(Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of stories about 'People at Work,' focusing on people with interesting or unusual jobs.)
Deb Accuardi and Stevanie Pico have probably heard all the bad puns before, but the reality is that they are willing to dye for you. Really.
But note that the word is spelled "d-y-e"; the two are the owners of Pico Accuardi Dyeworks in Oak Grove, and as such, they spend a lot of time up to their elbows custom dyeing fiber, from lace weight to bulky, for yarn shops in Oregon and beyond.
What the two love best about their jobs can be summed up in one word - creativity.
'It is fantastically creative,' Pico said, and Accuardi added, 'It is a huge creative outlet.'
Pico is the head dyer who comes in every day and prepares the fibers for dyeing. One of the things she finds most fascinating about the dyeing process is that all the yarns take the dye differently, so depending on the fiber content, one dye bath may yield 15 different colors.
She also relishes the ability to collaborate with other creative people, because 'that helps you explore your work and art in a way you didn't think about before.'
Accuardi, who is the owner of Gino's restaurant in Sellwood, approaches the job from a slightly different viewpoint.
'I come from a teaching, cooking and gardening background; I studied herbs for many years and experimented (with dyeing) on my own,' she said, noting that she and Pico met at a since-closed yarn shop in Sellwood called Abundant Yarn.
'I was dyeing and selling yarn there and Stevanie was the assistant manager,' she added.
The two women first began Pico Accuardi Dyeworks in 2009, sharing a space with some friends out near the airport. When their friends recently decided to downsize, the two moved into a converted warehouse just off Oak Grove Boulevard. The space is cozy, they said, yet big enough to allow them plenty of room for dyeing and hosting workshops on natural dyes, knitting and spinning.
The business is not set up as a retail outlet, but the two women encourage people to make appointments to come in and see the yarns. Their main business is selling the naturally dyed yarns to shops.
Both Pico and Accuardi have been knitting and spinning for years, and both have numerous ties to the Milwaukie area.
Pico graduated from Rex Putnam High School, and her two sons attend the Milwaukie Academy of the Arts based out of Milwaukie High School.
'My great-grandma was Ellen 'Nell' Martin, and she was known as 'Mrs. Milwaukie.' Her brother and her uncle were both the mayors of Milwaukie, and her father was one of the ones who incorporated Milwaukie. He ran a tavern that is now called the Oak Grove Tavern,' Pico said.
Accuardi grew up in Southeast Portland, but her grandfather was the principal of Milwaukie Junior
High School, and many years ago, she added, her own father was the principal at Clackamas High School.
The two women are just now starting to relax after the stress of competing in the recent 'Fleece to Foot' sock-knitting competition held at the Sock Summit in Portland on July 28-31. Although they did not win the competition, they did complete one sock and found the experience enjoyable.
Organizers sheared a sheep in the morning, and then gave the competitors, who worked in teams of five, the natural fleece. They then combed out the fleece, spun it and handed the fiber off to the knitters, who had to read a pattern they'd never seen before, knit five different segments and then sew those into a pair of socks.
'We made a good showing,' Pico noted.
Coming up on Aug. 27, the pair will host a workshop at their site in Oak Grove, teaching students how to dye their own sweater's worth of worsted-weight, super-wash merino yarn.
But their big project is an Oregon-based 2012 calendar called, 'Created in Oregon - A Knitter's Datebook,' featuring a different knitting pattern and a recipe for each month, along with little tidbits about Oregon history.
Accuardi wrote the articles and said that the printing was done locally on recycled paper. A photo of the front page of the datebook can be seen on their website, and the calendar can be ordered from there as well. It will make an excellent gift for the knitter, the two said.
What sets their business apart from other dyeworks is that they use only natural dyes.
'Anything we use can be poured in the garden - there are no harmful chemicals, nothing toxic. Anything we can recycle, we do,' Accuardi said.
Onion skins scavenged from Gino's and from local grocery stores yield a soft yellow, as do calendula flowers. Other colors come from dark-colored dahlias and purple basil, Accuardi noted.
Their custom-dyed yarns are sold in shops all over the area, including Twisted on Northeast Broadway in Portland, For Yarn's Sake in Beaverton, Urban Fiber Arts in Portland's Pearl District and Andersen Fiber Works in Gresham.
'We have just started to do online research as to how best to support our customers; currently we are in yarn stores in 30 states,' Accuardi said.
'We'd like to expand at a reasonable rate while continuing to bring our uniquely dyed products to customers,' Pico said, adding that they plan to do a workshop that shows people what it would be like to go from the sheep to a sweater.
'We want people to know the source of the fleece, how to clean it, spin it and make it into what you want it to be,' she said.
Accuardi added, 'We want to educate the public on what is the most important thing to us, and that is anything that has to do with fiber and yarn.'
Pico and Accuardi attracted national notice with their dyeworks when they recently were nominated for the Business Innovation Award from the National NeedleArts Association.
Pico said, 'Around 20 yarn wholesalers were nominated and we were selected as finalists, next to Classic Elite, Knitwits and Schacht Spindle, who took the prize. It's pretty cool for our little Portland company to be up there with names like that.'
• Pico Accuardi Dyeworks, 14739 S.E. Arista Drive, Oak Grove, 97267.
• Visit the website at www.picoaccuardi.com.
• Upcoming workshop: Dye a sweater's worth of yarn.