Stinging Nettles.

Stinging nettles; I have spent years pulling these out of my garden, and now I find I have a little patch of ground saved where I grow them for plant dyes. Strange how things work out!

NettlesNettles are a common weed, found in moist areas in Europe, Asia and North America. The plants  are perennial, and can grow up to four feet in height. The leaves and stems are very hairy, and are covered in both stinging and non-stinging hairs. The stinging hairs break off in the skin when touched, and inject a variety of chemicals into the skin which cause a painful reaction. Traditionally the sap from a dock leaf will ease the pain form a nettle sting.

‘Dock in, Nettle out,
Dock rub nettle out’

Nettle can be used to make a soup. It also can be used as a plant fertiliser.
But for me, nettle leaves make a lovely green dye. With  an iron mordant, the dye supposedly  turns black; copper produces a lovely grey-green (like for camouflage), and the roots can be boiled with alum for a nice yellow dye.

I had run out of green wool, so I decided that I’d use the nettle in the garden to make some dye up. I gathered 900g of nettles. I tried to use mainly the leaves and non-woody stems. One tip here; wear long sleeves and gloves. They sting like crazy, and the stinging sensation seems to remain, even after using dock leaves!

I chopped the nettles up quite so they fitted better into the pot, added rainwater, and left to soak for several days.

NettlesTo help break down the plant fibres, and to extract more dye, I simmered the pot each day for about 20 minutes. I drained the dye from the pot and re-covered the nettles ( I was trying to get as much dye from the crop as possible). This new batch of nettle dye-stuff I left for another day and then I drained that dye into the original batch.

As usual I had mordanted my wool with alum. I added 200g of the mordanted wool to the pot. This was a ratio of 4:1. dye stuff to wool.

Nettles added to dye potIt appeared to turn a yellow/green colour. To be honest, it didn’t look very promising. Anyway I brought the pot to the boil and simmered it for an hour. The resultant wool was green/yellow in appearance.

Nettle with Alum MordantIt was actually a pretty nice colour, but I wanted a green; full on, in your face green! So I added two teaspoons copper sulphate to the dye bath. And got……….

Nettle with Alum and Copper Mordant - 1st dye bathGreen!!!! Lovely colour, just what I wanted, and very like the colour from last year. And just to use the last of the dye bath, I added another 200g of alum mordanted wool and a teaspoon of copper to the bath. This is the result from that bath.

Nettle with Alum and Copper Mordant - 2nd dye bathThis wool is more of a brown/green, and again is like the colours from the dye last year.

Have fun with the nettles; just be careful of the stings!

Red Onions to dye……..

So you might remember that I blogged about dyeing with the skins of white onions back in February; they have the gold/yellow papery skins. I had added a copper mordant to the dye pot at the end in an attempt to create a deeper, richer colour. The photo below shows the result from then.
The yellow colour was from dyeing the wool for one hour in an onion dye stuff; the deeper brown colour was created after adding the copper mordant.

1-DSCF2979After posting it, a reader commented that if I had used red onion skins, I would have gotten the same results. Nothing like a bit of experimentation……..

I tried to keep the red onion dye prep as close to the original. I used the same method I had used for the plain onion skins. I use one third the weight of the wool in skins; 33g of skins per 100g of wool. I also used the same wool type and water source.
I boiled the skins in rain water to get the dye stuff.

1-DSCF3357After simmering for an hour, I drained the water off the skins and used this as my dye.
When I added the wool I got

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1-DSCF3364I have to say that it looked quite promising. After simmering for an hour I got the following results.1-DSCF3378 1-DSCF34001-DSCF3382They are really lovely colours. The question was did the red onions give the same colour as the plain onions with a copper mordant?

To me the answer has to be no; at least not in this case. The copper mordant seemed to have dyed the wool a deeper shade of brown, whereas the red onion skins gave a deeper gold yellow. But to be honest, both dyeing attempts gave beautiful colours…. Now to start saving skins all over again…….

Ivy as a Natural Dye Material

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Ivy; there’s tons of it growing over my yard wall, and Bob had asked what colours we would get with the leaves and berries. So I decided to give it a go.

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I had tried this a couple of months ago without the berries. But this time I wanted to include them so I needed to wait until they had ripened. I hadn’t taken any photos last time, but the results were much the same.

