Well-crafted: Hands-on hobbies learned online
Handmade quilts, scrapbooks and fancy cakes can also be high-tech.
Crafters are taking advantage of the growing number of paid online classes and tutorials that teach hobbies and skills that have traditionally been picked up in person—like hand-dyeing yarns, mastering landscape photography and baking artisanal bread.
Two-year-old learning service Craftsy.com is set to announce that it has more than 2 million users. The site, which offers 266 courses, most of them for $15 to $60, has seen traffic rise 79 percent in the past year, according to Compete.com.
There's also CraftDaily.com, which launched in May with a subscription service for crafting lessons. For $20 a month or $200 a year, users get access to 100 video tutorials.
By 2014, the site expects to have more than 200, said Chad Phelps, chief digital officer at F+W Media, CraftDaily's parent company. Even the Museum of Modern Art has delved into online lessons in painting and collage, among other subjects.
Craft classes are part of the general trend of learning online, said Jack Vonder Heide, president of Technology Briefing Centers. "People have come to accept the idea of learning outside the classroom," he said.
Like online college classes, crafts distance-learning lets students take advantage of teachers and subjects that aren't available locally, and at hours that work with any schedule.
Companies offering such classes have also benefited from tech improvements. Higher-quality, lower-priced video equipment allow them to produce lessons that clearly showcase the steps and are easy to follow, while faster Internet connections let students watch without glitches, he said.
Prices can seem steep, considering the competition from free video tutorials on sites such as YouTube and on crafting blogs.
Those avenues are worth exploring, particularly if you have enough basic skill to improvise through less-detailed instructions, said Jenna Anderson, the blogger behind PinterestFail.com, which chronicles people's unsuccessful attempts at re-creating projects they find on the social bookmarking site.
Paid sites say their courses actually offer better value.
"We've all done this on YouTube, where you think you've found something you want and you discover four minutes in that it's not," said John Levisay, founder and CEO of Craftsy.
It guarantees expert instructors and uses a platform that lets students take virtual notes, ask questions and continue building on their experience. Once they have purchase a course, he said, students have access for life.
Paid lessons also tend to be more comprehensive than free videos, according to Phelps at CraftDaily.com. Most of its videos run 45 to 90 minutes.
Consumers should be on the lookout for lesson sales, too. CraftDaily offers a free one-month trial, while Craftsy.com occasionally offers discounted classes through daily-deal sites like Gilt.com.
In some cases, paid classes can be easy money-savers. A $25 class in tailoring your wardrobe, for example, quickly pays for itself in avoided trips to the tailor, where hemming a pair of pants or a skirt can easily cost $10 or more.
Jennifer Padden of Austin, Texas, an avid sewer, signed up for a $40 Craftsy.com course, "The Couture Dress," to make an outfit to wear to her daughter's wedding in March.
"I made a new dress because at my wonderful age I have blossomed into a size that is no longer available on the rack," she said. Making the black-and-gray, princess-line dress in her spare time was faster and cheaper than hunting down an off-the-rack option needing extensive alterations.
And the result, she said, was of superior quality.
—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @KelliGrant.