UCB housing staffer gets ‘wrapped up’ in her work

(Published by Silver & Gold Record on January 14, 1999)

CU-Boulder staff member Chari Ihle of housing takes some of her work home with her at night, and now she is really getting wrapped up in it.

Ihle, an administrative assistant whose duties include sorting mail from three campus boxes, has been collecting the white string that UCB mailing services uses to bundle mail. She used that string — string that otherwise would have been thrown away — to crochet a beautiful, full-sized white blanket.

“I’m like a pack rat, I save everything,” she said of her string collection, which she has been gathering for about three years. “I can’t throw it away.”

So she doesn’t. Ihle, a Colorado native who was born at the Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Aurora, has worked at CU-Boulder for 17 years. After she joined housing about three years ago, Ihle noticed that there was a lot of string being tossed out with the garbage. “So I said, `Hey, I could do something with this,’” she recalled. Ihle now keeps a bag in her office into which she puts all of the mail string that crosses her desk. “And when the grocery sack gets full, I take it home,” she said. “I’ve got boxes and boxes of it at home.”

Ihle, who has been doing needlework since she was 6 years old, worked on the blanket off and on for about two years. She said it took about an hour to crochet one row of string across the blanket, which is now about six-and-a-half feet long and four feet wide. When Ihle gave it to her 21-year-old son Charlie for Christmas, they found out that mail string is a pretty good insulator. “He used it the other night and said he was too hot,” she said. “It’s amazing how warm that thing is.”

Vince Calvo, distribution supervisor at UCB mailing services, said Ihle’s blanket is one of many imaginative uses for the string. He said one UCB employee used it for starting campfires on backpacking trips. In addition to carrying their own food, the employee’s dogs would carry the string into the mountains in their dog backpacks, Calvo said. Other UCB employees have wound the mail string into a ball and wrapped it with tape. They use the ball to blow off steam at the office by kicking and throwing it around. Other UCB staffers, Calvo said, have used the string to hang things such as Christmas cards in their offices.

According to Calvo, mailing services goes through about 100 pounds of string every six to eight weeks. Most of the string gets discarded, because CU recycling does not collect it. But the recycling department has expanded its services in several other areas, Calvo noted, such as recycling undeliverable mail. “That helps us out tremendously,” he said, acknowledging that Ihle’s use of the string is certainly an innovative form of recycling.

Although the blanket may be Ihle’s biggest mail-string project, it is not her first. Ihle has made potholders, place mats and even a throw blanket out of the stuff. At times during the past two years, she would crank out a string potholder for some sense of accomplishment and a break from the monotony of the blanket work. She also gave some of the string to her mother, who crocheted a thick doormat out of it. Once Ihle tried to make a mail-string ear warmer, but she found that the string is not very useful for crocheting clothing, because “it’s not as stretchy as yarn,” she said.

Ihle said the nice thing about the string is that “it’s free.” But it only comes in one color, so dyeing the string “may be my next project,” she said. Before she begins buying dyes, however, Ihle has to solve a small problem concerning the blanket.

“I have no idea how we’re going to wash this thing,” she said with a smile.