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A Tangled Web 


Employing archival material, documentary photography, weaving, site rubbings, video, sound and performance, A Tangled Web, links a hidden history to modern day practices. Referencing our unspoken links to slavery, the work focuses on the production of a rough plain woollen cloth produced in mid-Wales and exported in vast quantities to the West Indies from the mid1600’s to the early 1800’s. 


This cloth was known locally as ‘webs’ or in Welsh ‘gwe’ and brethyn cartref (home cloth).  More widely and in the West Indies as Welsh plains or cottons and negro cloth. 


The ruins of fulling mills, known as Pandys, where the cloth was finished, have been photographed in intricate detail, and are shown alongside found archives. Collis has woven, on a traditional loom, a length of rough cloth, then screen printed a three-arrow triangle representing the trans-Atlantic slave route. During the performance, the artist will slowly unpick the weft and the warp, a metaphorical enactment to reflect the complexity of the story.


Study of the fast flowing Afon Aran, fed from Cader Idris above Dolgellau, providing water power to the pandys.

Installation Views

You can see a video of the exhibition and performance here.  The unpicking of the cloth is pertinent, as it was dyed to meet the preferences of the tribal leaders on the west coast of Africa, blues and greens were favoured.  This would happen before the trading for slaves could begin.  The cloth was often unpicked to be 'rewoven in a style more to their liking' (Evans, C.2010).

 A woven, rough woollen cloth made in mid-Wales from around 1650-1830, had several names 

                                                    Webs                                            Brethyn cartref 

                                                    Negro cloth                                 Welsh plains 

                                                    Welsh cottons                             Gwe


Ruins of pandys are the only remaining evidence in the landscape of this industry. The cloth was originally made by pauper tenant farmers to pay ever rising rents, to their insatiable landlords 

At the start made by pauper tenant farmers in their homes, the heavy cloth had to be sold, by law, to the Shrewsbury Drapers. This involved a treacherous journey by packhorse, crossing

Pont Minllyn

 It went on to become a thriving industry, estimated by some historians to be worth £9m a year in todays money. The profits went mainly to the Shrewsbury Drapers Guild and later to merchant traders.


Merchants would ‘loan’ money to the paupers. This meant they had control of the cloth before it had even been made. ‘Abject proletarianism came next.’ 

Evans, C. (2021)

Estimated production 

                                                    1690                                             388,000 yards 

                                                    1750                                           1,980,000 yards 

                                                    1812                                           7,736,000 yards

Estimated slave population in the Caribbean who needed clothing


                                                        1688                                                    87,000

                                                        1812                                                   743,000



12.5 million slaves were transported

10.7 million survived

This work was chosen for Ffocws 2023 at ffotgallery, Cardiff.  You can explore the work and installation here:

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