So many things

Sustainability Series Part 1 – Ophie’s Bottle Sequins

My first interview ever, really, but definitely for my Sustainability Series! I chat with French artist Ophie Cordier about the gorgeous pieces she creates from reclaimed water bottles.

Breeyn: It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with sequins, and hand-made sequins are dear to my heart. What drew you to creating your own sequins? What drew you to using plastic bottles?

Ophie: We have here a good common point! The birth of my process comes from a contest I participated in last year. The “Madeira Embroidery competition” in the UK. Each year, they propose a new theme, and for my second participation, the theme was « Glimpses of the Islands ». As islands didn’t inspire me, I concentred my attention around them.  That’s what brought me to speaking out about our oceans, and the pollution currently happening inside them.

I thought it could be a good idea to create a « mise en abyme » so I decided to do my own sequins, starting with old radiography, then plastic came.

After I created the embroidery for the contest, I felt it was not enough for me. This project had meaning for me so I decided to make it grow. That’s how OPHIE was born!

B: When you’re creating, how do you approach the work? Do you have the idea formed ahead of time and choose materials for those ideas, or do you let the materials guide you?

Ophie: I start by collecting bottles – I get them from acquaintances, friends and family. After I’ve collected them, I clean them, cut the top and the bottom off each bottle (the parts I can’t use). I open them in two so I can stack them by brand and width. Once they’re stacked, I take a sample of each bottle and list them in my personal library, because each brand has different shades and colours! It’s really interesting! When I have a special idea or if I want to use a new colour, I search in my library to find the best fit – it’s is very helpful.

The second and most important part of the process is making sequins! I use a puncher to cut my sequin shapes and then I pierce them with a paper punch. I don’t cut all my sequins at once; I adapt my stock according to my use and the piece I’m working on.

For the design of my embroideries, sometimes I have a concept of a shape of waves in my head and I want to bring it to life.
And sometimes the materials guide me. For example when I create abstract waves with melting plastic, I adapt my design to the plastic shape. It’s also one of the reasons all my embroideries are unique.

B: Your work is so pretty and soothing – the colours are somewhat decided by the materials you’ve chosen but you explore different textures in a lot of depth. What sort of things inspire you ?

Ophie: My first inspiration is the sea! I live between the sea and a big pond! It’s a real daily source of inspiration for me. I can find inspiration quite everywhere – the combo of blue in an illustration, the kind of curve in a painting, in an object! It’s also the materials that inspire me. I have started to keep some other materials that I would like to experiment with, because I’m inspired just by looking at them. But I have to calm down because my house is not big enough!

B: I think we can all relate to that. What advice would you give to other artists who would like to explore sustainable/upcycled materials?

Ophie: It’s important to keep believing in what makes sense for oneself. Before OPHIE I was going through a hard time. I didn’t know what to do in my life. After being jobless for a long period and facing a lot of refusals from fashion companies (which was the metier I initially aimed for), I lost my self-confidence. Exploring with upcycled materials gave me a new goal and allowed me to step forward.

So, the advice I would give to artists who would like to explore is: do not hesitate to do what make sense for you, and believe in it! Follow your feelings! If something catches and inspires your eye, it’s not for nothing! And experiment with whatever materials you find that spark inspiration! Even if we do not have a perfect result the first time, we still get experience and it’s also fun to experiment!

B: What kind of things are inspiring you right now? What sort of things will you be working on next?

Ophie: hmm ! I have two big projects in sight right now. The first one is a project named « Nouvelle Terre ». The challenge is to embroider all seas and oceans of  the globe! And I might do something special at the end… This project dear to my heart but it takes much more time that I thought. I constantly visualise the end to keep me motivated because it promises to be great.

I’m also working on a collaboration with an other French creator, FloHomeDelight. We are at the beginning of the project but it’s going to be really cool!


Creating A Contract for Working With Clients

I have talked to SO MANY artists and designers who have got the shit end of the stick in commissions/freelance work. And we all know people who have felt like they didn’t get what they paid for when they commissioned someone. There are usually two big factors at play: miscommunication and pushing past scope. Though, the second one is really just an extension of the first one. 

The simplest, most straight-forward way of side-stepping these problems is to have a contract ahead of time.

Now, the word contract often seems to sound scary or intimidating to some people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had artists and designers tell me that if they even breathed the word “contract”, they would get zero work – potential clients would run away.

