The pull of nostalgia is strong. We’re all suckers for it, especially during the pandemic. So instead of forgetting the past, this designer immortalizes her favorite childhood snacks into colorful handmade rugs.
San Francisco-based Cynthia Chen, 29, is Asian American so this means re-creations of Calbee Shrimp Chips, Yakult, Spam, and White Rabbit candy.
Her rugs have garnered so much attention on Twitter, where she posted photos in December, that she plans to build the collection and eventually open up a store. The tweet now has over 60,000 likes and close to 7,000 retweets.
Like most 2020 hobbies, Chen told VICE that her rug-making all started in the beginning of quarantine. While others tried their hand at baking bread, Chen picked up a beginner’s punch needling kit. She started out with simple designs that came with the kit but soon got bored and stopped. Months later, she picked it up again when she decided to make a rug that looked like a can of Spam, which she used to eat everyday after coming home from school.
“That’s when I realized I was starting to enjoy it. Because I had a personal connection with Spam, which I know sounds really silly,” she said.
While it varies for each rug, Chen said that the painstaking process of creating them takes anywhere from 10 to 15 hours. First, she picks out a snack and studies reference images of their package designs. Then, she sketches them out and gathers the necessary yarn colors before finally sitting down and beginning the punching process. Along the way, she makes changes on the fly when she notices a color is off or if the design just doesn’t look right.
“Others might lose the patience but I find it quite therapeutic. I know some people choose to use a rug tufting gun, which is easier, but I enjoy the whole process of doing it by hand,” Chen said.
Despite living in the United States, Chen still strongly identifies with her Chinese roots.
“My parents are from China and when we were growing up, we would take trips to China at least once a year to visit our grandparents and relatives,” she said. “The food we ate was primarily Chinese — my mom is an amazing chef — and all of our grocery shopping was done at our local Asian grocery store. So, there was plenty of opportunity for us to get our hands on tasty Asian snacks.”
These snacks take her right back to when she was a kid, especially White Rabbit, a popular Chinese milk candy she and her brother were introduced to in China.
“My parents grew up eating them as kids in China so it’s sweet that we also got to enjoy them in the same way.”
Chen’s new hobby has given her an outlet to express her creativity and to cope with feeling burnt out from staring at screens daily while working from home.
“I might be stuck at home but at least I’m creating something during this time.”