I used the same procedure as with the other dyestuffs; twice the weight of dye material to wool. Also I let the twigs, leaves and berries soak for a week to get the maximum amount of dye in the pot.

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As usual I had pre-mordanted the wool with Alum. I wanted to dye 300g of Aran weight wool.
When I added the wool initially there was no significant change to the colour.

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After an hour, there was a definite change in colour, but not the green I had hoped for. Instead I got a yellow; nice but not what I had wanted.

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So I added copper sulphate to the pot (2 teaspoons per 100g wool), and continued to simmer for a further hour. This gave a better result. It’s green, but still not the green I had wanted. In real life it’s a slightly darker; below is a photo I took in natural daylight the following day, after the wool had dried.

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Last year using the same ivy plant I got a great green that I used in a hat for Bob. This was a different type of wool, and a different year, so that may account for the difference. My little nettle patch is growing, so I plan on trying those for a green……..

Blackberries………… to dye for!

1-blackberriesSo it’s spring, and like all good 21st century vikings I recently did a quick spring clean; well actually I had to defrost my freezer as it had become very badly iced over!
Anyway, while cleaning out the drawers I came across a box of frozen blackberries. I had bought them with the intention of making a Blackberry Crumble but must have forgotten them. They had passed their sell-by date by quite a long time, and so with the principle of waste not want not, I decided to use them to dye some wool. At the same time I could justify using another fruit as a dye stuff.

I had previously mordanted some wool with Alum.

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As in the previous dye experiments, I was so hopeful when I added the wool to the dye-bath; it looked like I was going to get a beautiful rose pink.

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But as in the previous experiments, what you initially appear to get is not always what you end up with . This time we got a blue/gray (the photos don’t show the colour exactly)!

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So there we are; another dye experiment completed.
Quite a nice colour, quite similar to the one I got from elderberries, but to be honest I might use the blackberries for the crumble next time………………

Beetroot……..not what you might expect!

Beetroot stains………everything! It stains chopping boards, fingers, dishcloths and white cotton material a deep crimsony red. So as a natural dyer you’d be forgiven for thinking that you wouldd get that colour if you dyed wool with beetroot. Sorry guys – not gonna happen.

I figured the best way to show this would be to dye some wool with beetroot and share my results.

First thing to do was to get some beetroot, so I headed back to friendly greengrocer and bought some.
All the literature I had read suggested twice the weight of dye material to weight of wool. However I wasn’t feeling overly confident about this project, so I bought 900g beetroots to dye 300g of wool.

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After a quick wash, the wonderful colour was more apparent….. maybe it would work; after all my fingers were now red!

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I chopped the beetroot up, covered with rain water and boiled for an hour. I use rainwater as it is more natural than the tap water in my area.
Then to extract as much dye as possible, I drained that off, re-covered the beetroot and repeated the process. In the pot the water had turn a wonderful shade of crimson.

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In a previous post about mordants, I had commented that some dye materials do not stick to the wool. Beetroot is one of these.  So I decided to do a little experiment; dye one hank in the half the dye-bath with un-mordanted wool. It looked so promising, however as soon as I took the wool out of the pot the colour went; I now had a very pale beige colour.
One thing I should point out is that the photographs are not exact replicas of the colours I’ve achieved, but they should give an indication of what happened.

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It wasn’t a colour that really appealed to me. Anyway, after boiling for another hour, I got this;

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It’s a very pale beige colour. And there you have it; dye extracted from beetroot will not stick to wool that is not mordanted.
But would a mordant make much, if any, difference?

I’d already mordanted some wool and I added that to the dye-bath. Still no vivid red, but at this stage any colour would have been good; this looked more promising.

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When I took the wool out of the pot, the colour held. Not the brilliant red one would expect from beetroot, but a soft peachy gold colour.

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I left the wool simmering in the pot for an hour. I let the wool cool, then rinsed it through in cool water. When i was finished I had two hanks of peach gold wool. They’re quite a nice colour actually.

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As a comparison, this is a photo of the mordanted and unmordanted wool together. The colours in the photo are not as true to life as I’d like them, but I think they give an idea of the colours achieved and the need for a mordant if using beetroot as a dye-stuff.

