Pope John Paul II was born in Koniakow, a 500-year-old village in a strongly conservative region of southwest Poland. Koniakow is virtually inaccessible during the winter because of the exceptionally heavy snowfalls. Intricate altar ornaments and lace tablecloths, prized by royalty throughout Europe, have been made by the women for two centuries by hooking thread in intricate crochet patterns. It was a craft that was taught by mothers to daughters, practiced at home after the daily farm chores were finished, and brought honor and money to the small community.
Intricately crafted tablecloths, whether oval or round, reached the tables of kings, aristocrats, bishops, and everyone else with a lot of money to burn and a desire to live in opulence and beauty. The Vatican, Buckingham Palace, the White House, and many other illustrious locations have Koniakow lace adorning their tables.
Then came G-strings. Last fall, some lace makers who were looking for a way to make money spun a racy twist on their craft by deciding that underwear would sell better than doilies. Since then, there has been a commotion in the 3,000-person town as neighbors clash over lace thongs.
“Lace making has always been a way for people to earn money here,” says the 56-year-old mayor of the village, “The community, however, has been split since the strings began over issues of money, morality, and tradition.”
Some established lace makers charge the outlaw lace makers with being greedy. Others claim that the thongs violate tradition and encourage sex. “Our lace graces Polish altars, the office of our president and that of the holy pope in Rome,” says the president of a local craft guild of lace makers who has been working with lace for six decades. “Then, out of nowhere, our lace starts to appear. Why did the Koniakow lace makers decide to do this?”
“Times are tough,” say their adversaries in the conflict, “handkerchiefs and tablecloths don’t sell well.”
In the 19th century, young women in Koniakow started making white lace caps to wear after getting married. In order to supplement their income, local women soon started weaving tablecloths, altar decorations, clergy robe collars, and other decorations for Polish religious and family celebrations, claim the lace makers. Lace needles and patterns were passed down through the generations much like heirlooms.
Business was prosperous during the communist era. State funding for the community’s official craft guilds and subsidies as a recognized national art form. Orders poured in from state-run shops, prominent officials who wanted to give them away as gifts, and clergy who wore the lace in ceremonies and on their clothing.
After communism fell in the late 1980s, things changed. State-store orders decreased as government subsidies ended. Borders were opened to western influences and goods. In the previous planned economy, as people lost their state jobs, they became poorer.
In June 2004, the revealing undergarments that some lace makers had already been subtly producing for themselves started to spark discussion in the community. Major news outlets around the world noted the abrupt transition from religious ornaments to sexy lingerie. The topic was covered in reputable magazines like The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times around the time that the thongs started to appear online. Each pair can be created to a customer’s specific color and style requirements. Although the lingerie is undoubtedly feminine, it attracts interest from men as well because it makes for unusual and elegant romantic gift ideas.