Local women secure top awards at Minnesota State Fair

From left: Anna Nelson, Gwen Swenson and Cindy Johnson all won awards for their crafts at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. 
Photo by Derrick Knutson Gwen Swenson's sweepstakes-winning chocolate chiffon cake.
Photo supplied Ashley Rue, of North Branch, made this intricate sweepstakes-winning quilt.
Photos by Derrick Knutson 
Karen Nelson, of North Branch, made these blue ribbon-winning slippers.
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From left: Anna Nelson, Gwen Swenson and Cindy Johnson all won awards for their crafts at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. Photo by Derrick Knutson

Gwen Swenson, Cindy Johnson and Anna Nelson have spent countless hours honing their crafts.

For Swenson, those crafts include sewing, canning and baking.

Johnson specializes in creating unique, intricate handmade garments for children.

Nelson has a talent for sewing, quilting and showing general livestock.

Some of those skills served the three women well during the past Minnesota State Fair.

Swenson, a North Branch resident since 1977, took the sweepstakes award (first place) for her chocolate chiffon cake.

Johnson, a North Branch resident since 1995, garnered a sweepstakes award and a Treadle Yard Goods award for garment making; she made dress for a young girl.

Nelson, a junior at Cambridge-Isanti High School and a Chisago County 4-H member, won the sweepstakes award in the junior division for a suit she made, got a blue ribbon for the garment in the suit division, and got a special award from the Textile Center of Minnesota. She also showed two grand champion rabbits.

A longtime love of fairs

Each of the three women have been successful exhibiting at the county and state fair levels.

Nelson got her start at an early age when she started showing livestock in third grade through 4-H at the Chisago County Fair.

She learned sewing at the age of 7 from her grandmother, Peggy Nelson.

“I showed her a little bit, but she’s went far beyond my talents,” her grandmother said.

Nelson joked that when people ask her what she did over the summer, she says, “I faired.”

Johnson said she got interested in exhibiting in county fairs more than 20 years ago when she lived in Carlton County, and she’s been exhibiting at the state fair about every other year since moving to Chisago County.

She noted she likes the challenge of creating the type of clothing she makes, a process called heirloom sewing.

“I like to hand sew,” she said. “It’s a lot of real intricate work — it’s kind of classic garments. There’s lots of lace and natural fibers.”

She creates both children’s and adult outfits; many of the children’s dresses she makes for her 4- and 8-year-old granddaughters.

Johnson estimated it took about 40 hours to make this year’s first-place winning dress.

She added that she wanted people to know they don’t have to enter at county fairs to have entries accepted at the state fair.

Swenson, a former 4-H member and longtime volunteer with the organization, said she just started entering baked goods into the state fair competition during the past couple of years.

Growing up in Wisconsin, she said entering in the state fair competitions was a “family tradition.”

“We’d take my entries down to the fair, and then we’d go school shopping afterwards,” she remembered.

The women agreed they’d continue entering in the county and state fairs.

“I still like entering in the fair,” Swenson said. “That’s what I enjoy about the fair.”

Nelson chimed in: “I still have a long way to go.”

Johnson said even if she, Swenson and Nelson weren’t exhibiting in fairs, they’d probably still be doing their chosen activities because they enjoy them.

“You aren’t doing it for the state fair, you’re just doing it because you like it,” she said.

Other top exhibitors from Chisago County 

• Ashley Rue, of North Branch, entered her county fair sweepstakes quilt and received a blue ribbon at the state fair. She also received an award from the Minnesota Quilters.

• Jean Peno, of Rush City, and Kathy Earnst, of Lindstrom, received Ball awards and C & H awards for their canning.

• Nicole Aufderhar, of North Branch, received ribbons on her cookies.

• Karen Nelson, of North Branch, received a blue ribbon in the senior citizen division for her slippers.

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