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Photos by Caitlin Abrams
Mandi Smethells, founder of Smoothhills Weaving, standing by her art.
As a fine arts grad, Mandi Smethells always knew she wanted to work with color, pattern, and art. What she didn’t realize until last summer was that the art she would make would be on a lap loom. Now, the full-time design associate at Room&Board spends her free time making modern woven wall hangings, which she sells on Etsy under the name Smoothhills Weaving. We caught up with Smethells at her St. Paul home to find out why she’s hooked on weaving.
It was your twin sister who initially showed you tapestries on Pinterest last summer that got you interested?
I decided to make her one for her birthday, but by the time I told her what her gift was, I had made seven more weavings, and she got to pick. What surprised me was how quickly I became so passionate about it.
Where do you get inspiration for your designs?
I am very inspired by fashion, vintage and modern textiles, Moroccan carpets, nature, and the daily work I do with furniture. Instagram is also a great source of inspiration. I am inspired by vintage weavings and the fiber artist who created some of the best, Sheila Hicks. Current artists and creatives who inspire me are Janelle Pietrzak, Tanya Aguiniga, Judit Just, and Natalie Miller, to name a few.
What are some of your favorite places to shop locally?
Room&Board, antique stores like the Mall of St. Paul, vintage stores such as E’s Emporium, and thrift stores. I also enjoy West Elm, CB2, and scoping out Craigslist for treasures.
How do you describe the style of weaving you do?
I am part of a movement of weavers approaching this ancient practice and interpreting it in a more modern way. . . .When it comes down to it, sometimes our walls need something a little softer and different from [picture] frames. I like the softness and organic nature a woven wall hanging adds to a space, but I also use fine wools and fibers worth appreciating on their own.
What other types of crafting do you do?
I have a BFA from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and my emphasis was in printmaking. I still occasionally draw, paint with watercolors, and create prints with wood blocks. I am also an avid photographer, which is very convenient, because I manage all portions of my business, including product photography.
How would you describe your home’s style?
Eclectic modern maximalist. Really, I am very impressed with minimalist modern aesthetic, but I love things and layers too much. I am an avid thrifter with soft spots for brass objects, animal figures, midcentury pottery, vintage textiles, and anything really well made. I appreciate modern design classics like Eames shell chairs, but I’m not afraid to put them in a room with an antique china cabinet and a Moroccan rug.
You work full-time and raise a young daughter with your husband. When do you find time to weave?
During the day I drink a whole bunch of coffee and weave from the time my daughter goes to sleep until my eyes can’t stay open any longer—truly!
What do you love about living in St. Paul and working in the Twin Cities?
I will never, ever be bored. There is an endless bounty of boutiques, nature, people, and events. I am a total State Fair fanatic, and I get to live just two blocks from the fair. I also drive by downtown Minneapolis every day, and this may sound super nerdy, but the skyline thrills me every time.