Can I do literally any sport requiring even the smallest amount of hand-eye coordination? No. Can I learn almost any other skill on the face of the earth? YES!
About the Episode:
I have this compulsion to share what I learn almost as soon as I learn it. Which leaves a lot of people with the impression that I can do everything! Alas, I cannot. But I have one very important ability: I am willing to try new things. It’s a painful, tricky, and ultimately very rewarding process! And I hope to encourage and inspire you to take up a new hobby, too.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- Why I rarely begin with a “beginner” project
- How I break down a new hobby into component parts (to make it actually do-able!)
- The truth about what happens when you research TOO much
And so much more!
Follow me on Instagram @FarmhouseVernacular!
Want to be part of the coolest Grandma club on the internet? Join us in The Vernacular Society! This is a community of learners and lovers of the gloriously old-fashioned, and we’d love to have you. Learn more about The Vernacular Society!
Hello, and welcome to the Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that could go on in our turn of the century vernacular farmhouse. I’m Paige, your host, and we’ve got a little bit of an interesting topic today.
If you’ve been following along for a while on Instagram, on YouTube, anywhere that I’m sharing things, probably seen that I jump around a lot. I have a lot of different things that I like to do. I know how to sew. I cook, I bake, we renovate, canning, decorating, antiquing, all sorts of things. And at the risk of sounding incredibly self-important, a question that I get quite frequently is, is there anything that you can’t do?
And it’s pretty common, I get it every couple weeks. And the first thing is that, yes, there are many things I can’t do. First and foremost, any kind of organized sport. Team sport. Anything requiring hand-eye coordination and physical activity in front of other people, I’m terrible. Objectively terrible. The few times in my life that I’ve tried to run and jump have just been absolutely disastrous. So that realm of things is just, it’s not one that I go to because I’m so bad at it.
But I do love to share. And when I find something that I’m doing that I think is really cool, it’s almost a reflex that I want to be like, hey, look at this thing that I’m doing.
So today, I’ve always kind of been a jack of all trades, I guess. I pick things up very quickly. It doesn’t take me long to go from not knowing about something to being reasonably well-informed for a beginner about something. It’s just part of my personality. So today I want to talk about how to start new hobbies, or how to do things that you’ve never done before.
And I think this is particularly useful in renovation. Because when we first got to this house, we really didn’t know anything. We had a little bit of experience helping our families out and stuff like that. But we really, really didn’t know what we were doing. We had never put in a window. We had never sanded floors. We had never demoed a room. We had never hung drywall. All of these things we had to learn.
And I think being able to teach yourself something from an information source is one of the most valuable skills that you can acquire. Because if you know how to teach yourself something, you can learn pretty much anything. So that’s why I wanted to talk about that today. Because I think it’s a really good skill. It’s a skill that has served me very, very well in my life. And I wanted to just give you some different tips, and tricks, and things to think about as you look at something, you think hey, maybe I want to do that.
So the first thing, it seems kind of obvious, but the first thing about learning a new anything is that you have to follow what you are currently interested in. If you are trying to pick up a hobby because you think you should, or because someone said, hey, this is really cool, but you don’t have a burning desire to do that, or you don’t have this mad want for whatever the end product is, you’re just not going to have the motivation in order to stick through the challenging learning phase. Now.
For me personally, some people do hobbies and crafts because they enjoy the process. They kind of see it as a meditation, if they’re sewing or painting or anything, I’ve never been like that.
I learn to do things because I’m frugal, because I don’t want to pay, typically, for other people to do them. So I’ll just figure out how to do it myself. Or because I want a very specific end product that I can’t find anywhere else. That is usually what drives me to learn anything that I want to learn. And that’s why I think you really have to follow things that you’re interested in. Because the process of learning a new skill or a new hobby, it involves a lot of failure. It involves doing things incorrectly.
It involves trying to do something one way, and then finding out you did it the wrong way, and having to completely redo it. It involves some wasted money, because if you do something and it doesn’t turn out right, and you have to buy more materials, more supplies. You just end up going through a lot of hurdles in those early stages of learning how to do something. So if you aren’t sufficiently invested in the outcome, if you don’t want that outcome bad enough, those little hurdles are going to take you down really hard.
