Something to keep your hands busy

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This page is a subsection of SCA Without Breaking the Bank. It provides information on arts and sciences.

Contents

General tips on arts and sciences

  • Bardic: One of the cheapest activities in the SCA is bardic arts. Singing and storytelling only require your voice: no money needed! If you don't know any songs or stories, don't worry. Go to your local library and take out some books on folklore, or just hang around other bards. Most of them will happily regale you as long as you want to listen.
  • Embroidery: If you love sewing, but can't afford the fabric (even with the tips from the Garb for Seamstresses page), try embroidery. I've made embroidered banners for as little as CAN$20, including the fabric and wooden dowels to hang them.
  • Talk to people: Try talking to other people who are engaged in the arts you want to try. They will often have good suggestions for where you can get cheap materials, or how to do things in a more efficient way.
  • Borrow, don't buy: If you're just getting started, see if you can borrow someone's materials to try them out. It's no use buying a calligraphy pen only to realize you don't like scroll-making after all. It would probably be easier to find an accomplished scribe and ask him to borrow an old pen.
  • Check out my list of cheap projects: Click on this link to see a list of activities you can start with less than $10.

Five-step method

How, specifically, can you get cheap stuff for arts and sciences? It differs for each art, but here are some general techniques. If I get enough comments on any one discipline in particular, I'll make a separate page for it.

  1. Get it free: Depending on the art or science you want to try, you or someone you know might very well have material lying around the house you can use. Let the word out that you're looking for certain materials or to try a new art or science and some people might even offer to help you. And remember, bardic is free!
  2. Barter for it: If you already are engaged in other arts and sciences, see if you can barter with someone for the material you're looking for. Or, you can offer to give your first piece to whoever helps you buy the materials to get started.
  3. Pay someone in the SCA for it: Many people start projects and then get discouraged, or move on. I, at least, have tools from several projects that I know will never be finished, and I know lots of people who do, too. Look around to see if someone will sell your their used tools. Many times they might give you huge discounts just for clearing up some of their clutter space, or at least knowing that their tools are going to good homes.
  4. Get it used at discount: Depending on what you want, you can probably find at least some of your tools at garage sales, flea markets, or thrift stores. You might also try specialty stores that cater to your type of art. Ask people you know who are already doing what you want to do, and ask where they get their material and tools.
  5. Get it cheap: Sometimes, you won't have an alternative but to buy things retail. Check around to see if there are any classes being offered in your area for similar skills (some craft stores will do this). If so, they might offer discounts to people enrolled in their classes, and you'll learn something too! Again, ask people where they buy their materials, and who has good prices. If you get together, you might be able to get a group discount.

Projects you can start for less than $10

  • Bardic: singing and storytelling can be done completely for free. There are great resources for free on the internet and at your local library if you need material. Performances don't cost any money, only your voice and an audience.
  • Embroidery: while sewing can cost a great deal (though it doesn't have to), even large embroidery projects can be done on a shoestring. Embroidery floss typically costs about 50 cents Canadian for a skein about 10 meters (yards) long. But this 10 meters is really six times as much, since the floss is 6 strings wrapped together! A piece of aida (embroidery) cloth 12" x 18" runs about $3 Canadian ($2.25 US). An entire project can easily be under $10.
  • Dancing: if there are people who enjoy medieval dance in your area, you're home free. They can lend you or copy you the music you need, and you can pass many a pleasant evening together.
  • Card-weaving: a set of cards for card-weaving can be made very easily from scrap wood or even sturdy playing cards! The thread you might use, again, is quite cheap. Pick up embroidery floss (use only one strand!), perl cotton, or something similar. Card weaving is appropriate to many periods, depending on the pattern and thickness of the band.
  • Heddle-weaving: similar to card-weaving, but easier. Heddles are somewhat more difficult to make than cards, but once you've got one, the weaving goes much faster. A heddle, depending on the size, will be about $10-$20. Use the same type of thread you might in card-weaving.
  • Spinning: drop-spindles aren't too expensive, and raw wool shouldn't be either. I don't know exact prices on this one, but I don't imagine it would be more than $10 for a simple wooden drop-spindle. Catherine has recommended http://www.joyofhandspinning.com/make-dropspin.html as a useful resource both to make spindles and for more general spinning information.
  • Tatting: I have a friend who tats lace. It doesn't look too hard, and all you need to buy is a small shuttle and some thread.
  • Knitting and crocheting: all you need to get started are your knitting needles / crochet hook and the yarn you intend to use. (Note that you can knit or crochet things other than wool, if you don't like wearing wool!) Patterns and instructions can be found, as always, at your local library or on the internet. (Isn't it great what you can find on the 'net?)
  • Cooking: as long as you don't for exotic ingredients, period cooking shouldn't be any more expensive than modern cooking. If you have a culinary bent, find some period cookbooks (many are available free on the internet!) and try out some recipes.
  • Gaming: there are many medieval games that you can play without spending any money. One of my favorites is 9-Man Morris. You can draw the board on whatever blank surface is available (scrap wood, loose leaf, bedroom floor, whatever). Tokens (9 per side) can also be made out of whatever you have lying around (pennies, scraps of paper (half white, half colored with pen or marker), beads, buttons, etc.). Other board games are equally simple to play, as are many more "active" games. Search the internet and see what you come up with.
  • Divination: buy a cheap set of Tarot cards or make your own runes out of wood. Find out some period divination methods (even astrology works) and have fun regaling people with tales of their future!

