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

Masthead header
Needles and a Pen bio picture
  • 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!

Teaching Kids to Knit

teaching kids to knit

Ellie’s been asking to sew and knit for…well…as long as she could speak.  She’s five now, and since child labor laws were put in place partly to prevent five year olds from professionally knitting for 12 hours a day, I figured it was time to pour myself a glass a wine, pretend I am patient, and get her started.

preschool knitting

My needle stash is almost entirely circulars, which I figured would add unnecessary difficulty to the process, so I asked my mom if she could bring a pair of my great-grandmother’s straight needles when she came to visit.  (My great-grandmother’s stash of garishly colored metal needles and polyester yarn was handled down after she died–a rich inheritance from the dark days of crafting.)  My mom tossed in a pair of her own Clover bamboo needles*, which, at 9″ seemed like a much better fit for preschool hands than the longer metal ones.   So she had to settle for knitting needles from her grandmother instead of her great-great-grandmother.  That kid’s got it rough.  Ellie picked out some super bulky yarn at Joanns:  Grande in the Wintergreen colorway* (*affiliate links) and we read my teaching text of choice:  Annie and the Swiss Cheese Scarf.  I’d purchased it for Ellie last year, but we revisited it before we started our lesson.


I love that it emphasizes that knitting is (a) hard and (b) a learning process.  Little Annie expects to be a great knitter right off the bat and actually gives up after her first try when she discovers that it’s much harder than she thought it would be. (I love that Ellie’s face matches Annie’s!)

annie and the swiss cheese scarf review

The illustration of her finished scarf shows her progress–holey and uneven at the start and slowly getting better as it goes along.  It emphasizes practice and going slowly, as well as the rhyme

In through the front door

Up around the back

Peek through the window

And off jumps Jack!

It includes an illustrated tutorial at the back, which I was shocked to find actually helped Ellie–she would look at it periodically, particularly while trying to master the ‘peek through the window’ stage.

annie and the swiss cheese scarf review

It was predictably difficult for her to learn, but I think the book helped soften the blow.  After her first two stitches she said “This is harder than I thought” and I reminded her that Annie felt the same way.  Far from being discouraged, she stuck with it, and at the end of our two-ish hour time on the porch (which was broken up with tea party chatter, snacks, and toenail polish painting for good measure) she was able to complete the stitches on her own while repeating the rhyme to remind herself.  She’s not by any means fluent (I could knit a row in the time it takes her to complete a single stitch) but she is doing it without my hands on help and best of all, she begged to do it again tomorrow!  I call that a success!

teaching kids to knit


Sarah Wiehe - I LOVE this. Love the book and the concept. If Abby asks this will definitely be the approach I take. Ellie is so darn cute.

Fran Cooper - Funny and helpful–this is great! Wish I’d had someone like you to guide me years ago!

Gretchen - I have always wanted to learn… I think a trip to CO, a glass of wine on the porch, and that book might just be the ticket! Love that you are teaching her and that she is enjoying it!

Oliver + S Tea Party Dress Pattern Review

tea party sundress

Confession:  I have several Oliver + S patterns that I’ve never used.  I had the best intentions, but after making the Birthday Party dress I kept shying away from them because I realized just how much work these patterns would be!  They are made for people without a serger, so you won’t find any time saving construction methods, and they always seem to have hand sewn hems.  I recently sorted through my patterns and noticed that Ellie has sized out of many, but the Tea Party dress still had a 5T option, so this is the summer to use it!

tea party sundress oliver + s

I want to love this dress, I really do.  I love the piping, I love the thoughtful matching bloomers, and I love this Milk, Sugar, Flower fabric. The construction was also easy enough that I’d be willing to make it again.  But I’m not crazy about it.  I don’t like that the straps come to a point (I think a rounded end would be nicer) and the silhouette is a little too dramatic.  I think I’d like this a lot more on a 2 year old.  (Curses on my pattern procrastination!)