So for example, when I was learning to sew, I know the basics and I knew the basics from my mother when I was growing up. So I knew how to thread a machine, and how to run a straight stitch and everything. But I hadn’t really started learning about clothing-making until I got into college. And the very first dress that I made, it was a knit fabric, which if you have never sewn, before trying to sew a knit fabric with a normal straight stitch just ends up with some very weird things.
So it was a knit fabric. The pattern really needed a stable structured fabric in order to hold up properly. It was an off-the-shoulder dress. And then I decided that the entire dress needed to also be lined with knit. It’s one of those things that could have been done well, but I didn’t know enough to do it well. But I had this fabric, and I had this idea in my head, and I was so completely enthralled with the idea of this finished dress that I learned everything I needed to in order to get from my fabric to my finished dress.
Now, was the dress a disaster? Yes, absolutely. Did I wear that dress with the utmost pride for years after making it because I was so pleased with it? Also yes.
So the first thing is you have to follow your interests, because you need that excitement for the end product. And it’s never going to be as good as you want, and that’s okay. But you need that excitement in order to get you through those first hurdles of learning something new.
And this kind of ties into my second point, which is start with a project that you care about. I get messages and questions. A lot of, is this a good beginner knitting pattern? Or, is this a good beginner sewing pattern? Or, I’ve never made bread before, is this a good beginner recipe?
And the thing is, I don’t start with beginner patterns, really. For the same reason as the first tip. If I’m not interested in making a beginner pattern, then I’m not going to care enough to really put in the work to understand how to do it. I want to make the thing that I’m interested in. And this is, actually, what I think the biggest mistake people make when they’re trying to start a new project or start a new hobby. Is that they think I’m a beginner, so I have to act like a beginner.
Now I’m not saying of course, go out and try to charge someone for professional seamstress work if you’ve never worked on a sewing machine. But I am saying that, if the reason that you want to learn to sew is because you saw pillow covers that were quilted for Halloween and you thought they were adorable, then start your first project by making quilted Halloween pillow covers.
Don’t start with an apron if you don’t care about an apron. Don’t start with a place mat if you don’t care about a place mat. I’ll explain a little bit more about how I wrap my mind around this in just a second. But the point is, much like following your interests, if you are not working on something that you are interested in, if you are not working on something that you care about, if you are not working on something that excites you, and the idea of the finished product doesn’t just make you giddy, you are not going to have the fortitude, I guess, to push through all of the annoying trials and tribulations of learning this new thing.
Of course, I can only speak for myself. But some people feel more comfortable when they do simple projects and then build up to more complicated projects. I just get possessed by ideas. I want to see this final product. I want to see this thing, I want it to be completed. I want to have it in my possession. And nothing else that I could work on at that moment would be as interesting as this thing that I want to do.
So for that reason, whenever anyone asks me whether or not this is a good thing for a beginner, I just, I tend to just say, if they’re interested in it, then make it. And if there’s something else that they’re actually interested in making, make that instead. Because even if you … Say it goes poorly. Say you want to make this thing, and you’ve never done this activity before, and you make it really badly. And it looks really bad, and you’re not happy with it.
You could make it again. You could buy the same fabric. You could buy the same ingredients, the same yarn, and you could make exactly that thing again. And in my mind, you’re still out about the same amount of raw materials. Because either you make a different project using materials, and then that gives you confidence to make the real one, or you make the real one twice. Either way, you’re making two projects. So why not just work on the one that you find the most interesting?
And the best way that I have been able to get over that fear of, I’ve never done this before, this is new, this is different, what if I do it badly? Is to fail forward. Fail by going through the project. You will learn so much more about a given thing if you are in the trenches, actively working on it. I’m not saying don’t do your research.
I’m not saying if you want chickens, to never research anything about chickens and to just come home with 12 chickens from the feed store and then just have at it. You need to do a little bit of research, just so you can familiarize yourself with the common things that happen, and some just basic general information about what you’re doing.
But if you are trying to learn everything that you need to know about a new hobby, or a new activity through research, at some point you have to get in there and do it. You have to raise the chickens, you have to change their water. You have to collect their eggs. You have to actually do the thing. And in my experience, I have just learned so much more about a process by failing my way through it and fixing it, than I could ever know by reading someone else’s posts.
