Student Stories: Horticulture major got the blues extracting dyes from plants

By Hannah Lane
March 12, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Most of us remember learning about ROY G. BIV when we were kids — the acronym for the sequence of colors in a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. But Devan Burns put her knowledge of the rainbow to use last summer.

The fourth-year horticulture major (business/production option) at Penn State interned with the owner of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia.

The facility allows the public to experiment with the process of creating art. It provides a studio, equipment and expert technicians to help artists work with fabric and other types of innovative material and media. It also is recognized as a contemporary art museum.

The Fabric Workshop and Museum gives students apprenticeships in different areas of fabric creation. Burns was chosen for one.

It was a great opportunity for her. She worked on extracting dye from plants for eventual use on fabrics.

"The process of how we extracted the dye from the plant material was pretty cool," said the Bentleyville, Pa., native. "Seeing that little bit of color at the end of the very long process was really the greatest reward."

One of the highlights of her experience was successfully extracting blue dye from varieties of indigo and woad plants.

In addition to extracting dyes, Burns had a variety of other jobs at the workshop.

"I watered and examined all of the plants, looking for disease and insects, to make sure the plants were healthy and happy," she said. "I also harvested some plant material that I could dry and store in Mason jars for later dye extraction."

Burns dreams of one day owning and managing her own greenhouse, and she hopes her experience in the workshop is a step toward that goal. It seems clear that she has a bright and colorful future ahead of her.

Learn more about the Horticulture major.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 30, 2013