Artistic strands run through Boone County clan
The weave of every family is unique. In the case of Carol Leigh Brack-Kaiser’s clan, three generations are intertwined by the very act of weaving. With independent yet collaborative fiber art businesses, each family member specializes in a different aspect of weaving, contributing his or her personal talents and strengths.
Carol Leigh’s early love of weaving became entrepreneurship when she began selling potholders to neighbors. Her skill set expanded, and she built her first loom out of an orange crate to earn a Girl Scouts badge. Little did the matriarch know when she wove her first potholder at the tender age of 5 that fiber art would not only yield the very pattern of her life but also imprint on her descendants.
While studying at the University of Missouri in the 1970s, a craft studio spinning instructor enlisted Carol Leigh’s help with a natural dyeing demonstration and historic reenactment at Arrow Rock. For 13 years she honed her skills, enthralled with the methods. Her eldest daughter, Bex, attended as well and became known as “the dyer’s daughter” or “the weaver’s daughter.” Bex would go on to start her own knitting business.
By 1981, Carol Leigh had joined the Columbia Weavers and Spinners Guild which hosted the Midwest Weavers Conference. There she learned new techniques within the craft. Inspired, she resumed her 1970s business called “Carol Leigh’s Specialties,” this time selling hand-spun, nature-dyed yarns and handwoven items.
“Business developed steadily as I branched out and started selling at fairs. Customers were fascinated by the weaving process and asked if I offered classes,” says Carol Leigh. By 1986 the home-based business evolved into Hillcreek Fiber Studio with expanded loom and spinning wheel classes as well as fiber art supplies. Her husband, Denny, grew increasingly involved in operations and management and has been integral to the studio’s success over the years.
Steadily, fiber art has taken a central role in shaping Carol Leigh’s family. During a workshop where Carol Leigh was weaving with hand-spun yarn, the instructor shared a primitive triangle loom from a Renaissance fair. Intrigued, Carol Leigh collaborated with her son, Carl, to build a wooden commercial triangle loom and patent the Spriggs Adjustable Tri-Loom which adjusts to nine sizes.
“I enjoy innovating, having unique products and working with family,” says Carol Leigh.
Carl’s “Spriggs Creations” Etsy shop now offers adjustable triangles, squares and rectangles along with other looms and tools. Building textile equipment has become a fundamental part of Carl’s persona and he has tailored his life around his work. His wife, Jody, is also a fiber artist and art educator.
Carl says, “I take great satisfaction in working with my hands and creating something tangible that allows other people to be creative.”
Traveling to Malaysia, Carol Leigh and Bex learned indigenous weaving methods before proceeding to a Borneo jungle village. There they attended a mordanting ceremony to prepare cotton threads to accept native Morinda root dye. This experience imprinted on young Bex, who later studied cultural anthropology and as a result remains motivated to preserve traditional crafts.
When her passion for knitting coupled with a craze in the hobby and for knitting supplies were taking over the weaving studio, Bex opened Hillcreek Yarn Shoppe to offer knitting classes and supplies for all fiber arts. Throughout the year, she and her husband, Eric, attend fiber fairs coast to coast where she also teaches. Bex comments that entrepreneurship allows her to travel and “create what you want to create” in business and life. Two of her sons have assisted in sales over the years and her oldest son, Ben, has helped with web-based projects for both his mother and grandmother.
Pioneering and professional growth have been organic and involved family at every step and turn. Carol Leigh’s daughter, Rose, is a professional photographer who has dovetailed her talent into the family business providing visuals for her mother’s two books and a video.
Rose says of working with family that, “It is easy to bounce ideas around because we are all pretty like-minded when it comes to the creative space.”
The first book, “Continuous Strand Weaving Method Techniques and Projects” features more than 195 items cross-referenced with patterns and techniques. Using the Spriggs Adjustable Tri-Loom, Carol Leigh employs the simple and relaxing method involving loops inside of loops which allows for tremendous creativity and for which she’s become well known.
A second volume, “Nature Provides Dyes for Rainbows” includes chapters on Missouri dyes and ancient dyes, showcasing plant materials, extraction methods and dyeing formulas for each color source. Within walking distance of her studio, Carol Leigh can find plants that provide more than 80 colors for her fiber. She uses mineral salt baths to help bring out these colors. Her favorite is pokeberry, which has been used since Colonial times and yields a spectrum of red hues.
Decades since Carol Leigh wove her first potholder, this item now constitutes a significant part of her sales. Hillcreek’s potholders stand out because they are wool and the studio is one of the only purveyors of naturally dyed wool loops in the country. Demand for potholder sets surged during the pandemic as people sought multigenerational, useful handiwork projects. The family has come full circle with three of Carol Leigh’s grandsons weaving potholders by the age of five and her granddaughter stirring dye pots shortly after her second birthday.
The matriarch and master in her trade says she enjoys the satisfaction of sharing and teaching. It must be in the genes as her modern-day family is thriving in synergy and good fortune under their adaptation of a time-honored, traditional work model.
Visit Carol Leigh Brack-Kaiser’s Hillcreek Fiber Studio online at www.hillcreekfiberstudio.com or call 573-874-2233
Visit Bex and Eric Oliger’s Hillcreek Yarn Shoppe at www.hillcreekyarn.com or call 573-449-5648 for current business hours.
Carl Spriggs’ looms are available online at www.etsy.com/shop/SpriggsCreations or call 573-808-2945.
For more information or to book photography with Rose Martin, visit www.rosemartinphoto.com or call 561-531-3160.
Joplin is a freelance writer from Loose Creek.