The Underline: Finding Joy and Healing in the Fiber Arts with Michelle Spaulding

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story about The Underline, Arshia Simkinthe Orange County Arts Commission

Michelle Spaulding has always loved arts and crafts — ever since she was eight and a member of the Girl Scouts — but it’s taken a long and winding road to fully embrace her creative side. Spaulding had a career of more than twenty years as an entrepreneur and small business owner in the high-tech field and faced a number of health complications before returning to the arts. Today Spaulding is a local fibre/textile artist, author and creativity coach helping people find the joy of crafting. She is also a studio artist and teaches classes at the Eno art mill at Hillborough.

Spaulding’s passion for fiber art began in Germany, where her father, a military officer, and her family were stationed. Spaulding recalls, “I started crocheting and knitting. I sewed my own clothes all through middle and high school.” She also began making macrame planters “and sold them to our neighborhood at the military base where we lived.” Soon every house on the block was sporting their planters. Her father was a respected colonel in the Army “and held a high-profile position, but he went to the PX — which was our military store at the time — and bought macrame supplies for me,” Spaulding said with a laugh.

In college, Spaulding said she continued to crochet and took up cross-stitching “because my friends were all getting married and having babies, so that was my gift to them.” When she was pregnant with her first child of her own and working at the Pentagon, she used hers 2-hour drive from Quantico to start making Christmas decorations on the bus. After graduating, she helped her father start his technology company and later started her own business. It was “a small, high-tech company run by women in the 1990s, and I stopped doing anything creative. As time went on and with the stress of running a business, family and marriage, I looked for stress relief.” She turned to basket weaving and took a local class at a Michael’s craft store.

Spaulding’s business continued to grow, with offices in several states and more than two hundred employees. Later, when she moved headquarters from Washington DC to Florida, she joined the Tampa Bay Weaver’s Guild to further nurture her creative side while managing the stress of being a woman in a male-dominated, military-focused corporation.

After her marriage ended and her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Spaulding decided to switch gears and pursue a degree in art therapy 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 college… It was like a whole new beginning for me,” Spaulding said. “But the stress of selling my business and my father who had cancer and the monthly traveling took its toll on my body and I had a series of strokes.” She decided to return to DC to care for her father . After his death, Spaulding’s health continued to deteriorate as she underwent a series of moves to be closer to family and to seek medical attention. One of those moves brought her to the Outer Banks, where she taught knitting workshops at a local company for women who were retired ex-professionals and long gone from creativity. The group grew in popularity and spread across social media. Spaulding said, “My whole style is freestyle. It’s not about technology. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about having the perfect sweater. It’s about creative expression and I used all the tools [from my art therapy program] how to heal and express yourself through arts and crafts.” Her focus was on color, texture, and emotional healing, and her students responded enthusiastically to this direction.

She spent five years teaching knitting workshops before deciding to move to the Triangle to be closer to her children and to get medical care. In January 2020, Spaulding had a fall and then the pandemic shut everything down. During the pandemic, Spaulding has not been able to see her children regularly as they work in public-facing jobs. She said: “I saw the dog walker and the food delivery men. So I was very depressed and very sad and so I crocheted and woven and kept an art journal. I’ve been through an art therapy program.”

Things started to improve as the pandemic subsided. After joining the studio artists at Eno Arts Mill last year, Spaulding hosted small group and individual private sessions monthly. During the summer, she led a five-day summer camp called Camp Crafty Diva: Fiber Arts, where students “explore[d] various fiber crafts, including knitting, crocheting, weaving, fabric painting, and other fiber activities.” After spending her career in technology, Spaulding says she finds great fulfillment in helping children learn how to “make with their hands and work their hearts”. She also offers private coaching called Weave Your Dreams Coaching to “help people heal through arts and crafts, but also to show how to visualize and work with your dreams, through creativity, by using you.” weave them with the fibers and textures”.

I asked Spaulding what projects she’s been working on lately and she showed me a handmade multicolored knit sweater. She said she enjoys working without a pattern because most patterns don’t fit plus size people like herself. By making sizes that fit more diverse bodies, she sees a way to encourage inclusion in crafting.

Ultimately, Spaulding wants to teach everyone — from beginners to advanced crafters — how to “trust your own inner guidance to be able to create…using color, texture, and other elements that soothe your soul — to those.” Your heart is drawn – to create.”

Shop Spaulding’s design line at Eno Arts Mill. Follow Michelle Spaulding on Instagram at @thecraftydivaworkshops and Facebook at Crafty diva cottage.

(Images via the Orange County Arts Commission)


Chapelboro.com has partnered with that Orange County Arts Commission to bring more arts-centric content to our readers through columns written by locals about some of the amazing things happening in our local arts scene! OCAC has been working on it since 1985 Promote and strengthen the artistic and cultural development of Orange County, North Carolina.

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