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It's the minuscule details that make quilling special

Slowly, with a nimble finger, she curled the tiny strip of paper around a hat pin. After a few painstaking moments, the paper, just one-sixteenth of an inch thick, became a tight circle, which she slid off the pin with tweezers. She applied a dab of tacky glue with the tip of a toothpick and set aside her miniature creation to dry.

This is quilling.

"I think it's a lovely, as well as a strange art," said Nancy Csont, who learned the centuries-old craft two years ago. "It's fun."

And slow-going.

"I've been working since 7:30 this morning and this is what I have done," Csont said, pointing to a small cluster of paper rolls. It was 11:30 a.m.

"The reason it takes so much time, of course, is the size," said Csont, 60.

Once she has rolled a few strips, she begins to create. Quilling is an art of embellishment, which Csont uses to beautify invitations, poems and other such items. She starts by placing some loosely curled strips alongside the words, giving the strips the look of a stem.

Then, she glues several paper rolls together to make them look like blossoms, which she arranges along the "stem."

"I have no set pattern," she said. "Some of them get very busy. Some of them remain very simple."

Craft stores sell quilling tools, but Csont prefers her toothpick and tweezer approach, one that relies on dexterity and creativity. Quilling paper is tough to find, and the one store Csont has found to carry it is going out of business, she said.

"I stocked up," she said, pointing to a box filled with plastic bags of colored paper strips.

A Buffalo, N.Y., native, Csont first laid eyes on quilling when she returned to Buffalo to visit family two years ago. A woman had quilled and framed Csont's daughter's wedding invitation. Csont was fascinated.

"I said, "You have to show me how to do that,'

" she recalled. Before her flight back to St. Petersburg, Csont got a quilling lesson.

She never thought it would evolve into anything, said Csont, who said she has created between 50 and 100 quillings since she took up the craft. Although she can charge $40 or $45 for a piece, she gives many away.

"I do it as a hobby rather than a business," said Csont, who works at GTE Directories Corp. in St. Petersburg. She usually sets aside time on the weekends for quilling.One piece can take up to 12 hours to complete.

As she works, Csont likes to keep the stereo on; a soft rock station was on this particular morning. "I do it for pleasure more than anything else," she said.

According to Early American Crafts, by Roberta Raffaelli, quilling originated in 15th-century Italy, where nuns "used the technique to embellish religious plaques and legends. Sometimes entire walls surrounding statue niches were decorated."

Csont lived in Italy for 25 years, studying art from portraiture to pottery _ but not quilling. Having added it to her passel of talents, Csont said she wishes more people _ particularly young people _ shared her love of art.

"Life is not just working and eating," she said. "Life is enriching yourself. I think we should pass (art) on to future generations. I don't think it should stop."