Also, my biggest complaint is that the bloomer pattern is awful.  Like “there’s no way they pattern tested this in the larger sizes” awful.  It ends up with a ridiculous amount of fabric running vertically between her legs when the bulk should be width-wise.  When I cut the pattern I had my doubts, but kept the faith.  The faith was not well placed.  If you’re making this pattern in a larger size (and possibly at any size), don’t use the bloomer pattern pieces!  I’ve made Heather Ross’s bloomers from Weekend Sewing before, and will use that pattern in the future.


Pattern:  Oliver + S Tea Party Dress

Fabric:  Milk, Sugar, Flower (bird print), kona cotton solid brown, and a pink print I’ve had for a few years.

Sizing:  The dress is a little on the big side.  The bloomers are just a straight disaster.

Difficulty:  Easy

Indian Paint Mines Review


The Indian Paint Mines in Calhan is another great walk for beginning hikers.  It consists of a 4 mile network of trails that can be customized to your kiddo’s distance abilities.  It’s another walk I feel comfortable doing on a weekday with just a toddler along.  It’s different from most hikes (although this really shouldn’t be called a hike–it’s a walk) in that you arrive at the highest point–you’ll be walking down into the Indian Paint Mines canyons.

Pros:  Easy walk with interesting natural formations.  It’s amazingly uncrowded and little kids might delight at the alien landscape.  (In fact, it’s so alienesque that I had a family request it as a location for their B Movie themed Christmas card shoot.)


Cons:  It’s a long drive out to Calhan, and set your expectations low for the ‘colors’ you’ll see.  If you’ve seen amazing pictures online, it’s probably because the color saturation has been really cranked up on the computer.  (Confession:  I may have been a touch disappointed the first time I went.)  We saw the best colors near the 2 area of the park map, and the coolest formations near the 6.  This part of Colorado is usually windy, so be prepared for a windy walk!

Distance/Difficulty:  This is an easy one.  You can make it any length, but plan on about 2 miles for the basic loop.

Directions:  The park’s address is 29950 Paint Mines Road, Calhan CO.  Going east on Highway 24 to Calhan, take a right to turn south on Yoder Road/Calhan Highway, the turn left to go east on Paint Mines Road.  Park in the designated parking area.  There were porta potties at the trailhead the last time I was there.

Trail teaching:

  • The paint mines have shown evidence of human life as far back as 9000 years ago (7000BC)!  You can contrast that to the first Europeans landing in North America (about 500 years) and then the first explorers to Colorado of European descent (the 1776 exploration of southern Colorado and the Pike Expedition in 1806-07) and its inclusion in US territory (1803 with the Louisiana Purchase).  (Wikipedia page on Colorado territory history.)
  • The park gained its name from the colorful clays that were used by Native Americans for pottery.  You can talk about how pottery is made and its uses, as well as talking about how many of the storage methods we use today are such new inventions and all the ways that changes what we eat and how we live.
  • As usual, plenty to talk about in terms of erosion and rock formations! Talk about all the different types of erosion–it’s a windy spot, so don’t forget wind!



indian paint mines trail

The gentle hill you’ll walk down from the parking area.  (Or run down if you happen to be racing a six year old.)

indian paint mines trail

Further reading:  Away from the Grid has beautiful photos in their review here.  The official El Paso County website page for the park also includes a pdf map.

Spring lace: helado hat pattern

Yesterday afternoon was beautiful and it was my recovery day, so Ellie and I spent a goodly part of the early evening on the studio porch finishing my hat and watching the neighbors attempt to bring down a tree branch America’s Funniest Home Videos style.

The pattern is Helado by Tanis Gray, and the yarn was a new Plucky Knitter base for me–Snug (worsted) in the early light colorway.  The alpaca makes it a snuggly hat indeed–my thought was that this would be a spring hat, but it definitely feels warm enough for winter even with the lace!  Details on my ravelry page.


Hopefully we’re all done with our winter weather for the year and I won’t have to bust this one out any time soon!  But since it looked like this five days ago it’s hard to say…




Fran Cooper - Gorgeous!! And so is the hat!

Kelly Henry - Love it!!! It’s awesome and totally looks professionally made! You rock!