So if you’re taking sewing, for example, I sewed a lot. It was kind of my primary hobby before we moved here to this house. I sewed for many, many years. I made also sorts of things. I made pants, and skirts, and dresses, and bras, and pillows, and motorcycle bags. And I did motorcycle pan repair. I did so much stuff, and I learned so much that way.
But unless I was stuck on a very specific problem, I really didn’t go looking for tutorials. My process was usually, I want this thing. Here is a pattern that approximates this thing. Let’s marry them together and see what I can come up with. Because at least for me, until I have a physical activity that is matched with something I’m reading about, it just doesn’t sink in as clearly.
So if I’m reading about how to sew and it tells me to press my seams, I’m like, okay, I get that you’re telling me to press my seams, but why? And until I tried sewing something without pressing the seams, I didn’t understand the importance of the quality of the finished garment that comes from pressing your seams.
So failing forward, failing through that first project, it’s going to be really rough. It’s probably going to take you 4, 5, 6 times longer than it will when you’re getting good at it and you’ve been doing it for a while. But you will learn so much. And it will give you the context that you need to start looking for more specific research, and to figure out how you like to do this new thing that you’re doing.
And that brings us to probably, I think this is one of the most important things about looking at new skills, and looking at new hobbies. When I’m looking at something like, I’m going to keep using sewing because it’s an easy one to explain this with. If I look at something and I say, okay, I want to know how to make a dress.
Well if you start with how to make a dress, firstly, there’s a million different dresses. There’s a million different patterns. There’s a million different techniques. There are so many different things that go into making different kinds of dresses. So instead of looking at how I make this dress as the thing I have to do, which in my mind is so overwhelming. Because if you don’t know anything about sewing, there are so many little things that go into making a dress. It’s like, where do I even start?
So what I do is, I try to look at the project that I’m tackling not as a project, but as a collection of tiny steps, each of which I can master. I don’t have to master the entire thing all at once in one day. If a dress consists of a hundred individual skills, I could master one skill a day. And after a hundred days, I would have a dress.
And this starts by breaking it down. So if you’re saying, okay, I want to make a dress. Where do you start with that?
Well the first thing is, what kind of dress? So if I were making a dress and I’d never done it before, and I wanted to answer that question first, that’s the first skill. We have to figure out what kind of dress we’re going to make.
So I might search, how to pick a dress pattern. Or, what is a dress pattern? Or, good dress patterns to make. And so then, once I have read some articles about that and looked at some different options, I can say, okay, this whole huge project of making a dress, we just conquered the very first piece. Which is to pick our pattern. Very first thing. So I am now 2% closer to making a dress than I was before.
And then you say, okay, I’ve picked my pattern. I don’t know how to read a pattern. I don’t know what to buy. So then the next piece of the puzzle, the next little skill that you would gain, is to search how to read a dress pattern. And then you follow some of those instructions with your pattern that you have, and now we are 4% closer to making a dress. Because we’ve mastered two skills, we’ve picked a pattern and we have read our pattern.
Then it’s like, okay, I’ve read my pattern and I see what I need. But how do I get fabric? So then you search, how do I buy fabric from the fabric store? And you read a few things about that and say, okay, now we’ve picked our pattern, we’ve read our pattern, and we bought our fabric. But what about the other stuff? What about notions? What are notions? Well, notions are thread, and zippers, and buttons.
And I’m hoping you can kind of see where I’m going with this. In that I tend not to get overwhelmed by new projects because I don’t worry about learning all 300 steps at the same time. I learn the first three or four steps. And then, while I’m doing those first three or four steps, I learn about the next three or four steps. And so, in my mind, it doesn’t look like I’m doing this giant project. It looks like I am accomplishing all of these individual little details, and tasks, and mini-milestones. And then once you do all 300 of them, you have a dress.
And to me, this just helps with overwhelm. Because you’re not worried about everything you don’t know. Because who the heck cares how you wash your finished garment if you don’t even have a pattern? It doesn’t matter yet.
And I think if you start trying to figure out every step of the process before you have some of that hands-on learning, before you have some of that experience and understanding what certain things are and what they do, then you’re just going to overwhelm yourself and stress yourself out of ever trying that project.
