Looking at how far you have to go in your skills can be pretty depressing--or it can inspire you to improve your craft! So here's a quick guide on how to get better at your craft of choice, no matter what it is!
Seek out inspiration
You probably already have this down, but when you're looking to get better at a craft, look for inspiration. Pinterest is a perennial source, as well as craft blogs and aggregating sites like Ravelry (it's like an index of knitting & crochet patterns!). Your inspiration might depend on your craft--a piece of clothing or a pretty scene or an awesome colorscape might inspire you.
For knitting, I'm often inspired by clothing I see on TV, on the Internet or out and about. For example, I was at a children's museum and saw a woman in an orange peacoat made from what looked like really fat corduroy, cut on the bias so the welts ran diagonally. I immediately sketched out a rough design and started theorizing what yarn weights and fibers and patterns might best replicate that look.
Now, if only I really wanted to devote my time to learning knitwear design . . . but that does bring us to our next point:
Look for something new and challenging to try
This is probably the biggest key to improving your skills. Mom recently talked about doing this with her first wonky quilt. With every knit gift or craft I make, I specifically try to seek out patterns that have something I've never done before.
Of course, you want to balance this--tackling something that is too far above your current skill level is often a sink-or-swim proposition. If you're in over your head, don't let yourself drown--get help or step back from the project for a while until you try some of the challenging components in other projects, learning them one at a time.
UPDATE: a great way to do this is through classes. I've really enjoyed the online classes at Craftsy. They offer classes in knitting, sewing, cooking, cake decorating, papercrafting, jewelry making, fine art and more! (WGC is a Craftsy affiliate and happy customer!)
Give it time and practice
All improvement takes those two things: time and practice. Keep working on the skills you have (don't want to forget those!) and don't chart yourself on a daily basis. Look at how far you come over weeks or months--BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF!
Go back to the basics
Don't be afraid or think you can't learn anything from a class. Even if you already have all the skills the teacher does, sometimes it's the bond with her or other students that helps you learn more. I'm told that even just visiting a local yarn store often leads to learning new skills--but you have to do the next step to really learn.
For an even lower-commitment, check out a basic book on your craft from the library and review the most basic principles of design and form in your craft. Look at beginners' scrapbook layouts or sewing patterns: have you mastered what makes them work? How would you change them to suit your tastes now?
Ask for help
There is no shame in admitting you don't know something! And these days, there are resources to help with almost anything at your fingertips. There are a wealth of craft videos on YouTube and on craft-specific sites, just waiting for you.
Even better, of course, is getting help from a real live person. They can walk you through each step in the process and correct you if you get off course. It can be intimidating to ask someone for help, but in general crafters are very nice. The creative mindset of crafting--and possibly the compulsive hoarding of supplies and potential craft fodder--create a common bond, and most of the time, there's no competition to discourage people from helping one another out.
Go your own way
Yes, ask for help, but don't be afraid to try things on your own. If you have another way of doing something, give it a shot!
I taught myself to knit from reading a book. Apparently I wasn't so good at reading the pictures, though, because several years later, I realized I was knitting the "wrong" way. I contemplated learning to knit the "right" way so that my stitches would all face right, I could follow patterns more easily without having to adapt them to my "special" stitches, etc.
Fortunately, before I went to all that trouble, I discovered that I wasn't wrong after all! There is a small minority out there that knit in my special style. It even has a name: "combination style knitting." I do still have to make notes in almost all my patterns about how I have to "fix" things for increases and decreases, but there's a special pride about doing things my own way in knitting.
Added from the comments: It's okay to fail --Just Jaime
We're not working with nuclear core reactors! It's okay not to live up to our own high expectations every once in a while. And how many crafts really turn out like the image in our head. I often hear variations on this saying:
The same thing goes for living as for crafting. If you're not failing, you're probably not putting yourself out there enough. And, hey, when you fail, come on over and tell us about it. We know exactly how you feel.
Have you noticed some messages repeated over and over in this post? Like maybe "just try" and "don't be afraid"? If I had to put those another way, it would be:
BE WAYWARD, CRAFTY--AND FEARLESS!
You can do it!
How did you learn to do your favorite crafts? How did you get better?