Submitted tips

Submitted by Eulalia de Ravenfeld

Drop spindles. I went to my local craft supply store and found all the supplies needed to make cheap, period-looking drop spindles. All you need to buy are wooden "toy wheels", dowels that fit into the holes in the wheels, and tiny cup hooks. You will also need a small amount of wood glue (you might find someone who will let you use theirs), a saw (I used the one on my pocket knife), and some kind of wood finish (this is optional, they work fine without it). Saw the dowels into the right length (I cut each dowel into 8 pieces), and glue a piece into each wheel so the end is flush with the wheel. When the glue has dried, screw a cup hook into the end of the dowel that's inside the wheel. Voila! Drop spindle! Supplies, including wood glue, for 12 spindles cost me around $15 US (actually a little less). At that price, you could start a cottage industry selling the things!

Submitted by Lady Sara Aston

Once, at an event, I saw a woman who had made a perfectly useful drop spindel for FREE. You know those CD's that you get for free in the mail(aol...etc). Well, she took two of those and glued them together back to back. Then she took a small wooden dowel (I think it came from a wooden coat hanger) and glued it in the middle. Now, I grant you, this did not look very period, but if you just wanted to try spinning and you were not sure if it was really your thing then this would be a way you could try it for free.

Submitted by Lord Donal O'Brien

Something to Keep Your Hands Busy: Certain types of brewing can be done very simply, very cheaply, and in a very small amount of space. Cordials can be made in a quart glass jar with vodka, fruit, and sugar. Mead can be made a gallon at a time with honey, water, and raisins.

Submitted by Lady Liadan ingen Orthanaich

I have a tip for some cheap A&S fun: Take up spinning. A spindle can be bought cheaply or made easily, and fiber is pretty inexpensive too. Plus, a small investment in fiber yields many hours of fun, including spinning, possibly dyeing, then knitting or weaving, and in the end you have a useful and beautiful item that you made yourself (and didn't have to buy). It's possible to take this craft to great heights, or to keep it small and cheap just for something to do.

Submitted by Lady Isabella Dati

Take a class! Quite often, class fess will be more affordable than buying your own starter supplies, you can get tips (often cost-saving ones!), and the opportunity to try before laying out all your cash.

If you enjoy needlework, try some that are thrifty with thread - you can do a great deal of blackwork on a single skein of DMC floss and a ube of cross-stitch fabric, totaling about $2 at Wal-mart. Needlelace (not bobbin lace) is also inexpensive in materials.

Submitted by Lady Cassandra of Glastonbury

Take a class and ask the teacher. I have been given all sorts of stuff just because I expressed an interest. I have also given away/sold/bartered off materials that have sat for 3 years that I never got around to using but seemed like a good purchase at that time.

Submitted by Teffania Tuckerton

Fingerloop braiding is very cheap - all you need is some string that doesn't stretch. Balls of cooking cotton work, old balls of wool are often good (make sure they don't stretch as you work). You can also ask any local weavers if they can give you the scrap ends of their warps. For instruction books, Creative Anachronist #108 is quite sufficient, and is available on the internet. Your own braid can stop you buying a lot of items - shoelaces, armour straps, couching cord, ribbon for your hair, laces to tie up you underwear or fasten your dress, garters, fillets, etc.

A friend made a stunning tunic by making his own trim - he bought a ball of gold crochet cotton (not very cheap, but many meters), and braided a lot of cord, which he couched in large diamonds onto a contrast coloured band of trim. It looks really rich, but the whole thing cost under $12 Au (around $6 US) and looks quite as stunning as many people's courtwear. (and he still has half a ball of gold thread to do other things with. One more from Teffania Tuckerton: There a a zillion things you can do with string and just one or two small tools. Nallbinding is similar to kniting and needs only one large darning needle. Sprang needs a rectangular frame - use an old empty pictureframe, embroidery frame or lash together some sticks. Fingerbraiding needs just your fingers, as do some forms of netting. Find out about even more such crafts from your local "fibrearts" group.

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