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This was quite fun to do.
As a dye material, beetroot will not give you a vivid red (unfortunately) but it will give a rather nice peach gold colour. Would I use it again – yes!

Nalbinding; getting started with the Oslo stitch.

So you’ve decided to do some nalbinding. But where do you start?

Many of the videos that I have found are excellent for demonstrating the actual stitches, but they have complicated descriptions of ways of making the starting loops. I found these videos quite confusing when I was starting, so I tried to find other ways to make that first stitch. Through trial and error, I found a way that suited me.
This is what I do; I’m not saying that this is the only way, but it’s what I find easiest.

First you need to cut a piece of yarn approximately 1m long (about two arm-lengths). You can use longer, but for a beginner using longer lengths can make the nalbinding more awkward.
Thread the yarn through your needle, keeping the two ends at different length.

For description purposes, the working end is the end of the yarn that is attached to the needle, and the free end is the other.
Put the needle down for a moment.

Make a loose knot in the yarn, and place the knot loop on the pad of your thumb.

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Take the knotted yarn loosely between your thumb and index finger, so the working end runs between the left thumb and forefinger, and lies across the thumb. NB the working end must run between your thumb and forefinger! The loop sitting up behind your thumb is what is referred to as the halo stitch.

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Now using your needle, pass the needle through the halo loop from the back towards you. Then continue the needle under the working length of yarn lying between your thumb and index finger at the cross over point.
This will work best if you come from the side of the loop instead of the top of it.

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 The aim is to create another loop that runs across the front of your thumb. Pull the needle and yarn slowly through keeping a light hold on the stitches, until there is a loop around the front of your thumb. The loop around the front of your thumb is your working loop. You have now created a basic stitch to begin with.

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So far so good (I hope!).

Now for the first Oslo stitch. Pass the needle through the halo away from you.

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Do not push the needle the whole way through the halo, but twist the needle round so the point passes back down under the working loop and the long piece of yarn at the cross over point. The easiest way to do this is on the pad at the back of your thumb. You can move your index finger slightly back out of the way until you have the needle in place.

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Then lightly hold the cross over point between your index finger and thumb, and pull your needle and yarn through. You will now have two loops on your thumb, with the newest loop closer to your nail bed.

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Push the older loop off the end of your thumb to create your new halo loop, keeping the newer loop on your thumb to create your new working loop.

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You now have two loops at the back of your thumb. If you are unsure of which  is the halo and which is the working stitch, pull the working yarn and the working loop will tighten.

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Continue these steps in this section to create a chain, picking up each new halo away from you, and twisting the needle back down through the working loop and under the working end of the yarn.
The chain length will depend on what you want to make. In my example I have done 25 stitches, but for a bag you will probably need more. You can make the chain as long as you need for the opening of the bag or hat. The chain can look ‘messy’ as you create it. (To smooth it out, take both ends and pull gently and the stitches will even out.

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When you have the length of chain you need, you will have to join the ends in a circle. The chain should be straight and not twisted. Bring the free end of the chain round to meet the needle end. Pick the first stitch up by passing the needle away from you through it.Do not push the needle the whole way through. (This will be the connection stitch. As the connection stitch is picked up front-to-back the connection is termed F1).

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After you have picked up the connection stitch, make the Oslo stitch as described above; with the connection stitch on the needle, continue to pass the needle through the halo away from you, twist the needle back and down through the working stitch and the working end of the yarn as you did for the chain Oslo stitch.

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Continue by picking up the second stitch on the original chain and working a basic Oslo stitch.

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As you continue working, the nalbinded piece will work up into a tube. This is my basic method for starting hats,mittens and bags.

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So that’s my way of starting nalbinding with the Oslo stitch.

If I want to use a stitch that requires more than one halo loop, then I just pick up more as I go along; first two stitches for Mammen, three for Broden and so on. I find that this also gives a graduated start to the piece as opposed to a block end effect.

I use videos to help me learn the stitches. This link is to the best site I found for video instructions.

Happy nalbinding! And remember – practice and perseverance.

Nalbinding; a brief history

When I tell people that I nalbind, the most common response is ‘what?’. So I find I have to explain what is is, where it came from and even give a short demonstration of how it’s done.