First of all, this has absolutely not been my experience. In all cases, having a contract has made my clients feel much more at ease. Secondly, calling it a “statement of work” takes some of the scariness out of it – it communicates to your client that you are just setting down the specifics of what you have both agreed to. This can only benefit both of you – it makes it certain that your client understands what they have asked for – but it also reassures your client that you have an obligation to come through on the work. You must abide by the terms just as much as they must.

So phrasing things well can go a long way to putting your client at ease if you are worried that the concept of a contract is going to spook them.

And thirdly – if they are still spooked – you might not want to work with them anyway. I know this concept is frightening if you need work, but if a person wants to dick you around straight out of the gate, it’s not going to be worth the stress and effort. I hope you don’t have to learn this lesson the brutal way. I know some who have learned this lesson the hard way and been too scared to take on more commissions. 

We can avoid all that! It’s a skill, just like anything else. You need to learn and hone it. I’ll walk you through the process. Click here to open my boilerplate contract in a new tab so you can easily toggle back and forth as we go through line by line. Each and every line in this statement has been carefully thought out, and believe me – most of these clauses have been hard won through very painful lessons. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty to learn on your own.

I’ve used statements of work for over ten years to make sure the specifics of the agreements made with my bridal and custom clients were very clearly laid out. Anything that could be called into question is included. Admittedly – this hasn’t been fool-proof protection the entire time. I have had to revise, write, and include more clauses along the way after one project or another got out of hand. I’ve rarely had to refer back to the statement to push my point with clients, though. Writing things out at the beginning helps avoid a lot of headaches. Despite the added clauses over the years, my statements of work are pretty simple.

Let’s go through paragraph by paragraph.

I begin with the obvious – the date and our names. I then describe the work that has been discussed with my client, who by this point will already have approved the sketches, fabrics, rough budget and basic timeline verbally or via email. This written agreement is making sure that everything you have discussed is laid out in detail so that there is no confusion for either of you. Make sure to include any details that affect the total cost of the work. For me, that includes length of gown (cocktail dresses require less work and fabric, generally), relevant design details (sleeves, train, open-back, etc), what kind of fabric (fabrics vary wildly in price), if there is embellishment and what kind. I make sure to mention the hard deadline for the piece. There is zero wiggle room with weddings.

Second paragraph:

This paragraph goes into specifics of payment. This is often a really awkward part of negotiations for artists. But since it’s the reason you’re doing any of it, it’s extremely important to make sure that it’s all laid out as clearly as possible. I start with the full cost of the gown, and make sure to include the relevant tax if there is any. I also charge a $40 upfront non-refundable design fee for the sketches. It’s essentially a deposit on the whole thing, so I don’t spend ages drawing and sourcing gowns only to never hear from someone again. I should probably up it now, but when I came up with the amount it was because it was not enough to intimidate someone, but enough that most people wouldn’t want to waste it. Since I instated this policy, I have had zero clients ghost me. However, I have had clients that I realized along the way were a bad match, for whatever reason. I refunded their money in those instances. It’s easier to let go of $40 now than to be on the hook for $1000 in fabric, and entangled with a bridezilla. (Side point – you’re allowed to fire clients if things are getting out of hand. More on that in another tutorial).

Back to the statement. Be clear about the costs. I try to be transparent about my costing, because people rarely seem to have any real idea how much money, materials and work goes into creating gowns. I include the materials cost, occasional overhead cost, and the hours required. If they’re any good at math, they’ll realize they’re getting a pretty great deal for what an expert you are. The years you’ve spent honing your craft, learning all your special unique techniques, etc. Also important – MAKE SURE YOU HAVE MONEY FOR YOURSELF UPFRONT. I try to stick to a more-or-less 50/50 deposit and balance due, but sometimes if there are special fabrics, etc, it has to be more like 60/40. Or sometimes my client needs the payments broken up in to three or four. Regardless, I need to be able to eat and pay rent while I’m creating the gown, after I’ve ordered all the materials to make said gown. So insist on being paid some of the labour fee upfront. Do not purchase materials, etc, before the client has given you enough to cover them. Don’t let yourself struggle through the making process. Fed people are happy people and happy people have a much easier time making things.