This is why I very much advocate smart research. I’m not advocating not to research. Because there is so much I on the internet these days, you can find out how to do literally anything that you want with some free articles or some free videos. There’s so much out there for you to learn.
But if you try to learn all of it at once, with no practical hands-on context for it, I just think that that results in a lot of fear and a lot of overwhelm. So instead of researching by tutorial, I prefer to research by steps. Because typically, I just don’t follow tutorials usually. What they’re making is not exactly what I want to make, I want to make something different.
And so I try to find those individual building blocks that go together in order to make the project that I’m really interested in. And then I research for small tutorials around them. So for making a dress it would be, how do I cut out a pattern? How do I fit my pattern properly? How do I sew a bodice? How do I press seams? How do I attach a skirt to a bodice? Or whatever you’re doing.
I just find that researching as I need the information keeps me moving forward. And I’m very much a progress person. If I’m not moving forward, if I’m not progressing, if I’m not making some sort of movement toward my final goal, I get very, very grumpy. So research is good. Too much research is paralyzing. In my opinion.
The sixth point that I want to talk about is that, at some point, kind of in the same way that we’re going to fail forward, you literally just have to start. You just have to start. And if you’re worried about starting, if you’re like, I don’t even know, this is still kind of scared, still not sure about jumping in, just do 30 minutes of something.
If you’ve bought all of your stuff for your fabric and for your sewing, pull it all out of the bags and look at it. Make an inventory of what you have. Generally, when you have a little bit of momentum going, it’s easier to keep going. It’s easier to be a little curious and be like, well, I have the fabric here. And I have the pattern here. So maybe I can just unfold the pattern. Maybe I can just take the pattern out of the envelope. I can read the instructions, and I can unfold it and see what happens.
Kind of building on the whole idea of, a project is a collection of steps. I look at projects as a collection of skills. So a lot of times when I go to do a new project, even though it seems like something I’ve never done before, I look at it and I think, okay, what skills do I have that are relevant to this?
For example, I reupholstered a setti for my mother about four or five years ago. I had never really reupholstered anything before. I had never reupholstered anything trying to stick historical upholstery methods, so this was all very new territory for me. But I looked at it and I said, okay, I’m familiar with antiques. I know what antiques look like. I am familiar with fabric. I understand working with fabric. I understand working with length of fabric, and pattern matching, and things like that.
So this, I am familiar with working with fabric in three dimensions. I’m familiar with kind of draping it around a form. Usually it’s me, not a chair, but I’m still familiar with using fabric in a three-dimensional space. So how much different is it, really, to use this fabric in a three-dimensional space on a setti?
I’m like, well, that’s not that much of a stretch. Sure, I’ve never done it before. But it’s like the only new skills that I saw myself using were a lot of the infrastructure stuff, so tying the springs and adding the padding, and then stapling the fabric on. So I’m like, okay. So we have, say there’s 10 skills that go into this project, I already have six of them. So that’s not quite so daunting.
And I think if you can try to look at what you already know how to do very, very broadly, and apply that to the thing that you’re wanting to learn, I think that really facilitates our ability to just jump in and try these things out. Because we know more than we think we do. And it’s like, okay, I want to sew something but I’ve never sewn anything before.
Well, have you gone to the store and tried on a pair of pants, and decided whether or not they fit? I mean, that is a skill that you need when you’re sewing. Have you ever pressed a dress shirt? That is a skill you need when you’re sewing. So I think if you can look at what you already know how to do, and apply that to what you are wanting to do, it makes it easier to just jump in and get your hands dirty in this new project with a little bit less fear.
Now I have to throw this one in there, and this is very much a do as I say, not as I do thing. Because this is probably one part of picking up new hobbies that I struggle with. And that is to be very wary of spending too much before you get going.
There are some hobbies that have a very high cost of entry. If you were to take up blacksmithing, you’re going to need some tools and a forge. Or if you’re going to take up motorcycling, you need a motorcycle, and you need gear, and you need lessons, and you need the license, and you need all this stuff.
Some hobbies or projects are just inherently high cost of entry. There’s nothing you can do about it. You need a $2,000 machine. If you’re going to start to do ceramics, you need a kiln. You need all of this high dollar stuff. But a lot of things don’t need that high of an investment.
