If you think about it, life is like a quilt.

That was the viewpoint expressed by Linda Pelan in her featured presentation during Women On the Frontier day at Oliver Miller Homestead in South Park.

Emily Vella

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Emily Vella of Mt. Lebanon learns how to load a flintlock rifle, a necessary skill in frontier Western Pennsylvania.

Dressed in period clothing for the June 9 event, she sat on the back patio of the homestead’s historic Stone House, offering “A Look Back at My Life” to the considerable crowd of guests.

“You’re only given so much to work with in life, and you have to do the best you can with what you have,” she said. “To me, that’s what piecing quilts is like. You’re given fabric from friends and family, or it’s all you can afford to buy. And you just make do.

“But in life and in quiltin,’ the way you put the pieces together is all up to you.”

Oliver Miller Homestead visitors had plenty of opportunity to learn how 18th-century women – men, too – put the pieces together to ensure their survival.

Sixteen stations were set up throughout the property, where the namesake patriarch settled with his family in 1772, featuring demonstrations on a variety of essential activities, from quilting, weaving, spinning and sewing to growing herbs and preserving food.

On the interactive side, Fred Bowman, husband of event organizer Paula, gave lessons on how to load and use a flintlock rifle. Among those who took him up on the offer was Emily Vella, a student at Mellon Middle School in Mt. Lebanon.

Michelle Glaid

Michelle Glaid gives a spinning demonstration.

In short order, she was able to take all the steps necessary to get the rifle ready. And, had she been around as a teenager 250 years ago, she’d be good to go should a crucial situation arise.

“That would probably be what I’m supposed to do, and I’d have to protect my home and my family,” she said.

If you’ve seen paintings from that era – the blue and red uniforms of the American Revolution combatants come to mind – you know that clothing often brimmed with color. Telling about how that occurred was Judy Mackenroth, with her encyclopedic knowledge of the art of creating dye.

Blue, for example, often came from the leaves of woad, a flowering plant sometimes known as Asp of Jerusalem.

Judy Mackenroth

Judy Mackenroth discusses the making of dyes, including what to do with woad to make it turn clothing blue.

“You would have this lovely plant that makes this lovely color, but there’s a problem: It’s not water-soluble. You can’t get the stupid thing into the yarn,” she said.

Someone at some point came up with the idea of fermenting the plant, drying the resulting compound and drying it.

“And then you stuck it in stale urine,” Mackenroth said, “and added wood ash lye, and let it ferment ’til there’s no oxygen left in the pot and there are almost no colors. You’d take the fiber and dip it in, and it would come out pale yellow. And then it recombines with the oxygen in the air, and right in front of your eyes, it starts to turn blue.”

With apologies to Elton John, I guess that’s why they call it the blues.

For more information about the Oliver Miller Homestead, visit olivermillerhomestead.org.

Alex Brown

Alex Brown of South Park Township provides musical accompaniment to the day's activites.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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