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Mother Love: Cheeriup

Written by James Kicinski-McCoy

Photography by Photos courtesy of Cameron Wittig

When we were kids, we dreamed of building whimsical, secret hideouts and forts in the trees, just like the ones we heard about in fairy tales and imagined in our heads. Nowadays there is someone doing just that, and making little kid’s dreams come true. Meet Kelly English, a mother of one with an art and design background, who created Cheeriup, her hands-on business, creating outdoor (and more recently, indoor) play spaces. We sat down with Kelly and asked her a few questions about her inspiring work…

How and why did you start Cheeriup?
“The very short story: My daughter, Clover. The long story: Like so many new mothers, I was blind-sighted by the hugeness of it all. Pregnancy, birth, postpartum depression, sleep deprivation—it exploded my entire world into bits, high up into the air. And when things fell back down, they settled in a very different, but very true configuration. I knew I had to stay at home to nurture this inspiring little creature verses go back to work teaching art and design. It was one of the best, but most challenging choices of my life. As a compulsive maker, my own preexisting snobbery for natural materials (way too much plastic in kids’ lives), and finally learning to knit after decades of unsuccessfully trying, I decided I’d try to ‘knit’ my daughter an enchanting outdoor play dwelling with found vines and saplings. Six months later the original ‘Thicket’ was done, but I wasn’t.”

Can you explain the process a bit?
“Each Thicket is one-of-a-kind and entirely hand woven by me. It’s quite literally a stick-by-stick process, from scouting out and harvesting the willow from around Minnesota, preparing the willow for weaving, the weaving itself, to finally accessorizing with fiber and ceramic details. Working with a natural material means I’m beholden to the cycle of the seasons. I can’t harvest during the winter, so I stock up in the fall. It takes me approximately 3-4 weeks to produce one of the larger outdoor Thickets (1 to 2 weeks for design, harvesting, and willow prep, and 2 weeks of solid weaving). The new, smaller Fledglings take about 4 days to produce (1 day to harvest and prep willow, 2 days to weave, and 1 day to hand sew the blanket tops). 
I work closely with my larger Thicket clients, since those projects are so custom to each family’s vision and unique site considerations. I can ship most of the larger ones anywhere in the U.S., but sometimes I’ll pack up the willow and travel to the location and weave on site. This ‘Maker-to-Home’ experience ends up being pretty magical for the kiddos. They love witnessing this giant structure materialize out of a bunch of sticks.”

Any future plans or exciting news you can share about Cheeriup?
“Right now, I’m very excited to head into a restful winter hibernation after three seasons of hard work. And I’m thrilled about these new, smaller, Fledgling Thickets getting to more kiddos. I know the larger Thickets aren’t for everyone, so my hope is to make the portable Fledglings a more accessible play space for a broader range of budgets and for folks who don’t have much green space. 
I’m also getting excited about the spring/summer outdoor schedule, which holds two schools (building Thickets for preschool classes is my favorite) and a few families on the coasts. I’m also looking into the possibility of opening a showroom in Northern California.”

To purchase Kelly’s incredible work, visit Cheeriup.


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