I used to ask for the balance upon delivery (aka, take-home day), but you only have to have a couple people swear they’ll transfer the money as soon as they get home and then “forget” to pay you for weeks before you learn to not let the item/service go before getting paid in full. Again – this is your job, you’re doing this to get paid. You may have a passion for the work, you may be friends with the person, but being paid is what helps you stay alive, so it has to be a priority. I now require balances to be paid at the final fitting. That is the second-to-last appointment, the last being take-home day. This way, the client knows the gown exists. It’s usually about 90% complete, just needing things like hems and stuff. They don’t have to worry that they’ll be stiffed. They can see what they’re paying for and no one has argued with me at this point about payment. It’s been clearly stated (seventh paragraph ) that they can’t take the gown home until they’ve paid in full, so they make sure I have the money so I hand over the dress. If you work with digital media, you can show them the completed work with a watermark to show it is done, but don’t release the full files until you have received payment.

I put extra info on the invoice – like the fitting dates – because I prefer to keep my statements of work to one page. I feel like this makes it more palatable to my clients, though I have no actual reason for thinking that. I send invoices and statements of work together, so it’s not difficult to for the client to find all the information.

Be clear about the delivery date. However. I pad mine out quite a bit. Gowns almost never go out on the scheduled delivery date, because of SO MANY VARIABLES. Lord. Brides lose or gain weight. Bride’s mother in law comes with her and demands changes (whole other kettle of fish, I stopped letting people bring family with them to early fittings), bride gets sick, I get sick, a global pandemic shows up – honestly. There are ten million reasons things get pushed back. ESPECIALLY when you’re juggling multiple clients at once. It’s compounded even more if you work in a cyclical industry that has a high season. I always set my delivery dates well ahead of the final deadline so that even with all the the nonsense that is sure to crop up, I make sure we have ample time to cope with it all before the final deadline. And I absolutely make sure that the client understands this ahead of time. It’s part of my schpiel during the initial consultation. This is one of the things I make absolutely certain to discuss with them ahead of sending the statement. “This is the date we’re aiming for, this is why, but don’t stress if we don’t hit it, because it’s likely that we won’t, but it will be okay, I’m prepared.” All your client really wants to know is that you’re in control and you know what you’re doing.

Alright, third paragraph:

This one often gets questioned by clients, but it is one of the first ones I included and insist on. My job was making custom-fit couture gowns. You might not think that there are people out there who expect me to be able to make a perfect custom-fit gown without fittings, but it has happened a bunch of times. Why anyone would think I’d waste my own time doing fittings that aren’t necessary, I don’t know, but alas. Remember I mentioned putting the fitting dates on the invoice? I also summarize what we’ll be doing for each one (1st muslin, 1st mock-up, final fitting, etc). It sets the expectations of the client so that they understand the process and why each step is both important and necessary. I promise them I am not making unnecessary fitting appointments, so they have to promise to come to the ones I say are necessary. My office also costs money, and so does travelling to it. I have a fee for late cancellations because so does my office. I don’t want to pay for other people’s flakes.

Fourth paragraph:

This one is very important. And it’s as important to those of you doing paintings as it is to those of you making clothing, etc. If you make it clear that if a client keeps requesting changes or more options that it will cost them more money and/or make the work late – it is wildly helpful in shutting that shit down. And I make sure I define ‘design changes’ clearly in the footnote. Thanks to this clause in my statement, I can be confident that if a client is requesting late changes knowing it will cost them money, it’s very much because they really, really want it. It rarely happens, because of my fitting process, but it does still happen. I’ve set it up so I’m less likely to be pushed past the scope of the agreed work, especially for free.

Also, TRACK YOUR TIME. This is helpful both for making sure you’re paying yourself adequately, but also for letting the client know that you’re following through on your end. If they’ve paid you for 80 hours of work and they want you to re-do something, you can say, okay, we’re at 62 hours right now and that’s going to add 10 hours. This way your client has the option of deciding how much they really want the changes. There are loads of time-tracking apps you can get.

Fifth paragraph:

Thing is – we’re not perfect. I am pretty ambitious when I sketch gowns. I routinely draw aspirational things – this is one of the reasons my clients come to me. But sometimes things don’t always look as good in real life as they do in a sketch. I mean, try to keep this sort of thing to a minimum, but it’s good to have a policy in place in case it does happen. I’m more likely to try to figure out how to make the idea work, but if it just can’t, you will have to have a conversation with your client. Don’t bother being sorry or feeling badly about it – your client won’t care that you’re sorry, they’ll just want to know what you’re going to do about it. Have a solid plan in place to address it when you start the conversation, be confident, and reassure them that the extra time and materials required won’t affect them. This is your bad, you have to fix it.

