Seleena Laverne Daye‘s material of choice is felt. The fuzzy texture is the perfect fabric to bring their politically, pop culture driven work to life. As a self-taught artist, Daye creates personal narratives in her art and tackles topics relating to race, class, sexuality and gender. As the co-editor (alongside Em Ledger) of Poor Lass Zine, she has provided a platform for working class voices across eight issues with a podcast and live event in the works. We caught up with Daye to ask more about her projects, the importance of skill sharing, and the ways in which working class voices can be facilitated better in the arts…
Could you give us some insight into who you are and what you do?
I’m a zine maker, textile artist, workshop facilitator, tap dancer and reasonably priced soap seller! I work part time in retail and then in the rest of my time I make zines and art based on race, class and pop culture. I deliver workshops on zine making, banner making, and embroidery mostly.
What does ‘craft’ or the ‘decorative’ mean to you?
Craft means a few things to me, firstly I think it means skill. Someone having a specialist skill in something, whether they’ve formally trained in it, practiced it for years or just something they’ve learnt along the way.
It also makes me think of the saying ‘Make Do and Mend’, which was a mentality I grew up with, due to lack of money and also my need to be constantly doing something. Lastly it means skill sharing. I believe that everyone should be able to try their hand at crafts and doing so should be accessible as possible.
What drew you to working with felt and traditional cross-stitch / embroidery techniques?
I’ve always sewn, it’s something my mum taught me when I was very little and something I instantly loved. I used to hand sew as a child but when I got a sewing machine when I was 11 I moved machine sewing a lot more. In my 20s I really got back into hand sewing and started doing traditional techniques a lot more. I’m not formally trained in embroidery, I don’t have any textile qualification above a GCSE, so I wing it a lot.
I make a lot of work that has text on it so embroidery and cross stitch are an obvious choice to use, I see embroidery as drawing with a needle and thread and seeing as I can’t draw, it’s the skill I can use to illustrate!
I use felt for a few reasons, it’s cheap, accessible, comes in bright colours and has a great ease of use for the kind of work I do and I guess it’s a material I used a lot as a child.
Some of your pieces bring products to life through craft (such as the ‘So I Started Hanging Out With’ series and ‘I Woke Up Like This’ series) – what does it mean to recreate these domestic objects that represent beauty regimes and care?
I think ‘So I started Hanging Out With…’ came about purely as a nod to one of my favourite TV programmes ‘My So-Called Life’. Not sure what spurred ‘I woke Up Like This’. I do really like making every day objects out of materials they aren’t usually made from, in the same way I think miniature or oversized things are so good.
It’s that thing of instant recognition but realising something is a little different or off. I know with ‘I woke Up Like This’ I wanted to make some items that were instantly recognisable to a specific group of people, namely black women, and hope they would spark a sense of nostalgia and maybe joy.
Could you tell us a bit more about Poor Lass zine and podcast?
Poor Lass came zine came about when myself and my friend Em (who is the other half of Poor Lass) were sick of being in leftist feminist spaces that either had no discussion on class, but largely had a very skewed view on the working class. We were sick of being pitied or not recognised.
So we wanted to make a zine about our experiences which quickly evolved in to sharing lot’s of other experiences and became a platform for working class voices.
We decided to stop the zine, was hard to get submissions and would drag an issue out. It was becoming a huge project to keep it in print and we wanted to start something more instant. Em has skills for technological kinda stuff and suggested a podcast. It’s not as instant as we hoped as life gets in the way, but it’s super fun.
I remember when I first spotted Poor Lass zine (I think it was issue 2) and it felt like a much-needed space for working class voices – do you think there are more places for these voices (or less) since you started?
I’m not sure there are more places, maybe, I just know there are more people talking about class which is great. Our main aim starting Poor Lass was for ‘legit working class people to share their stories in their voices’. At a time when sensationalist TV was at a high we thought it was much needed.
We started Poor lass around 5 years ago, in that time the UK has had a lot going on, Tory cuts, Brexit, Grenfell Tower, the rise of the far right, all of which brings class into discussion. Mostly to take the blame and be talked about like a bunch of thickos, so I do think spaces need to keep appearing and opening up for working class voices.
How does embroidery (if at all) help underpin your politics and activism?
I’m really in to banners and slogans. I’m a big ‘patch on my jacket’ and pin badge wearer, nearly all of my tattoos are words/sayings, so I’m very much into wearing my beliefs on my sleeves, so to speak.
Banner wise, I’m not only into the idea of them being used in protest and to fight for injustices, but I love the skill and craftsmanship involved in banners. The time and effort involved, the sheer amount of skill. And often sewn by women.
I also like the subversion of traditional sewing skills, often lumped into ‘pointless thing women do’ being used in such a political way, if that makes sense!
Is there something specific to zines that opens up a dialogue or discussion, where other mediums might fail?
I’ve been making zines since I was 15. Prior to that I was really into magazines, first puzzle and toy ones, then fashion ones (I was obsessed with The Clothes Show magazine) then later music and culture ones. I bought A LOT of magazines. I also used to love making mini books and cutting up catalogues and magazines, so when I discovered zines, they just fell in line with my make do and mend ethos I had growing up.
Zines came at a time in my life when I had a lot of penpals and was trying to find like minded people, pre internet. It’s just something I fell in love with, something that made me lifelong friends and part of a community.
I think zines are becoming ‘relevant’ again (after a e-zine, blog boom) because it’s great to have something tangible, something tactile, something that you aren’t just reading off a screen.
Your last print issue of Poor Lass (with that brilliant image of Poly Styrene) combined some of your felt work on the front cover – do all the projects your involved with interlink or speak to one another in some way?
That came about because I was like ‘maybe I’ll do the cover for this last issue, oh wait I have that Poly Styrene work I did, Identity, yeah that fits’ haha. Having said that, all my work is usually about race, class, gender, identity, things I love (basically about me in one way or another) so I guess they do in that sense.
Could you tell us a bit more about how skill sharing manifests in your projects and how it makes art accessible?
I’ve taught so many people how to make zines, from paid workshops, youth centres, to colleagues in work, I think art and creativity should be something everyone can take part in and get enjoyment from.
I’m 1/3 of art collective Yiiikes! Who want to make art that was accessible, in that it was fun and more than black walls in a gallery that only creates a space for rich white men.
I also like taking up space, as a poor brown woman, I like getting into places I shouldn’t to show other poor brown women, they can too!
Finally, let us know if there’s any projects/workshops/zines we can shout about!
I’m always ‘working’ on a zine! I’m currently trying to put together a submission based zine around asexuality and people who identify as being on the Ace Spectrum. Most excitingly though I’m working on Poor Lass Live, an afternoon event in Manchester August 17th, involving all things Poor Lass!
Words by Seleena Laverne Daye and Jade French