Clare O'Presco - A Colourful Twist on Donegal Tweed

Clare O’Presco is known to the locals as ‘an Essex girl weaving Donegal Tweed’. It’s not only her accent that is unusual in the Donegal Town setting, the way she uses colours in her handwoven Donegal Tweed is very different too. Clare grew up outside London and always knew that if she was to going to become a handweaver in her Grandmother’s hometown, a place so rich with tradition, she was going to have to find her niche.

As a child, Clare spent every summer holiday in Donegal visiting her family’s farm. When she was very young her mum would take her to see the man weaving at Magee’s but only if she was well behaved! Her mother used to knit at home so when they were on holiday they would go to Studio Donegal to buy wool and Clare would watch the weavers there too. She found it fascinating even then and it sowed the seeds of what has grown into a passion.

At school Clare was lucky to have a textile teacher to help and inspire her. Clare once sheared a sheep in Donegal and learned how to make a rug from the wool, her teacher taught her how to spin the yarn. She went to the Surrey Institute of Art and Design to do a BA Hons in Textiles thinking she wanted to be a fashion designer, but it wasn’t long before she became totally hooked on weaving. ‘I’m messy by nature’ she admits. ‘Weaving allows me to play with colour but in a controlled way. You have to get each stage right or it doesn’t work.’ Although there aren’t many jobs for weavers it was clear what her path would be after graduating. She announced to her tutor that she was going to move to Ireland and become a handweaver and in 2000 that’s exactly what she did.

Clare’s studio in Donegal Craft Village was constructed around her handloom by Clare and her father. She bought her favourite handloom 12 years ago from handweaving legend Eddie Doherty who also lives and works in County Donegal. She collects looms and has 4 others at home. By working in Donegal Clare has connected to the heritage of this area. This can be helpful for purely practical reasons; she buys most of her yarn from Donegal Yarns but if she ever runs out, which sometimes happens when she’s working on a commission, there are plenty of other weavers and knitters she can ask for help: Studio Donegal, Eddie Doherty and the weavers at Magee’s to name a few.

Clare is passionate about using traditional methods and she showed Craft Editions how she creates a warp by wrapping each thread 960 times around the pegs. She prefers to use single rather than multiple warp technique because it gives her the freedom to do whatever she wants with the colour in her designs and enables her to create the beautiful fade effect which has become so popular in her blankets. Everything is done by hand, even down to the final trim on all her cloth. She finishes each piece by twiddling the ends ‘4 threads one way, 4 the other and twiddle together’ - most handweavers simply knot the thread and Eddie Doherty ‘thinks she is mad!’ But for her, it’s all proof that the product has been woven by hand.

Playing with colour is something Clare has become renowned for. Unlike the earthy, subdued tones of traditional Donegal tweed, Clare’s scarves, blankets and cushions sing with bright, contrasting colours. She clearly takes a lot of pleasure from putting together colours that she likes. When working on commissions Clare is happy to use whichever colours or designs her customers want. However, they typically choose her cushions and throws for their striking colour combinations.

Handweaving is a very labour intensive craft but especially for Clare who runs every aspect of the business herself. Her shop is open 6 days a week; during the daytimes she weaves and meets customers whilst at night she works from home sewing, washing, and darning the finished products. Weaving aside, there’s all the admin, booking keeping, selling and dispatching to do too.

Clare is quite rightly proud of the fact that from the yarn to the finished product she designs, manufactures, produces, finishes and sells everything herself. By carving her own niche in the Donegal handweaving community Clare has earned the respect of other weavers as well as building a loyal following of customers who love her work. 

Find out more about Clare O'Presco here.

All images by Craft Editions.

Brian Waring