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October 11, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
When you first set foot inside Carol Leigh’s Specialties and Hillcreek Fiber Studio, located in Little Bonne Femme Creek Valley, it feels like another world — a world of fiber, looms and dyes. An abundance of yarn in every imaginable color combines with the earthy scent of natural dyes and homemade wooden looms to overtake your senses. The studio has been in business for 30 years and expanded its services from creating custom weaving to offering items for resale. It now provides workshops in weaving, spinning and dyeing.
The family-run business is headed by the husband-wife duo of Dennis Kaiser and Carol Leigh Brack-Kaiser. All three of their children, Rebecca Oliger, Rose Martin and Carl Spriggs, have been involved in the business in some way. Oliger now runs a knitting shop in Columbia, Spriggs has a woodworking shop in Rocheport, and Martin shot the photos for Carol Leigh’s book about her weaving methods.
The studio is credited with creating triangle, square and rectangle loom processes. The looms are built by Dennis’ stepson, Carl Spriggs, then finished at the studio and shipped all over the world.
Today, the business has retained its classic vibe and increased its services and client base far beyond Boone County. Traveling to trade shows around the country, the Kaiser family is able to take their products and knowledge on the road and learn new tricks of the trade from those they meet along the way.
Where did your interest in weaving, spinning and dyeing come from?
The main reason I’m into what we’re doing is because Carol Leigh needed help, and I enjoyed seeing what she was doing. Carol Leigh is still the main, up-front person on our business end because she’s more helpful when people have questions about weaving. I’m more behind the scenes. I enjoy doing that because in my previous job, I did a lot of customer service work and enjoy sending out the products, answering questions and selling on the phones.
What weaving and spinning trends have you noticed over the years?
Spinning became popular when knitters really got active, and in the late ’90s and early 2000s when we would go to trade shows, there were just so many people interested in knitting because they wanted to make their own yarn. It became kind of an “in thing” to do. A lot of actors and actresses were knitting as well. So, people got really busy in knitting.
And now, the trend in weaving is for small looms, like rigid heddle looms and our travel-sized loom. They’re easily portable, and you can take small looms like that with you and work while you’re on the road or vacation or whatever.
What’s a notable event that sticks out to you during your time here?
We had a house fire here in May 1994, I think. The studio was pretty much ruined, and rooms in the house were smoke damaged a whole lot, so we had to rebuild all of this. You learn from those things. While we were repairing and redoing the studio, we actually lived and ran the business in a tent in the backyard for most of the summer and then worked out of a trailer when our insurance provided one. We didn’t get back into our house until February.
What did you learn from that experience?
It was kind of neat to realize that you can go back to basics and almost start from scratch again. You have the confidence to do that instead of throwing up your arms and saying, “That’s too bad.” It is too bad, but you can continue, and we did. You gain a different appreciation for what you’re doing.
What does the future have in store for the studio?
Carol Leigh and I will continue doing this for some time. We’re both at retirement age, but we continue to work, and we’re both busier than we want to be. So, if you enjoy what you’re doing, I guess it doesn’t make any difference. She says her goal is to be realistic about how and where she spends her time and energy.
Why is a family-run business so special to you?
It’s kind of neat to have all three children involved in what we’re doing. It’s also a stepping stone for the younger generation to get confidence in what they’re doing.