Mandi Smethells

Mandi Smethells sees weaving and fiber work as a language. After three years, and countless hours spent at the loom, she has discovered ways to express herself and her passion for sustainable materials through the language of textiles. 

Mandi's work through Smoothhills Weaving is an examination of dimensional texture created through weaving as the basic structure, but adding sculptural qualities with fiber, leather, fabric, and wood. Her favorite part of the process is documenting through photography how natural light illuminates and reveals the beautiful textures created through the layering and manipulation of the various materials. She also enjoys sharing the skill of weaving on a frame loom, and have been teaching basic weaving classes in Minneapolis for two years.

To meet Mandi and learn more about Smoothhills Weaving in person, be sure to stop by her demonstration at the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday 8/24 at 5PM. Her demonstration, sponsored by Arc’s Value Village is all about ‘Artful Weaving with Upcycled Textiles’. Learn more here!

What inspired you to begin the creative endeavor of Smooth Hills Weaving?

My previous art background is in printmaking and photography, so I was surprised when I enjoyed making a small weaving on a DIY loom in 2014. I was making a gift for my sister, and at the time I never could have imagined how great a personal discovery I was about to find. 

Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?

I recall being very passionate about art at a really young age, maybe 3 or 4 years old. My father is an incredibly talented woodworker and artist, so I felt like I had inherited some magic from him. I graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2004 with a degree in fine art, and my emphasis was in printmaking. Ever since, I am always thinking of ways to be creative in my daily life, whether that is making art, and home interior design project, or in my work as a design associate for a modern home furnishings company (which is my day job.)

How has your creative voice and style evolved in your work? How have you evolved alongside it?

With every piece I make, I try to find a way to innovate. That may be with scale, material, color, or design. Early on in my weaving work, I was challenged by my limited and new skills, and as I have become more proficient, my personal style evolved naturally. 

It's not uncommon for artists and makers to simply want to create, falling shy on the business side of their creative endeavor. How are you on the business side of your work? Is it difficult to do both aspects well? 

Totally true for me. I work full time, have two small children, and try to weave when I have time, so the business end of it is on the bottom of a tall totem. It's a lot of trial and error, and since this is my passion and not my job, I give myself permission to procrastinate selling or promoting my work for sale until it feels right. 

How does photographing your creations impact your creative process or your connection to your work? 

It is deeply intertwined with my creative process. Photography happens to be a personal passion of mine as well, and I don't consider a work finished until I have "documented" it in natural light. I share my work on social media, and that is how I connect with most of my clients, so quality photos are essential. 

What do you find special about working with textiles? 

The constant discoveries. It is not possibly to get bored, despite the repetitive process. If I am. It enjoying myself, the work I have to keep it interesting. 

What have you learned in teaching weaving classes? 

That weaving has a broad appeal, and that the immediate love I felt for the craft: many other people feel that their first time too. It's fun to see that. 

In terms of living and making in Minnesota, do you feel connected to this place? Why is local important?  

I grew up in Minnesota, moved to Wisconsin immediately after graduating high school, followed by seven years in Michigan. I missed the place the entire time. I finally moved back in 2013, and I can't stop smiling about it. I love Minnesota, and I am proud to call it home. 

What do you see for the future of your business?

Someday, when life isn't so hectic with two small children, I hope to have a studio space. I live in a 1920s bungalow, and space is tight, so my work is scaled appropriately. I have dreams of bigger work, and bigger tools. 

Do you feel like making and creating through your business allows you to contribute to something larger than yourself?

I certainly do feel that sharing my work on social media inspires other to connect with their creative side. There is an authentic sense of community in these platforms, and it's exciting to be a part of something big.