then remembered the quilt that I was completely in love with when I first started quilting as a 13 year old.  It was a quilt that was my dream quilt to make for the next 5 years, but I just never got around to it.  It was a simple patchwork quilt with a border that had flowers and vines in the top left and bottom right corners.  So, 20 years after first seeing that quilt, I finally copied it!  For my flowers I used the exact shape that is featured in one of the prints.  I found it in an old Moda catalog, took a screen shot, and then enlarged in photoshop.  I printed it in several sizes and used those flowers as a template.

For the actual construction, I appliqued the flowers during the quilting stage–I used fusible web to adhere them to the quilt top and then sewed them on with the long arm quilting machine my friend Melissa so generously allows me to us!

quilt moda central park

This quilt was supposed to be an Easter present (I’ve titled it All Things Great and Small in my head), but nursing school got in the way and I only had one side of the quilt bound when they arrived for our belated Easter celebrating (hand binding is my favorite, but it is time consuming).  Luckily they are very understanding (as 10 month olds tend to be) and so it’s a little late, but I don’t think they care.  😛

geranium dress pattern review | out to sea sarah jane dress

I have a new favorite summer pattern for Ellie! The Geranium dress by Made by Rae is so cute and easy I already have a shorter top version for her in the works.  The fabrics are both Out to Sea from Sarah Jane since I am on an Out to Sea roll this month.  (I feel like once I start cutting into a hoarded fabric line it gets a lot easier!)

geranium dress pattern made by rae

We had a very quick photo session on the way out the door to church this morning (apparently with all of the Saturday nights I worked and Sunday mornings they were going to Mass without me they came up with a new term for being almost late to church:  “Mommy Church”).  So the pictures don’t do the dress justice, but I love the way it came together!

out to sea sarah jane dress

Flannel nightgowns

kids nightgown

I love the $2 flannel sales at Joann’s.  They are impossible to resist with all the cute prints, and I always have the perfect use for them–with a yard and a half Ellie can have a nightgown!

kids nightgown

One of the patterns I have absolutely gotten my money’s worth from is the Sweet Little Dress pattern–I have been making these nightgowns for Ellie since she was bitty, and now that she’s sized out the pattern I just give it a little more length!

sweet_little_dress_patternI learned from her Dumbo flannel nightgown that while serged rolled hems work great for the sleeves and hem on quilting cotton nightgowns, it doesn’t stay on the flannel.  I properly hemmed the sleeves and hem on these.

REI Anniversary Sale Favorite Things


(This post contains affiliate links.  If you purchase something based on my recommendation, I would love it if you used these links–thanks!)

Hurray!  It’s time for my second favorite sale of all!  (Favorite sale of all: the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, which conveniently coincides with my birthday.)

As I debate how to use our 20% coupons and which sale items to stock up on, here are a few things that we LOVE that I noticed on sale and would wholeheartedly recommend to other hiking/camping families.

Eno doublenest hammocks.  We love this hammock so much we have two.

Jetboil stove.  We couldn’t backpack without this stove, and now we love it for car camping too–it’s awesome to make a quick pot of water for coffee in the morning!

Campbed 3.5 sleeping pad.  I am obsessed with this thing.  I’m even willing to take the weight hit and carry it when we backpack.  It is beyond belief comfortable and helps me stay warmer at night.

Patagonia briefs.  These are fantastic.  And are one of the very few underwear options in the whole wide world that don’t show your panty line when you’re wearing see-through white scrub pants.

Kingdom 6 tent.  We got ours at the REI sale four year ago and we love it!  It’s fantastic to be able to stand up inside the tent and we have been able to host camping trips with visitors because of the extra space.

Kids Camelbacks.  Will and Ellie have MiniMules that have been fantastic for all of our hiking adventures.  I’m planning on getting Ellie the Scout during this sale for our backpacking trips so she can carry just a little bit more when we backpack.

Here’s what I’m drooling over:

Kelty tru.comfort sleeping bag.  THIS IS THE COOLEST SLEEPING BAG I’VE EVER SEEN.  I want it for car camping.  Except I also want a lighter but warmer sleeping bag for backpacking.  Will needs to hurry up and outgrow his kid sleeping bag so I can pass on my current one and go sleeping bag shopping!  I am a tummy/side sleeper and therefore Mummy Bags are torture for me.  But I probably am going to be spending all of my clams buying up those white-scrub-friendly Patagonia briefs, so alas, I will covet this from afar.

A new backpack for Nic.  Nic is still rocking his external frame pack, which causes problems in some areas (like getting a rain cover to fit it).  He has admired Will’s REI brand pack so I might be able to convince him to invest in a new pack so I can stop feeling quite so guilty about always buying all the things while he makes do and mends like a WWII housewife.

Asolo Hiking boots for me.  I have nice sturdy hiking boots that are awesome (and look very cool–which is important because the best part of any outdoor adventure is usually the sweet gear)…but they are heavy.  And sometimes I think it would be really nice to have a lighter hiking boot for those hikes when I know we’re not going to be crossing little streams or wading around in a lot of muck.

United by Blue shirt.  Will picked one out for me for Mother’s Day last year and he created a small problem.  It is so soft and wonderful I want another one.  It would be very worthy of my 20% off coupon.