Hilary O'Kelly. Golden Fleece Award Winner 2010

Research Project: History of the hand-knitting and weaving boutique "Cleo".

Position: Lecturer in the History of Design at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin.

Results of the Award

Cleo Book


At the 2011 award ceremony, Hilary spoke about what winning the prize had meant to her and paid heartfelt tribute to Lillias Mitchell's legacy to the world of art and craft. You can read what she said here.

And in January 2014, with the help of the funding received from the Award, Hilary published her book Cleo: Irish Clothes in a Wider World with Dublin publishers Associated Editions.

Extract from Research Proposal

This is a proposal for a publication on the subject of hand-knitting and weaving and the highly esteemed but little known enterprise Cleo.

Cleo BoutiqueAlthough knitting and weaving have long had a powerful almost iconic status in the world-wide image of Irish craft and heritage, they are in many ways under researched. Most accounts of Irish craft profile only notable designers and craftspeople while most of the everyday practice from making to marketing has been taken for granted, even disparaged. I would like to help change this. Building on my earlier published research I would like to complete and make available a now well-advanced study of the archive and business of Cleo, a long-established business in Kildare Street that has been at the centre of commissioning and marketing abroad the best of home-knits and hand weaves since 1936. Its clientele has ranged from Sean O'Casey to Hollywood. But amazingly it remains little known in Ireland. As traditional skills and useful anonymous work has been disappearing and often overlooked by national funding and promotional bodies I would like to record and celebrate the work of Cleo in promoting hand knitting and hand weaving over a period of time when very few in Ireland saw its merits.

Expected audience

Green ShawlIn the first place this is research I think needs to be done. I would aim to interest those making, buying or researching traditional hand crafts. The content will include images of Irish knitting and weaving as well as an account of how these have been promoted and appreciated over 70 years, where and by whom. It will also show the perseverance and stratagems used by Cleo to find and satisfy new customers through difficulties ranging from the Troubles in the North, the inflation, oil-crisis, and postal strike of the 1970s, the 1990s fever for 'designer' labels to the recent severe economic downturn.

Proposed Research Methods and Planned Timescale

The main documentary research is based on the rich Cleo archive of customer order books, customer letters, advertisements, price lists and photographs. The research starts however from the extensive interviews with Kitty Joyce (who still runs the business established by her mother in 1936) and will involve other people engaged in Irish knitting and weaving over the same period. Along with such interviews it involves extensive research in the National Photographic Archive, the Architectural Archive and the National Library. Already much research has been carried out and it now seems time to put this work on permanent record while the primary participants are still with us.

Proposed outputs and dissemination methods

An illustrated book is the proposed shape for the initial stage of disseminating this research. Articles in academic journals such as Textile History or special interest publications like Selvedge are a later aim.

Financial needs

Funding is sought to cover the expenses involved in producing the proposed illustrated book on Cleo.

(Photographs courtesy of Cleo Boutique)