Sixth paragraph:

Pretty straightforward. This has only happened a couple times. Say a client ghosts after you’ve gone through all of the above. Weird, right? But this clause protects you from this bozo showing up a year later and demanding the gown they paid half for. After 60 days, I can sell that dress to someone else to recoup my losses and it’s no longer my problem.

Seventh paragraph:

Okay, this is the most recently revised paragraph to my contract. And early on, I may well not have felt confident enough to include some of these policies. I have refined this statement of work slowly over the years to make my clients feel as protected as I feel. I have only ever had my process spectacularly fail me one time. One time in hundreds but whooo, boy, that failure had a huge impact on me. It is pretty devastating to do your job as well as you can and have the client so crushed and disappointed at the end that she won’t wear the dress or want to pay you. There are reasons it all went terribly, and I’ll get into them another time (a future topic is what do to when things go badly with your client, I’m already writing it as a companion to this one). Suffice to say, I had no choice but to refund her in full, which meant I was out A LOT of money, since the dress was completed and I’d spent all the money to do that, and there was nothing about this scenario in my statement. Nothing. Not even a single thing about non-refundable deposits. Because nothing like this had every happened before. I was utterly unprepared. But I can prepare you.

And honestly –  it doesn’t even have to be some tragic failure of process like that. Sometimes it’s as simple as a nightmare client slipping through the cracks even when you’re on alert for all the red flags, and they try to get out of paying you at the end. This paragraph ensures that as long as you complete the work you promised to do – the work you outlined clearly in paragraph 1 – you are entitled to be paid in full. They might argue with you, and if they haven’t paid the balance yet, you might still be out the balance if you can’t get them to send it. But by including the bit about deposits being non-refundable, at least you’ll have your materials covered. A loss, but not quite as devastating.

And then finally, if they don’t treat you well, you can fire them. And not give their money back. Again – this was a ballsy late addition that in the first half of my career I would never have dreamed of including, but that was because my vetting process was really successful. I only had maybe one bridezilla a year out of around 25 clients, and I was almost always able to manage it successfully. I have never had to rely on that client-firing clause – but I am happy that it is there now. Including it was the first time my contract swayed slightly more to protecting me rather than a perfect 50/50 split with my client. But after so many years and so many hundreds of clients, I felt okay doing that. I’d encourage you to do it, but I also understand if that one feels like a lot, lol. Again – I’ll go into more detail about how to fire clients in a future post.

The be all and end all is – do the best you can to make sure you get paid for the work you do.

Now – last little fun bit. I have had plenty of super-organized brides who make sure they print out two copies of their statements, sign them, bring them to the first fitting and make sure I sign them, then leave one with me and take the other one home in their wedding binder. But I’ve also had loads digitally sign and never talk about it again. And I’ve had some people tell me via email “everything looks great! Sending deposit now!” so that I get the deposit money, but I never actually get a signature. I have baked-in a way of dealing with that so that I’m not wasting time chasing people down or leaving myself vulnerable. There is a line on my invoice that says:

“Terms and conditions are laid out in the statement of work provided to the client. Payment of the deposit indicates acceptance of these terms and conditions.” Boom. No signature, but I’m still protected. In writing.

I know that the above is geared more towards my specific vocation, but I’m hoping you’ll find it adaptable to your needs. Let me know if you have questions about how to do that, though – I might be able to give advice on how to apply this stuff to whatever it is that you do. Honestly, it can only benefit you to have your policies laid out clearly in writing.  A statement of work will help you side-step so much stress.

Honouring the conversation regarding beadwork’s place in Indigenous Culture

Only Child Handicrafts started a conversation regarding Indigenous beading techniques within the beading community on Instagram last week, and as you can imagine, there was a very intense discussion that followed, with passionate voices on both sides of the debate. There were deeply ruffled feathers on both sides, despite her valiant efforts to keep the conversation civil. As a white artist of European descent living on stolen land and who makes my living off my beading, I thought it was a very important conversation to have, and to keep having. Everything that follows was written by Only Child Handicrafts after days of long conversations and weighing the various viewpoints.