Basically, during the Viking-age (793-1066 AD) knitting and crochet were unknown, so they had to use another very old and effective method for making warm socks, mittens and hats: nalbinding.

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Nalbinding (also spelled nålbinding, naalbinding, nalebinding) is a method of creating a stretchy textile using short lengths of yarn and a single-eyed bone or wooden needle. Fabric is formed by looping and knotting the yarn through previously created loops, gradually building up row upon row of loops. The gauge depends on the size of yarn and the looseness/tightness of the individual naalbinder. Depending on the stitch, the fabric will be soft, firm, stiff or stretchy.

Nalbinding predates both knitting and crochet by at least 2000 years. Fragments found in Israel date to 6500 B.C. The oldest find in northern Europe is dated at 4200 B.C, and comes from Denmark. Additional samples of toed anklet socks from fifth and sixth century Egypt are also examples of nalbinding, previously misidentified as knitting.

Nalbinding as a practical needle craft survived longest in Scandinavia before it was supplanted by easier to produce knitting. Nalbinding was regarded as a superior craft because it required more skill to produce and the fabric created was thicker and warmer. The name Nalbinding was introduced at the beginning of the 1970’s by Martha Broden and translates to mean ‘needle; to bind or sew’.

In knitting each loop is interlocked through the previous row and the previous stitch. In Nalbinding, each individual loop is knotted in itself, and is also interlocked. Each piece of yarn is pulled through completely and creates a knot. When you pull the end of a length of knitting, the piece can unravel completely; if you pull the end of a nalbinded piece, the yarn will knot! The nalbinded material will not ladder – socks develop less holes!!

There are two methods of Nalbinding;

1. The free hand method,

2. The thumb chain method.

I use the thumb chain method. This means that the working loops are fixed around your thumb, and working them will create a chain.

Each Nalbinding stitch has a notation or classification depending on how the yarn is looped and worked. For example, the Oslo stitch has the classification UO/UOO F1. U means under, O means over, / denotes the point where a crossing point is. If you look at the yarn as it creates the stitch you should be able to see this pattern. However I find the classifications confusing for beginners and tend to stick to the stitch names.

In Nalbinding, you work with lengths of yarn, and join them together as you proceed (unlike knitting or crochet where you work off the ball of wool). You also need to work with 100% wool so you can ‘felt’ the yarns together as needed. Ideally, beginners should use a thick unplied yarn as the worked stitch is easier to see. However, unless you spin your own yarn this can be difficult to find these days.

Most people that have knitted or crocheted will pick up nalbinding quite quickly – but you don’t need previous wool-craft experience. And as with all things new; perseverance and practice will get you there!

Waste not want not……

I was so pleased with my onion dyed hanks – I kept looking at them at thinking – Wow!!
Next day I was going to get rid of the remaining dye but when I had a look in the bath, I thought there might be some dye left. I had some hanks I had previously dyed with lichen, moss and nettles, but the colours were quite muted. What would happen if I over-dyed them with the remains of the onion dye? This would be over-dyeing and exhaust dyeing in one go. Over-dyeing as I was putting colour over an existing colour, and exhaust dyeing as I was using up any remaining dye in the bath.
So I thought I’d give it a go…….

I soaked the previously dyed hanks in rain water (it’s still raining here!!) and in the meantime added a handful of onion skins to the dye-bath, brought it to the boil and simmered for another hour. I drained the water off and I added the wool; I tied the hanks into knots to try get the ‘patchy’ affect – almost like tie-dyeing.I simmered the wool for an hour.
Here’s what I got!

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Originally this wool had been dyed with nettles. It was a very pale green, as it had been the last batch in a previous nettle dye. The pale wool at the bottom of the picture is the original. When I over dyed it I got an orange/green tie dyed effect.

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The next one had originally been dyed with lichen as an experiment. Unfortunately, in the lichen dyeing, the wool had taken up practically none of the dye, so the result from the over dyeing was a definite improvement.

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The last one had originally been dyed with garden moss. Again the original dyed wool is at the bottom of the photo; another pale pastel green. Over dyeing gave it a definite orange colour.