And so, as fun as it is to go buy all of these new things for a hobby, and I 100% agree that that is a super fun part of it, is buying all of the new tools and getting them all organized. And it’s like, this is now my paper crafting station or whatever. Be very wary of that until you have proven yourself to yourself that this is something that you will stick with, and that this is something that you find interesting.
And like I said, I have a very hard time with this. When I, let’s see. I started learning how to make bras. Because I was tired of mine not fitting, and I was tired of spending money for bras that didn’t fit. So I figured, Hey, this looks simple enough, I’ll figure it out. And part of the problem with bra-making is that there are a lot of little bits and bobs that you need initially before you can really get going.
So as I was excited about this and I was learning about bras, I was buying the straps, and I was buying the rings, and I was buying the clasps, and the lace, and there’s all these different fabrics that go into bras. And the elastics, and all this stuff. And before I know it, in a matter of three weeks, I had spent $500 on bra things. And I, at some point looked at what I was spending and I was like, oh shoot. Okay. That probably wasn’t a very good idea. I probably needed to not buy quite so much of that all at once.
But now, now that I have done that, I have enough of a stash of things that I can pretty much make whatever I want whenever I want it. But when you’re getting into a hobby, it’s good to try to do the most you can with as little as you can, just so that you don’t end up in a situation where you’ve spent $3,000 on something and you never use it.
So the last thing, and I think this is not only applicable to trying new hobbies, but I think it’s a good thing to think about for life too, is that failure is a decision. Failure is the decision to no longer pursue the thing that you were trying to pursue.
Now sometimes there are very good reasons to fail. You can get to the end of a project and say, you know what? The cost of continuing down this path is way too high. I’m not going to keep going. And I wouldn’t even necessarily call that a failure. To me, that’s just an educated response. But deciding that something is a failure, I really think is a decision.
Because you can say, I’m not going to do this anymore because it looks really bad. It’s like, well, why does it look bad? Are the seams not straight? Is there too much salt in the bread? Is your painting a little bit unsteady and you want crisper lines? Why exactly are you deeming this a failure?
You fail when you quit on something. You fail when you stop giving any attention to it. You fail when you decide to go do something else instead. So even, say you are making this dress. And you get to the end of it, and it’s awful. And it doesn’t fit, and the fabric is hanging weird, and it doesn’t look right, and you’re embarrassed of it. And you just really wish that it looked better than it did.
At that point you have a decision to make. You can throw it away and say, “That didn’t work. I’m never trying this again.” Or you can take everything that you’ve learned from jumping in, from doing that first project. You can take everything you’ve learned and you can try again. And I guarantee the second time it’ll show up better than the first. And even if it doesn’t, the third time it’ll probably be better than the first and second.
So just because you’re trying something new, and just because it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, doesn’t mean you have to stop. Doesn’t mean you can’t keep trying. Doesn’t mean that you can’t still learn, and enjoy, and benefit from that hobby. You decide when it’s too much for you. You decide when you don’t want to pursue this anymore. But it doesn’t have to be just because something went wrong the first time.
So I hope that was a little bit helpful. I really do love trying new things. I love picking up new hobbies. I love seeing if I can do something, and then being delighted when it turns out well. So I hope that those were some things for you to think about. Some different perspectives that you can hold onto as you try new hobbies, And as you think about new things.
And if you are interested in having a little bit of help. Or a little bit of companionship to try new things, I would highly recommend that you check out The Vernacular Society. There will be a link down in the show notes to this. The Vernacular Society is basically the coolest grandma club on the internet.
It is a bunch of us who get together, and we do different grandma activities every month. So we have done canning, we have done knitting, we have done sewing, we have done table setting, and home-making, and hostessing. And we just get together, and we can all come kind of learn these skills that our grandmothers used to have, but we don’t necessarily have ourselves.
So if you want to join that, it’s really, really fun. We learn all sorts of new things. There’s new projects every month. We have live calls, live meetings. You can check out what other people are doing in the parlor, which is kind of our membership chat group, chat room, and forum area.
And if you are interested in that, you can definitely check out the link below in the show note. So it should be farmhousevernacular.com/tvs. And thank you so much for listening. I hope to see you in the society, and I will see you next time. Bye.