What enables you to recycle your old clothes, be creative, conserve energy and keep warm all at the same time?

The answer is quilting, and it's more popular now than ever. In fact, there's a boom going on. Area fabric stores report that interest in the hobby surged about two years ago and shows no sign of abating.

And it's not just grandmotherly types who are buying out the fabrics stores. The blue-ribbon quilt at last month's Arlington County Fair was made by an 11-year-old boy.

"The image of the little old lady quilting by the fireside is no longer valid," says Lesly Claire Greenberg, executive director of Quilters Unlimited of American. "Quilters are from all walks of life, and there's no age that's not included in our group."

Until four or five years ago, quilters like Greenberg had to rely on a couple of outdated library books for reference. Not any more. There are several good new books out, the best of them emphasizing graphics and design and avoiding the 12-stitches-to-the-inch approach that has scared off so many beginners.

Beth Gutcheon, whose "Perfect Patchwork Primer" and "Quilt Design Workbook" are bestsellers in quilt shops, uses traditional patterns to create bold new designs. Marguerite [WORD ILLEGIBLE] "Standard Book of Wuiltmaking and Collecting takes a more old-fashioned approach, but is a good reference book for patterns and technique. ANother good source for patterns is the QUilters Newsletter (P.O. Box 394, Wheatridge, Colo. 80033; $7 for 11 issues), a monthly magazine, which also has information on supplies and exhibits around the country.

Fall is the traditional time for showing off quilts, and there are several festivals coming up, all featuring quilting displays or demonstrations. And if the fall shows where your interest, there are resident quilters in the area who are available to demonstrate and discuss their work year-round.

Dixie Kaufman, who also teaches quilting through the Department of Agriculture, makes and sells quilts at the Torpedo Factory in Old Tom Alexandria and is usually in her studio on weekends from noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment (call 543-7408).

At the Old stone House, 3051 M St. NW, Rae Koch is restorlng an antique quilt top and is happy to discuss quilting lore while she works, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Koch, a serious quilter who says she is "beyond the quaintness staige," was one of the founders of the National Quilting Association, Park Service personnel at the house also teach quilting to 10- to 14-year-olds on Sundays as part of their "Day in the life of an 18th Century Child" program (call 426-6851 for reservations).

Those interested in learning more about quilting techniques can choose from among a wide variety fo classes and workshops. Quilters Unlimited and the National Quilting Association offer informal instruction at chapter meetings and formal classes through their members who teach through schools and businesses. For more information, call Quilters Unlimited at 378-4577 or the National Quilting Association 4746359.