Small.Scale.City.Skirt – The latest from Julia O’Connell

I’m one of the artists carrying out some early R & D work as part of the City Arcadia project.

I live and work in Coventry.  My visual arts practice is textile based using both hand and machine stitch. I am interested in people, the commonality of personal stories, family and work life routines. My work gives a platform to the everyday ephemera that marks our presence.

I think about the unexpected ‘gifts’ my city gives to me, such as the scratch marks of paint on a builder’s skip, the biro scrawl of a hand written card in a shop window, the roaring repetition of green and gold train wagons tracking over my head on the purple brick Arches bridge and the pop of bright sunshine as I emerge from the Spon Street subway walking into the city centre, and much more.

This is the hidden life of a functioning, working, living city.

How do the small scale, the micro and or the seemingly insignificant everyday textures, sounds and surfaces of the city inform my work? How can I give prominence to their importance and place in the city?

My proposal is to create a Small.Scale.City.Skirt for Coventry; there are initially 2 development stages.

  1. The creation of a unique Coventry fabric digitally printed and hand embellished featuring a collection of images of surfaces and textures of the city.
  2. The fabric will be the base material to produce the first ever Small.Scale.City.Skirt that reveals and embeds the everyday ephemera particular to me in Coventry.

During this R & D period, I have been inspired by a talk given by Alan Griffiths. He was a young architect involved with some of the early rebuilding work in Coventry under Donald Gibson and Arthur Ling.  When Alan gave a talk to the Coventry Society, he recalls the post-war draughts men & women wearing a ‘uniform’ as they worked in the design offices each day. The ‘overall’ coat jackets were creamy white, protecting their own clothes underneath from pencil and watercolour inks as they designed and drew the city’s new buildings.

This knowledge coincided with my visit to the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at Tate Modern and viewing her ‘Simultaneous’ patchwork dress created from painted sketches after watching dancers at jazz and tango clubs in Paris. The dress “…focuses on surface pattern created through assemblage, and the contrast of intense colours placed in juxtaposition creates a sense of simultaneous motion alluding to the dancers at the Bal Bullier.” (Sonia Delaunay – TATE Publications 2015)


Delaunay’s literal and living art was a provocation to me about my ‘non-uniform’ as I live and work in Coventry.


It is interesting to note that Delaunay was later photographed wearing a re-purposed patched male ‘worker’ coat similar to the overalls previously mentioned. In addition, Delaunay wearing the coat was seen as a provocative gender statement and at the time would have been viewed as militant feminism.

The Small. Scale. City Skirt is not gender specific.

The first prototype skirt will be created from my own image collection but further iterations could be ‘bespoke’ in terms of gathering and featuring a wearer’s contributions of images particular to them in Coventry such as place, pattern and textures.

As my R & D has progressed I considered places in Coventry that could inform the surface content of the skirt. By chance I stumbled upon a piece of fabric printed by Fothergays, the pattern was created by Robert Barratt, in response to the competition to design the new cathedral in Coventry in the 1950s. The fabric ‘Coventry Splendour’ was inspired by the fragments of stain glass in the windows of the old cathedral ruins that remained after the blitz.

Today I have just selected some of my images for digital printing and I’m really looking forward to having them returned – printed on to cotton cloth and ready to sample some stitches!

Julia O’Connell


07799 292957