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Some things just aren’t that difficult.

I’m often told that what I’m working on is “difficult”.  I hear it about cooking, baking, crochet, sewing, canning, etc.  I hear it about a LOT of my hobbies.

I usually reply that it’s not hard.  And it’s not!  But what I mean when I say something isn’t difficult is that no part of it is actually difficult; I don’t view very involved things as difficult, even if they’re time consuming.  For example, the picture above is every step I’ve gone through, to date, to make a pair of fingerless gloves from loose wool.  I spun the singles, plied them, wound the resulting yarn into a ball, and then crochet glove 1.  I’m partway through the pattern for glove 2, and then I’ll weave in the loose ends and dye and block them (you can actually dye yarn at any of a number of points, including as loose fiber, I just haven’t yet).

The spinning is often considered its own project, and rightly so; it takes days, if not months ,of work to have enough yarn to make much with.  As projects go, though, spinning isn’t *complicated*.  You basically use a fancy version of a child’s top to add twist to loose fiber.  I do actually consider spinning difficult;  unlike many other things, you can’t really break it down into multiple easy steps.  There’s really only two steps; spin singles, and then ply them together.  Spinning is a skill, like singing, or doing long division in your head.  Anybody can learn to do it, but to learn to do it well, you need to dedicate time and practice and lots and lots of mistakes.

Crochet, though.  Crochet is *easy*.  Those mitts are made using three whole stitches.  So long as you can learn to do each stitch and can keep count, you’re golden.  If you’ve ever tied a slip-knot, you can crochet.  It’s even possible to crochet using just your hands; many people daisy-chain their extension cords, for example, which is just a very large scale crochet.  So, sure, I’ve done those three stitches many many many times at this point, but each stitch is damn easy.  This is a great case of something many people thing is difficult that I would argue is actually simple, but involved.  No one step of this pattern is even vaguely hard, there are just many many steps.

So I would argue that skills are often difficult to learn, but actual projects are rarely difficult, merely involved.   A skill, like riding a bicycle, drafting out an even yarn, playing a musical instrument, etc., cannot be broken out into smaller, simple tasks.  You can’t teach someone to play a violin by breaking down a piece of music into individual tasks.  … well, you kind of can, but it doesn’t sound very good.  You can’t teach someone to ride a bike by telling them “ok, and now you just … don’t fall over.”  A skill is something that requires practice to learn the feel of; there aren’t great words to explain it, you just have to do it over and over again until it works.

Projects, though, can be broken down into smaller steps.  Instead of “make bread” I can write it out step by step; this is what a recipe is.  Most projects can be written up as a recipe of sorts.  You gather your materials, and you put them together according to the recipe, and you get a particular end result.  You often do need to learn a thing or two to  complete a recipe; maybe you don’t know how to knead dough.  Maybe you need to learn how to measure out flour.  Maybe you need to learn how to turn on your oven, or what “preheating” means.  But those aren’t the task “make bread”, they’re merely skills you’ll use during the task.  They’re prerequisites, sort of.  And once you have them, they apply to all things related to measuring and preheating and turning on the oven.

Much of the time, the first time I tackle a project, I have a few prerequisites to learn.  Usually, though, I have done something similar before, and can build on that previous skill.  Or they’re often very simple skills, like “measure out 1 teaspoon”.  I suspect that this is why people who work with their hands often do better when picking up a new craft that people who don’t often work with their hands.  My cousin-in-law mentioned that he’d made his wife’s wedding dress, and I commented that I was surprised he knew how to sew.  His answer?  “I didn’t, but I figured that it couldn’t be that different than carpentry.”

So the next time you’re considering a new project, and are worried that it’s too “difficult” stop and think about it.  Is it actually difficult, or is it merely involved?  Can you break it up into smaller not-difficult tasks?  What is the prerequisite skill you feel you don’t have?  Can you find a tutorial on just that skill?  Can you practice just that skill a few times?  For example, installing a zipper into a square of fabric, just to practice installing the zipper before you actually put one in your nearly-complete dress.

Also consider what the worst case is if you don’t succeed.  If it’s high stakes, like deciding to sew your prom dress three days before the event, maybe pass this time, and learn later, or have someone experienced help you.  But often, the stakes are pretty low.  If you try making bread on Saturday afternoon, and you end up with a beautifully loaf-shaped brick instead, it’s not a huge loss, and you can laugh about it with friends.  If you try to knit a scarf, maybe you instead end up with a fabulous cat toy the first few times.  If you try to ride a bike, maybe you fall over a few times (you probably will), but you’ll heal.  … Also, I’ve been riding for years, and I still fall over pretty regularly because I’m too busy enjoying the view.

In short, don’t write off a project just because it has lots of steps.  Odds are very good that you have most of the skills you need, now you just need to figure out the tasks.  And even when you mess up, you’ll learn something, and increase the skills you have.