A turning point for KidKardiac was a rug she made of a cover of the first issue of Vibe Magazine, featuring a photo of Snoop Dogg.

Artist Kid Kardiac’s hand-tufted rugs capture moments in time: the first issue of Vibe Magazine, iconic album cover poses by Jay-Z and Missy Elliott, and Kobe Bryant leaning on his NBA championship trophy. Kid Kardiac, who also goes by “the kid” and whose real name is Claire Gentry, characterizes her work as “teetering on nostalgia.” But it’s more personal than that. As she puts it, “I want people to understand me through the art.”

Creating the rugs

Using a few shades of yarn and a tufting gun, Gentry recreates photos, magazine covers, and album covers in impressive detail. Translating iconic images into a plush, 3-D rug reinvigorates them in an unexpected way.

“I’m bringing old moments to new people,” she says.

The roots of Gentry’s practice are musical. She studied audio engineering at Elmhurst College near Chicago, where she invented the artist name Kid Kardiac: “‘Kid’ because I’m a kid at heart and ‘Kardiac’ because I wear my heart on my sleeve,” she says. “I’m a Pisces.”

But Gentry stepped away from her creative practice after graduation and it wasn’t until several years later, during the pandemic, that Gentry found herself at a crossroads. With her hours reduced at her job at the Tennessee National Guard, Gentry asked herself: What do I really want to do?

Musical inspiration

Gentry began mixing her own beats and sampling music. She even had a music room full of equipment—and she needed a rug for it. She wanted something music-themed, something a little bit nostalgic. She couldn’t find anything that suited her, so she decided to try making one herself. First, Gentry tried punch needle, but realized the process would take incredibly long for the size of rug she wanted. Then, she stumbled upon a video of someone using a tufting gun.

History of rug tufting

The tufting gun was invented in 1930 in response to a demand for tufted chenille bedspreads in Dalton, Georgia, which remains the “Carpet Capital of the World.” The craft experienced a renaissance during the pandemic. Viral videos of people using tufting guns (which make a zippy, fun sound) brought tons of new folks into the craft, including Gentry. According to an article in NPR, sales at tuftinggun.com, a popular US supplier, increased more than 600% between 2019 and 2020.

Gentry started by ordering a kit. Right away, she loved the process. After a few months, Gentry began selling her rugs online in October 2020. She shared her work through Instagram and TikTok and received commissions, often for cartoon characters. “I think people want to stay connected to the things they love,” Gentry says. Having a piece of nostalgia turned into a rug that they could put in their living space let her customers feel like, “Ok, I can have that forever.”

But as Gentry kept making rugs, she began to explore a shift in her work. The medium was growing in popularity, and soon, it was possible to find “pretty much everything.” Gentry didn’t want to get “lumped in” with others. “I kind of took a pivot,” she says.

KidKardiac’s portfolio has its own unique vibe that is heavily influenced by Hip Hop culture from a time that was formative for her.

Making it her own

The turning point was a rug she made of a cover of the first issue of Vibe Magazine, featuring a photo of Snoop Dogg. Vibe was founded in 1993 to showcase Hip Hop artists, and it was known especially for its covers, which featured iconic Hip Hop artists of the era from TLC to Tupac to The Fugees.

Gentry’s rug, which is five feet tall and almost four feet wide, captures the contours of Snoop’s face, the highlights on his cheekbones, and even the droplets of sweat on his lips from the original cover. With a limited palate of black, white, and grays, she brings the photograph to life. “I like big,” Gentry says. “With big, you can put more detail.” Her recreation of the text at the bottom of the cover in the bright crayon colors of the ’90s transports you to a key moment when Hip Hop crossed into pop culture.

To Gentry, the Vibe magazine cover was a moment where she told her followers, “Hop on this train—or not.” Though she still makes some characters—she created a five-foot-wide Pokéball rug to go beneath a wood/resin Gengar Pokémon side table by artist Lowkey Lyss—her portfolio has its own unique vibe that is heavily influenced by Hip Hop culture from a time that was formative for her.

The process

To make each rug, Gentry begins with a polyester backing fabric, which she stretches tightly across a frame. She draws the design on the fabric using a projector, adding more detail afterward. Then she uses the tufting gun to fill in sections, sometimes blending colors to achieve the impressively real quality of her subjects’ faces. Though the actual rug tufting is a lot of manual labor, Gentry notes that the finishing process could take even longer. Once the rug is finished, Gentry uses a carver and electric scissors to define sections of color, then trims the top with a wide trimmer. Finally, she cleans and vacuums the piece.

Gentry backs her pieces with hardboard to preserve them and make them easier to hang.  “I really don’t want my stuff on the floor,” she says.

Though she has a large following on Instagram, she rarely shows her face, preferring that the work speaks for itself.

What’s next

After her service in the National Guard one weekend each month, Gentry has returned part-time to work. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on the art,” she says. The balance allows her to spend time creating pieces that are unique and meaningful to her. She is experimenting now with adding paint and resin elements to her rugs, further exploring the rug as art that belongs on a wall. She has also collaborated with multimedia artist Troy Pierre II, known as frmthemindof, to create rugs based on his art, including a six-foot piece shown in New Orleans. Gentry will have three shows of her own in Memphis and Kansas City in the coming months.

Though Gentry has a large following on Instagram, she rarely shows her face. Her carefully curated feeds on TikTok and Instagram feature videos and shots of her work in progress, often with her back to the viewer or only her hands visible as she sketches the image, uses the tufting gun, and vacuums up hundreds of tiny bits of yarn. Her image—or the lack of it—is purposeful, she says.

“I want people to focus on the work.”

Alicia de los Reyes

Alicia de los Reyes


Alicia de los Reyes is a freelance writer who loves to make things. She has her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of New Hampshire and her work has appeared in the Billfold, the Archipelago, Sojourners Magazine, and others. See more of her work at aliciadelosreyes.com.