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'This is the most inexpensive art you could ever get into," says Rhonda Cole. "For $25 you can get all the supplies you would need for a year." Cole has been a member of the North American Quilling Guild since its inception five years ago. Each year the guild (consisting of over 600 members worldwide) meets in a different city. This year's meeting, hosted by Cole, is being held in San Diego for the first time.

When her mother gave her a quilling kit in the '70s, Cole soon became frustrated and set the kit aside. "Being a Virgo perfectionist, when I couldn't get a good roll, I put it away." In 1999 she rediscovered the kit and taught herself how to quill. She has since designed and manufactured tools to help quillers hone their craft.

Quilling, also referred to as paper filigree, is the art of curling strips of paper (typically an eighth of an inch) and forming them into a three-dimensional design. In many pieces the finished sculptures look more like porcelain than paper. Unlike porcelain, the paper is not likely to break. "They're extremely durable," Cole points out. "When I used to teach quilling, I would take out a small hammer or lipstick case and beat on them to show how durable they were."

Between the 50 to 60 hours per week spent quilling and, on weekends, helping her husband with his photography business, Cole no longer has time to teach quilling and finds it difficult to keep up with the demand for her creations. "I can't make them fast enough to do a craft fair," she says. "A lot of ladies do this as a second income. They're either stay-at-home moms or retired moms." Cole's intricate frames, which sell for $100 to $250, are particularly popular.

"Once you learn the basic shapes, you can make any design," explains Cole. To demonstrate a teardrop, one of ten basic shapes, she lifts a slotted tool resembling a small screwdriver and slips one end of a narrow strip of paper into the slot, which is approximately half an inch deep. She then turns the tool around and around in her right hand, guiding the paper with her left thumb to keep it straight as it wraps around the tiny spindle.

Cole pulls the circle of paper from the slotted tool, taking care to keep the paper's new shape, and places it in a template. This quilling template is one of her own designs and contains several circular sizes within which she keeps individual pieces of rolled-up paper before gluing them into a design. With the help of the template, a roll will expand consistently with the others; when making a flower, Cole prefers that all petals are the same size.

When six like-sized circles are filled with similar rolls of pink paper an eighth of an inch high and no thicker than a pencil, Cole grabs her tweezers (fine-point dental tweezers she found at a swap meet) and glue (Tacky Glue or Elmer's). She uses the tweezers to hold the end of the paper and applies a pinprick's worth of glue on the underside before lightly pressing it back in place.

"Put the tiniest drop of glue on the end. Once you glue it, you shape it." She applies pressure to the sides of the roll until it looks like a pink teardrop. After shaping each petal the same way, she glues the point of each teardrop together to form a flower.

Cole applies her quilling skills to making earrings, mobiles, stand-alone designs, ornaments, and small hats. Leftover scraps from other projects are made into bouquets she calls "leftover wildflowers." These colorful bursts of paper are set into a paper "pot" or a miniature wooden pot.

Cole orders her supplies online at whimsiquills.com and suggests the Lake City Craft Co. at quilling.com. -- Barbarella

North American Quilling Guild's Annual Meeting Friday, May 13, to Sunday, May 15 Show and sale open to the public Saturday, May 14, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. DoubleTree Club Hotel 1515 Hotel Circle South Mission Valley Cost: Free; check website for class and demonstration fees Info: 858-699-7185 or www.naqg.org

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