I have to say I was quite pleased with the results. As there would have been some copper sulphate left in the dye-bath from the previous day, the colours were not overly bright, but they were good strong colours. In previous exhaust dyeing with onion skins, I had gotten bright yellows from the last dye bath.
The tie-dye effect creates a wonderful pattern in the wool when you make something with it.

I love exhaust dyeing; it’s a great way to get the most from your dye bath. From the 140g of onion skins I originally used I got a whole range of beautiful colours! And over-dyeing is a way of using previous disappointing dyes and improving on them.

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Onions…….. not to be sniffed at!

That’s right – your common every day make-you-cry cooking onion!
They sometimes bring tears to your eyes when you chop them, and are reputed to have antiseptic qualities to help cure colds and improve health.

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But in a dyers world, the paper thin skins are a remarkable source of dye. They give the most wonderful colours from deep bronze to palest yellow, depending on how much you use and what mordant.

So how do you do it…
Well first you have to collect your skins – I spent quite a lot of Saturday mornings in my local green-grocers shop peeling onions! It turned out to a mutually beneficial process, as he ended up with a lot of nice looking onions – while I got my dye bath material!
It was a bit strange on one of those mornings when a friend walked in and found me peeling them; it was even stranger the following week at work trying to explain to his wife what I had been doing; I’ve found over the years that explaining re-enactment activities takes a lot of time and patience as the stories often don’t often time travel well!
All the information I’d discovered suggested that it would take one third of the weight of wool to dye material…. those skins don’t weigh a lot so I spent quite a lot of time with my grocer friend.

Back to the dyeing.
I had 400g of aran weight wool to dye, so I put 140g onion skins into a steel pot and covered them with rain water (from the water butt); put the pot on the cooker, brought to the boil and simmered for an hour. The water turns a deep bronze colour.

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I strain the skins and keep the water. This is your dye bath. Just so you know, the dye can stain everything  from counter tops to your fingers!
The next bit is optional; I re-cover the skins again, repeating the process to get the maximum amount of colour from the onions skins. Add this to your first lot of dye.

I described in a previous blog how to mordant wool. Onions provide a substantive dye, and as such do not require any mordant. However I find that the mordanted wool gives a brighter colour and prefer to use mordanted wool.
I soak the mordanted wool in rain water – it’s at times like these I’m almost glad that it rains so much in Ireland. Pre-soaking the wool means that the dye is taken up more evenly along the wool and the finished wool doesn’t look patchy.

Add the wool to the dye bath and gradually raise the temperature. Stir occasionally; to be honest I find that the simmering water agitates the wool on its own; over agitating will felt the wool.

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I kept the dye bath simmering for an hour and then removed the wool. You can still use the dye bath but as you will have already used some of the dye in the water, the next batch will be lighter in colour; this is exhaustive dying; where you exhaust the dye bath of colour.

DSCF2895These are hanks of wool I had dyed previously by exhausting the dyebath.

Todays dyeing gave me some beautiful colours! The hank on the left is colour I got after simmering the wool for 1 hour. I was experimenting today; a Danish dye friend had told me last year that you can get interesting ‘patchy’ results by twisting the hanks of wool like the hanks above, and then adding them to the bath.
The hank on the right was my result from tie-dyeing today. Look carefully and you can see that the wool is not a uniform colour throughout; Result!!!!!

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I was so delighted with my results that I decided to experiment a bit more. There were two hanks still in the dyebath, and I knew that you could add copper sulphate as a mordant at the end of the dyeing process to change the colour.
I added 3 teaspoons to the dye bath and simmered for another hour and got this;

1-DSCF2977It’s the the most wonderful bronzey brown!

I thought there was still some colour left to be had ; I’d dyed some wool before Christmas with Walnuts, but the result had been very disappointing.
‘What the heck’ I thought, so I added two hanks of that to the bath. Just to be on the safe side I added a handful of onion skins to deepen the colour.

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The hank on the left was the walnut dyed wool; on the right was today’s over dye result. Definite improvement!

So there you have it; my guide to dyeing with onions.
I’m delighted with the results; a wonderful set of colours!

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Mordants, wool and natural dyes.

