Saturday, 27 July 2013

On Buying vs Making

When it comes to garb, armour, toys, tools, and any of the other items of the material culture of our lives in the SCA, there are generally two ways to go about acquiring things. You can throw money at the problem, or throw time at the problem.

Throwing money at a problem is the easiest way to do it, and in a lot of ways, more period, though it doesn't work for everything, and there's a tradeoff. For the nobles and gentles of varying ranks which we represent in the SCA, they wouldn't be expected to be the artisans of the land, making every item of clothing and piece of armour that they wore. Even among those in the artisan classes in period, they would generally specialise in a particular craft, and trade the fruit of their labour for the fruit of others' labour.

The tradeoff in this, of course, is that there are greatly limited suppliers of the varying things which you may wish to acquire, who charge commensurately high prices for their skilled crafts. Also, those suppliers you can find will often be spread all over the Known World, meaning that items which require direct contact, such as garments and armour to be fitted, can be harder or impossible to achieve.

That is not to say that throwing time at a problem is the solution either. The materials will still require some investment for most projects, and the time taken to learn the skills, and then craft each item, will also be a factor.

One of the places where this debate comes up most prominently is when older, experienced members of the SCA, who are established in the workplace and earning a relatively high salary, give advice to newer members of the SCA, usually university students. There is an understandable difference of perspective here. The older members are paid a fine coin for their time, and usually know the dollar value of their time to reasonable precision, and thus to throw time at a problem IS to throw money at it, so they quite reasonably choose to cut out the middle-man and save themselves the effort. For the younger members, however, their time is often valued much lower, if valued at all in an economic sense, therefore it makes sense for them to spend some labour on the craft, rather than spend their labour in a dreary environment to gain the money to throw at the problem. In both cases, the elimination of the middle-man is the goal, but with opposite results.

I hold a somewhat middle-ground perspective on this. For most of my work, I prefer to put my time into the effort, especially in the production of clothing (with the assistance of my good Lady). However, there are several things, such as our upcoming acquisition of a much larger pavillion, where we have decided that the increased price is worth the coin: we would be unlikely to get the task right on our first attempt, and after buying more material to repair the mistakes, and spending the amount of time to learn the art of tent-making and apply it to our canvas, we can honestly consider the purchase a bargain compared to the "saving" of doing it ourselves.

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