–The Underline, by Arshia Simkin
Michelle Spaulding has always loved arts and crafts—ever since she was an eight-year-old in the Girl Scouts—but it took a long and winding road for her to fully embrace her creative side. Spaulding had an over twenty-year career as an entrepreneur and small business owner in the high-tech arena and faced a series of health complications before returning to the arts. Nowadays, Spaulding is a local fiber/textile artist, author, and creativity coach who helps people find the joy in crafting. She also is a studio artist and teaches classes at the Eno Arts Mill in Hillsborough.
Spaulding’s passion for the fiber arts all started in Germany, where her father, a military officer, and her family were stationed. Spaulding recalled: “I started crocheting and knitting. All through middle school and high school I sewed my own clothes.” She also started making macramé planters “and sold them to our neighborhood on the military base where we lived.” Soon every house on the block sported her planters. Her father was a well-respected colonel in the army “and had a high-profile position, yet he would go to the PX—which was our military store at the time—and would go buy macramé supplies for me,” Spaulding said with a laugh.
In college, Spaulding said she continued to crochet and started cross-stitching “because my friends were all getting married and having babies so that was my gift for them.” When she was pregnant with her own first child and while working at the Pentagon, she used her two-hour commute from Quantico to start making Christmas ornaments on the bus. After graduating, she helped her father start his technology business and later started her own business. It was “a small women-owned business in the 1990s in the high-tech arena and I stopped doing anything creative. As time went on and with the stress of running a business and a family and marriage, I was looking for stress relief.” She turned to basket weaving, taking a local class at a Michael’s craft store.
Spaulding’s business continued to grow, with offices located in several states and employing over two-hundred people. When she later relocated the headquarters from the Washington D.C. area to Florida, she joined the Tampa Bay Weaver’s Guild as a way to continue fostering her creative side while managing the stress of being a woman in a male-dominated, military-focused, enterprise.
After her marriage ended and her mother got cancer, Spaulding decided to switch gears and obtain an art therapy degree, with the goal of opening a healing arts center. She moved to Arizona with her three children for the art therapy program. “I was in heaven. I loved the college…It was like a whole new beginning for me,” Spaulding said. “But the stress of selling my business and my dad, who became ill with cancer, and traveling every single month took a toll on my body and I had a series of strokes.” She decided to move back to D.C. to care for her father. After he passed away, Spaulding’s health continued to deteriorate as she underwent a series of moves to be closer to family and to seek medical care. One of those moves brought her the Outer Banks where she taught knitting workshops at a local business to women who were retired ex-professionals and who also hadn’t engaged in creativity for a long time. The group became increasingly popular and word spread on social media. Spaulding said: “My whole style is free-style. It’s not about technique. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about having the perfect sweater. It’s about creative expression and I was using all the tools [from my art therapy program] on how to heal and express yourself through arts and crafts.” Her emphasis was on color, texture, and emotional healing and her students responded enthusiastically to this instruction.
She spent five years teaching knitting workshops before deciding to move to the Triangle to be closer to her children and to receive medical care. In January 2020, Spaulding had a fall and then the pandemic closed everything down. During the pandemic, Spaulding couldn’t see her children regularly as they worked at public facing jobs. She said: “I saw the dog walker and the food delivery people. So I was very depressed and very sad and so I was crocheting and weaving and doing art journaling. I was taking myself through an art therapy program.”
Things started looking up as the pandemic eased. For the past year, after Spaulding joined the Eno Arts Mill studio artists, she has been hosting monthly small groups and individual private sessions. Over the summer, she ran a five-day summer camp called “Camp Crafty Diva: Fiber Arts” in which students “explore[d] various fiber handcrafts, including knitting, crochet, weaving, fabric painting and other fiber activities.” After having spent her career working in technology, Spaulding said she finds great fulfillment in helping kids learn how to “work with their hands and their heart.” She also offers private coaching, called “Weave Your Dreams Coaching” to “help people heal through arts and crafts but also to show how you can visualize and work with your dreams, through creativity, through weaving them with the fibers and textures.”
I asked Spaulding what recent projects she has been working on and she showed me a handmade multi-color knit sweater. She said that she enjoys working without a pattern because most patterns don’t fit plus-sized individuals, such as herself. By making sizes that will fit more diverse bodies, she sees an opportunity to promote inclusivity in crafting.
Ultimately, Spaulding wants to teach everyone—from beginners to more advanced crafters—how to “trust your own inner guidance to be able to create…using color, texture and other elements that soothe your soul—that your heart is drawn to—to create.”