Mt Cutler Hike Review


At under 1 mile up and 1 mile back, with just enough elevation gain to make you feel like you’re really hiking and to give you some spectacular views, I think Mt Cutler is the perfect beginning hike.  We took both Will and Ellie on it for their first under-their-own-steam hikes at age 2.  Little ones might need a little prodding along in places but it’s a great place to start, and if you end up having to carry them at least it’s not far!


Pros:  Short, fun, lots of variety, it’s steep enough that it feels like a real hike but you’ll still make it down in time for lunch and naptime.  I also like this one for weekday hikes without Nic and Will–there’s enough traffic on it that I feel comfortable taking just Ellie hiking.  You can see Seven Falls from the south side of the mountain as you near the top of the trail as well as the Shrine of the Sun above the zoo.  If you’re there at the top of the hour, you can hear the bells, too!

Cons:  If you have a fear of heights, this one might get to you.  The trail on the southwest side of the mountain has been widened in the last couple of years, and this makes it much less of a terrifying prospect for anyone with a fear of heights and a toddler, but it is still a good drop down.  This is also a popular trail for people to take dogs on.  Most are very good about taking their pet’s waste with them, but there are occasionally off leash dogs or overly friendly dogs on this trail.  (Little hiker tip:  When Ellie was little we’d prompt her along by telling her she might see a dog if she just kept going!)

Distance/difficulty:  2 miles, 400ft elevation gain.  There are enough steep sections that if this trail were longer, it would be difficult, but at just 1 mile up it’s a great hike for beginning little hikers.  Ellie and Will were both conquering this trail under their own steam at 2 years old.

Directions:  From I-25 take exit 140 for Nevada Ave.  Travel south on Nevada Ave for approximately 1/2 mile before turning right to go west on Cheyenne Blvd.  Take a right at the Starsmore Discovery Center onto N. Cheyenne Canyon Rd.  Drive approximately 1 mile to the marked trailhead parking area on the left.


Trail teaching:

  • The trail has seen some hard days in recent years with the heavy rains of 2013 and 2014.  It was completely destroyed in sections and required rebuilding last year (or maybe the summer before?  I’m getting old–it’s hard for me to remember these things).  The back section that used to so terrify me is a little wider now after rebuilding (hurray!) and the hard work of volunteers is an excellent opportunity to talk with kids about trail building, volunteering, and the way national, state, and city parks are funded and how they were started.  This usually leads into a tax discussion with Will.  Who needs school when we can just go on hikes?!


  • Erosion–plenty of opportunities to observe that here, particularly if you become Mt Cutler regulars.  We’ve seen the gap between these roots and the trail grow large enough for the kids to pass under!

mt cutler trail

  • You might spot some pyrite if you keep a look out!

mt cutler trail pyrite

  • You’ll often experience a good range of temps as you emerge from lower in the canyon onto the south side of Mt Cutler.  A good time to talk about the different types of flora that may enjoy the different areas of shade and sun.



DSC_5241DSC_4603mt cutler trail overlook

Further reading:  This post from Colorado Photo Hikes includes lots of great photos of the trail.

F Cooper - Great description. Thank you!

thrifty quilting: how to piece batting


Like most quilters, I have acquired a large amount of randomly sized pieces of batting.  Every so often I remember that using up my batting scraps instead of buying brand new batting for a project leaves me more money for FABRIC, and then I get all responsible like my momma and I piece together my batting for my quilt.

The good news is that it couldn’t be easier.

  1. Lay out your batting pieces until they make one large piece at least 4″ wider and longer than your quilt top.
  2. If your pieces aren’t cut with a nice straight line, use a rotary cutter to make the edges neat.  When I am quilting using stippling, I use a straight line seam (making sure it is not running straight down the middle of the quilt, since this is how it will often be folded).  If I was doing straight line quilting, I would use a curved edge like the one shown in this Moda bakeshop tutorial.
  3. To piece them, set your machine to a zigzag stitch.
  4. Place the pieces side by side (versus how we’re used to piecing–right sides together).  Butt the edges up next to one another in line with the center of your sewing machine foot and start feeding it through.  You can overlap them slightly or just have them side-by-side.  The zigzag stitch and pressure of the foot melds the fabric together beautifully either way.

batting piecing tutorial

The finished seam is almost invisible!