Susan Schooler, a sociologist, swapped her sewing skills for help in caulking the tub and sink in the bathroom of her Reston home.

Zana Beard of Columbia, Md., found someone to baby-sit her cat while she took a two-week vacation. In exchange, she prepared a flower and vegetable garden.

Josephine Deal, a manager in the Defense Mapping Agency, has arranged to type term papers for George Washington University student Pat Buchholts (who will help Deal retile her bathroom).

Reston writer Bob Terpstra does "muscle work" for neighbors needing help in hauling or moving. His return so far: two hours' translation of a document from German to English, the hemming of his trousers and the repair of lamps and a TV set.

What these people have in common is that -- like a growing number of people throughout the country -- they have turned to the ancient practice of bartering to help meet escalating costs. By definition, to barter is to trade "without using money."

Some more examples:

A Fairfax County auto repairman trades his much-in-demand skills for those of his dentist, accountant, ophthalmologist and lawyer. Last week he was negotiating a deal for a fence.

Washington commercial artist Kathy Jungjohann sometimes swaps her designs for goods and services. She created a logo for a grocery store and went home with groceries. Once she designed an ad for a kitchen shop and got her choice in cooking utensils -- more, she now says, "than I would ever have bought."

Ann Canavan, an energetic grayhaired Chevy Chase woman who practices massage, arranged to trade a body rubdown for financial-planning advice from a woman real-estate agent.

David Tobin of the Barter Project, an informal Washington-based information clearinghouse and support group for about 50 nonprofit bartering groups nationwide, says his phone is "swamped" by people interested in the bartering concept. "I get information from all over. I know it is happening."

Tobin sees the trend "as a natural evolution of what has been going on in rural areas moving into the cities." A community organizer from Oregon, he has exchanged auto tuneups for haircuts, for clothing and appliance repairs and for custom-made pottery and a quilt.

Bartering may be novel to inflation-hit middle-income communities "where people think they can be selfsufficient," says Tobin, but it's probably no stranger to low-income areas, "where a lot of bartering goes on out of survival."

In the past, people usually exchanged something they made or grew. Today they are bartering skills and services, which are often not what they do for a living. Just keeping a home in good repair, for example, develops abilities much in demand by neighbors.

For Alice Arrowsmith of Reston, the value of bartering is being able to get someone to do the "small jobs" around the house "that are too small for a commercial operation. I had curtain rods put up. I had hedges pruned. I don't know who you could get to do that."

For many small household repairs, agrees Tobin, it's no longer worthwhile "for the commercial operator to load up his truck and come out."

Though much of the bartering that goes on in the Washington area is on an informal one-to-one basis, there are several groups sponsoring more organized exchanges.

Useful Services Exchange of Reston, founded several years ago, was a forerunner nationally. For a $3 sign-up fee (to help meet administrative costs), several hundred residents pool their abilities to help each other with plumbing repairs, landscaping, babysitting, rides to the doctor, housepainting, wallpapering and all the other tasks of daily living.

"Handyman stuff" is what's in demand in that suburban community, says exchange administrator Eleanor Fusaro. "Fixing doors, fixing toilets. These are skills that have gotten lost." As a good barterer, Fusaro swaps her volunteer time at the exchange for such fix-it help as the repair of leaky plumbing.

Participants earn credit hours in the Reston exchange for tasks they complete. If a man works five hours painting a garage, he might spend the earned credits by getting someone else for five hours to help build a fence.

"We do watch our debits and credits," says Fusaro. If someone is using the service more than he or she is contributing to it, the exchange tries to correct this "through gentle persuasion."

Besides convenience and cost-savings, there are other reasons for the popularity of the exchange.

Writer Terpstra says he joined "to meet people in Reston -- so that when I went to the shopping center I'd know people."

Adds Henry Ware, a retired economist and one of the originators of the Reston group:

"You're dealing with your neighbor. Instead of trying to get all you can for nothing, it's the other way around. You're doing a favor. You don't expect to get a lot back."

To Tobin, the neighborliness that such a program can nurture is it's principal value, in prosperous times or bad. "It gives people almost an excuse to go out and meet their neighbors."

A number of barter groups across the country have patterned themselves after the Reston exchange, including Useful Services Exchange of Columbia, Md., set up about two years ago and currently with 129 members.

"In this day of inflating prices, it's difficult meeting your needs. Bartering is the way to go," says coordinator Ruby Schneider. "It's getting something you don't like to do, or don't know how to do for something you like to do."

There always is the possibility that amateurs may end up doing a lousy job, acknowledges Schneider, but so far that hasn't been a problem in Columbia. "Unless somebody knows how, they usually hesitate to tell you they can do it."

While some of the barters might not be equitable on the commercial market -- speech therapy usually commands higher pay than typing -- both exchanges agree "one person's labor is worth another's."

Tobin's main advice for communities interested in organizing a barter group similar to those in Reston and Columbia: Keep them small. In a city of 100,000, set up 10, not one, he says.

At least three Washington-area commercial organizations also offer opportunities to barter.

Twenty people paid $15 to attend the first "barter party" last week sponsored by Prosperity Unlimited, a small counseling firm that maintains you can put yourself on the road to riches by thinking and acting prosperous.

Thinking prosperous, say counselors Martha Spice and Suzi Watson, is realizing you have many more skills of value to someone else than you realize. At the three-hour session, participants drew up surprisingly long lists that ranged from real-estate acvice, landscaping and resume writing to lessons in swimming and baking pumpkin bread.

Participants spent much of the evening circulating about the room, trying to negotiate barters. Most succeeded.

"This is like playing higgledy-piggledy," remarked Josephine Deal as she made several exchanges for her typing skills. "Once you get started you can't quit."

Both Barter Systems Inc. of Kensington and the National Commerce Exchange of Springfield, with several hundred members each, are open to local businesses who want to trade products and services. There are dozens of these barter firms nationwide charging membership fees of $100 or more and taking a commission on each swap.

Members include restaurants, catering firms, photo shops, appliance stores and professionals: doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants. "The whole idea is to get additional sources of business," says Barter Systems' Perry Constantinides, who opened his office about 3 1/2 years ago.

In the business world, bartering is not all small time. National Commerce also handles multi-million-dollar trades, says director Clyde Fabretti. He just helped arrange a swap, he says, of 8,000 pairs of skis for $100,000 worth of travel arrangements.

Although money is not used, bartering has not escaped the attention of the Internal Revenue Service, which considers goods and services exchanged as income, to be reported on income-tax forms. The only exception might be work for a friend or relative, says IRS spokesman Wilson Fadeley. mThat might be considered a gift.

The Barter Project's Tobin, who is eager to resume bartering as soon as he establishes himself in Washington, says he runs into people who tell him, "I don't have anything I can do." But as the people at Reston and Columbia and at the barter party have learned, "Everybody has a lot to offer."