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Koniaków, in Poland's remote southwestern Beskidy Mountains, has long been celebrated for its superb needlework. Since the 16th century Jagiellon dynasty, the women of this tiny village have been making exquisitely crocheted household linens, shawls and wall hangings. An unfinished silk tablecloth intended for Queen Elizabeth II is on show in the village in a cabin devoted to the legendary needlewoman Maria Gwarek, who died before completing the cobweb-like design (no one else had the skills to finish it). The advent of machine-made lace almost ended the tradition, but then the women of Koniaków had a brain wave: Why not use...

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