Have you ever tried dyeing wool with something that had thought would give a brilliant colour?
You’ve looked at the way it looks or stains and thought to yourself ‘Ohhh that’s a good one  – I’ll try that out’ only to dye with it, and get a colour nothing close to what you had expected. Or worse still no colour at all!
I have!
I use wool for nalbinding for viking re-enactment, and thought it would be a good idea to use natural dyed wools to make my socks, hats, mittens and cowls.  So I went looking for information about wool and natural dyes. An early find, and a great book for any natural dyer is Jill Goodwins book ‘A Dyer’s Manual’. It’s an older book, first published in 1982, but the information is still relevant. She also includes a list of dye materials and the mordants that they need.  I have found other books, but this is the one I keep returning too!

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There’s also a wealth of information on the internet. The Woolery is an online site that has information on natural dyes and mordants

http://www.woolery.com/store/pc/Information-on-Natural-Dyes-c567.htm

I found that all natural dyes are either substantive (which need no mordant) or non-substantive (where a mordant is needed).
Substantive dyes include onion skins, acorns and walnut shells. Non-substantive dyes include elderberries, ivy, ragwort and ivy.
So what’s a mordant? Well, a mordant makes the dye ‘stick’ to the wool. It comes from the Latin verb ‘mordre’ which literally means ‘to bite’; the mordant helps the dye ‘bite’ into the wool.
You can use the mordant in several ways;

1)      On the washed  damp yarn before dyeing,
2)      In the dyebath itself when you are dyeing the wool,
3)      After dyeing in the dyebath,
4)      Or for real colour fastness before and after dyeing.

So the next question I had was ‘what do I use as a mordant?’
Historically there are quite a few that our ancestors could have used, and you can still use them today. These included;

stale urine
salt
vinegar
wood ash in solution
oak galls
raw alum
water  in which rusty iron has been soaked
willow or oak bark
copper pieces that have been soaked in ammonia for about 2 weeks.

I’ve tried some of these, but they can be time consuming to source.  Oak galls are hard to find… and if you’re curious about what they look like…

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And as for the stale urine; I can assure it smells as bad as it sounds! And you have to collect it……….

So being a modern minded Viking I found some modern versions. These are mainly metal salts, which are thought to make the wool more porous. This makes the wool more able to absorb the dye and improve the fastness of the colour, even with the substantive dyes. There are several but I’ve only mentioned the ones that I use.
I mostly use Alum (aluminium sulphate). You can get it from most chemists. It’s used in combination with Cream of Tartar (3-4oz alum to 1oz cream of tartar) which brightens the colour and keeps the wool soft.
I use Jill Goodwins recipe from ‘A Dyer’s Manual’ pages 32-36.

‘Allow 3-4oz alum to 1lb of wool (so you’d need about 1oz of cream of tartar). Dissolve the alum and cream of tartar in a little boiling water and add to the pot. Add the damp wool and bring to a simmer point over about 1 hour. Simmer for a further 1 hour, stirring gently from time to time. Use immediately, or rinse, dry and store for further use’.

One thing to note; don’t stir the wool continuously as your wool may felt (i.e stick together).

I also use Copper Sulphate. Be careful when handling this one as it’s poisonous. It’s also an unpredictable mordant, and tends to ‘sadden’ or darken the colours. Used on its own it gives the wool a greenish blue colour.

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Again from ‘A Dyers Manual ‘the recipe I use is

‘8oz wool,
2gals soft water,
2 teaspoons cream of tartar and
4 teaspoons copper sulphate.’

I’ve made some mordant from rusty iron – and had the same effect from dying in an iron pot. This one also saddens the colour. I found this recipe to make an iron mordant on the internet;

‘boil 5 litres of water with 2 cups of vinegar and 1 cup of rusty nails for one hour. Leave it to stand for 24 hours and then pour off the water. This water is the mordant.’

Don’t use a pot or any utensil that you use for cooking for mordanting wool in as the mordants can be toxic !! And rubber gloves are a good idea too.
When I mordant wool I use a steel pot and utensils that I store separately fro my cooking utensils.
Also using an iron or copper pot can affect the colour (almost as if a mordant had been used!). I also use rain water we collect in a water butt.
Finally, because many of the mordants are toxic, be careful when disposing of them. I tend to store them for future use.

One further word of warning – dyeing can become addictive! Once you’ve tried it and enjoyed it, plants around you take on a whole new appearance!!