Pope's altar cloth makers turn to a more profitable line - thongs

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The Independent Online

The Polish village of Koniakow is not its former serene self. Is the reason bitter wartime memories or the legacy of 50 years of Communist rule? No. It is underwear. Very skimpy, very tight underwear.

The Polish village of Koniakow is not its former serene self. Is the reason bitter wartime memories or the legacy of 50 years of Communist rule? No. It is underwear. Very skimpy, very tight underwear.

For hundreds of years the local lace-making grannies have been crocheting altar cloths and Roman Catholic vestments, including one altar cloth for the Pope. But some have switched production in rather a dramatic fashion. They have started making thongs - and the Church is not happy about it. So unhappy, in fact, that the local priest has even been naming and shaming the thong-makers in church on Sundays.

Traditionalists agree with this tough line. At the village's one-room lace museum, Mieczyslaw Kamieniarz fumed: "All of Koniakow is ashamed." He points to the walls of the museum, which are papered with the awards his wife's lacework has won. "Just think, we've made Koniakow lace for altar cloths, priests' robes, even the Pope himself. And now people are going to wear Koniakow lace on their arses," he said.

The makers of the stringi, as they are known, are unabashed. After all, business is booming. Malgorzata Stanaszek, a lace maker in her twenties, set up a production company and its website now has orders flooding in from as far away as the US and Japan.

Commercial success, however, cannot mask a certain reticence to talk among the stringi makers. One, in her 60s, didn't want to give her name, but behind the closed doors of her wooden hut she tipped a colourful pile of exquisitely crafted thongs on to the table. "We all make them, but a lot of women are afraid to admit it," she said. "They are afraid of having their names called out in church."

Irena, whose daughter is working as a cleaning lady in Britain, is not intimidated. "I can use the money," she said. "Nowadays you can see bare bottoms all over the TV anyway."

Another, Teresa, said: "If we listened to everything the priest says, we wouldn't earn a penny. Anyway, he'll have to come to terms with it soon. It's the stringi that are funding his contributions."

Until 1989, the old regime's support for "folk craft" meant the village lace-makers enjoyed a regular income stocking state-owned handicraft shops. But since the shops were privatised, business has fallen away and the Church's demand for altar cloths and decorations is strong enough to benefit only a lucky few. Hence the stringi - decadent but profitable.

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