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Muriel Swenson of Hawley spends her winters enjoying the company of her cat and embroidering dish towels. Photos by Michael Vosburg Forum Photo Editor

Not throwing in the towel

Hawley, Minn. - Muriel Swenson has been embroidering designs on dish towels for 30 years.

The 97-year-old Hawley woman (who will be 98 in August) often gives them as gifts, she said.

Swenson donated two sets of seven dish towels to the Eksjo Lutheran Church "Spring in the Country" bazaar in April.

"They sold right away, so I guess people still like them," Swenson said, adding that some people were disappointed they didn't get the chance to buy them.

Carol Rikhus of Hawley, co-chairwoman of the bazaar, said Swenson is already working on towels for the fall bazaar in October.

"They're not just a towel," Rikhus said. "It's knowing that somebody so special made them and the love that she puts into them."

Rikhus said the towels are even more incredible because Swenson only has sight in one eye.

"To do little embroidery stitches is pretty darned amazing," Rikhus said.

Rikhus has been giving Swenson rides to church on Sundays for the past couple of years and says it's a treat to have her company.

"I have learned so much from her," Rikhus said. "She's told me some great stories."

Swenson, who has two children, seven grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren, lives in her own home, has never used a dishwasher and bakes her own bread.

"I've been active all my life," she said.

Diane Arnold of Detroit Lakes, Swenson's daughter, said her mother has always been creative.

"She used to make beautiful afghans - I must have a dozen - but then she got carpal tunnel and so she doesn't do that anymore," Arnold said.

Swenson has also done oil paintings.

"I remember when I was a kid how she could draw so well," Arnold said. "She always had a talent way back then."

Swenson likes to embroider cat, dog and birdhouse designs, she said.

The patterns are printed on the towels, and Swenson embroiders them, choosing which colors to use.

Swenson said the speed at which she works depends on how ambitious she is. She can finish one towel in a day or it can take two or three days, she said.

She typically works on them all winter. Swenson embroidered 28 towels this past winter, she said.

"This winter was a good winter to work on them," Swenson said. "If it hadn't been for kitty and the dish towels, I would have been climbing the walls."

Swenson said she has a granddaughter she keeps supplied with dish towels. Her granddaughter Nancy Trickey of East Grand Forks also likes to give them as gifts, she said.

"When I give them as gifts, people are so appreciative and they can't believe that my grandma's still doing that," Trickey said. "They treasure them."

Trickey has also formed a special bond with her grandmother in that they have traveled together once a year since 2004.

"She really is one of the coolest people I know," Trickey said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

Tracy Frank

Tracy Frank is a SheSays, Variety, and Farmer's Forum reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

(701) 241-5526