“Beading is a global craft, and is not proprietary to Indigenous North Americans. However, beadwork is attached closely with our Indigenous cultural art. Particularly things like beaded statement jewelry, fringe etc. It’s a style of beadwork that was brought to popularity in North America via North American Indigeous culture. I don’t know any reader – or any person for that matter – who would disagree that beaded fringe earrings immediately call to mind Native North American culture. In fact, I would say that the connection is undeniably. That’s not to say that they are the property of our culture or that no other culture is making them. But they came to popularity (particularly IN North America) by way of their creation at the hands of Native North Americans.

So if you understand that beadwork of this style has gained popularity via Indigenous culture, then you have to start thinking about that culture and what was happening to it concurrently to the rise in popularity of our craft and style. Yes, beadwork is global, and yes, beaded fringe earrings are now made by people all over the world.

I don’t disagree.

However, if you are willing to go down the path of considering what Indigenous People have been subjected to and are still being subjected to in North America, you will discover very quickly that as part of colonization, we were prohibited from creating our art, making our crafts, holding our ceremonies, and speaking our languages. That’s not an abstract concept, and it’s not ancient history.

The Potlatch is an integral part of the way of life and governance of the Peoples of the Northwest Coast, but were prohibited in Canada until 1951 (meanwhile the concept of Potluck Dinners grew in popularity across North America and around the world. You can try to attach the idea of Polucks to England or the Depression and that’s fine but stay calm). The Residential School system that aimed to assimilate Native children into white North American culture via removal from their homes and families, forced conversion to Christianity, and the forbidding of speaking their native languaes only came to an end when the last Residential School in Canada closed in 1996. So it isn’t an abstract, long-ago concept that Indigeous People bring up when we speak about the decimation of our culture.

With that in mind, let’s consider how the struggle to reclaim our identity might converge with beadwork as we know it here and now in North America. Something that is closely associated with our culture, something that has come to popularity via our culture during a time when we ourselves were prohibited from creating our own cultural artwork, something that is still to this day how many Indigenous Peoples make their living and support their families…is it possible to see how some Indigenous folks might want to hold onto it? Or how some might view non-Indigenous people making beaded jewelry/fringe earrings as crowding space that Indigenous People are trying to occupy right now?

The here-and-now struggle of Indigenous People to rise and prosper via our traditional crafts, in our traditional homelands is real. Indigenous People are today, right now, struggling to become shareholders in markets that have been built on our cultural creation.

Yes, you can make beadwork if you’re of European descent. Yes, you can make beaded fringe earrings and sell them anywhere. But in doing so, you are occupying and sharing a market that Indigenous People are also trying to occupy. If you don’t see that, it’s because you’re in that space and they are not.

Sure it’s easy to find examples of how beaded fringe earrings are being made everywhere by everyone, and it’s easy to find examples of how certain motifs and styles can be traced back to connect with another culture elsewhere. But we are here in North America where Native North Americans have a very strong historical connection to those things, brought them to popularity, have long been prevented from profiting from it, and who are now working to get a much-needed foothold in markets that we should be able to support our own families with.

That’s the concern that SOME people have when they see non-Indigenous people selling this kind of beadwork. They may not alway articulate it with as much patience or tact, but I’m sure you’re aware of how long we’ve been silenced and how enraged we are by all that has happened to us and our People. Intergenerational trauma is real, and when you’re engaging with an Indigenous person, you are almost certainly speaking with someone who is the product of generation after generation of trauma. Family separation, loss of home, removal from culture, alcoholism, violence, police apathy, racism, poverty, lack of clean water. You’re speaking with those people and their children.

When you start to question why Native People feel “entitled” to this rage, remember that there are no romantic American Dream™ tough-as-nails-immigrant-grandparents-pull-up-their-bootstraps-and-find-their-way-in-the-new-world fairy tales in our Native families – instead there are generations of devastation in our own homelands, survival, and holding tight to whatever is left in hopes one day it can be built back up into the thriving culture and way of life we once had.


For many of us, beadwork is part of that process of reclamation. It’s a sacred medicine to many of us, and when you’re speaking to Native North Americans who are using this medicine in our homelands, it’s not simply the “global craft” it is often reduced to by non-Native people in discussions about beadwork.”

Please keep these things in mind when you’re creating with beadwork. No one is saying that you can’t use fringe or other techniques, but mind where your inspiration is coming from, and try not to occupy space that should rightly go to someone else. This is what we are talking about when we are discussing giving up our privilege to help marginalized communities.