For those who want to learn to weave without investing the money or space for a loom, it's in the cards. Literally. The Smithsonian is offering a course next month in card weaving, one of the earliest methods of weaving, an off-loom technique still used by nomadic people in Turkey and Iran. Cards and hands are the tools for weaving bands or strips so sturdy they are used by nomads for camel straps or horse gear or to anchor tents.

According to Alexia Hunter, during the Middle Ages this weaving method was used to create decorative items, including silk and gold church vestments. Today belts, sashes, bags and pillow covers made from strips sewn together are useful and attractive products of the craft. Originally cards were made of bone, wood, ivory or leather -- whatever was available. But today, and for the class, stout cardboard is used. "The cards need to be thin and strong since one holds as many as 16 or 18 cards at a time," explained Hunter. Strands of yarn are threaded through each hole in the card. "The cards are like square wheels which you rotate, raising and lowering the threads like a harness," said Hunter.

Hunter, who was a secretary at the Smithsonian (and now is a homesteader in Pennsylvania) taught herself card weaving 13 years ago from books in the Library of Congress. She will teach both a beginners and an advanced class in card weaving at the Smithsonian on March 8 and 9 and at the Textile Museum at a later date. Hunter says one should be able to card weave after two hours of instruction. Designs on D.C.

Here's ones more sign that Washington is inching a little closer to New York. More designers are setting up independent stores for the Washingirton area. The next arrival -- , Jane Schaffhausen, of Belle France. And the house of Christian Dior has been scouting about for someone to open a Washington Dior boutique. Apparently they have settled on a site in the still-being-renovated Willard Hotel downtown, along with locations in several other cities. U.S. Fashion's London Bridge

American designers rush in and out of fashion in London at a great pace. But not Ralph Lauren -- his business only gets better. His shop on New Bond Street is so successful it is being enlarged to encompass the five-story landmark building next to it. Based on his London success, Lauren will open a shop on the Place de la Madeleine in Paris and in the Rhinelander Mansion in New York this year as well.

Next to take on the London fashion scene will be New York designer Donna Karan. Her clothes will be featured at Brown's on Upper Moulton Street and she'll get quite a royal introduction, in the presence of the Duchess of Gloucester, at a black-tie benefit for the Children's Heart Unit at Guy's Hospital in London. Watch & Wear In Washington

The International Best-Dressed List ballot has just arrived, along with a list of men and women "recommended for consideration for votes." Among the "recommended" with Washington attachments are Sandra de Borchgrave, Drue Heinz, Kerry Kennedy, Clare Boothe Luce, Diane Sawyer, President Reagan, former senator Abraham Ribicoff and his wife Casey Ribicoff, and Jeffrey Banks.

Washington fares well in the permanent list of the Best-Dressed. Hall of Famers include Nancy Reagan, Jacqueline Onassis, Deeda Blair, Evangeline Bruce, Nancy Kissinger, Bunny Mellon, Sen. Barry Goldwater and former senator Charles Percy. Crinoline Hoop-de-Do

Vivienne Westwood is trying to resurrect the crinoline. If it was anyone else we'd skip the whole subject, but remember that Westwood's Kings Road shop in London, first called World's End, was punk central. Her later designs included the influential graffiti prints by Keith Haring, and much more that quickly became co-opted by the rest of the fashion business. So what she says and does is considered seriously.

She calls her crinolines "crinis" (to rhyme with minis) and shapes them with hoops. Worn under a dress with huge polka dots, they make the wearer look like Minnie Mouse.

Who'll wear them? Remember what you said when you first saw the punk kids in leather skirts and graffiti prints. And then remember that one should never say "never" in the fashion business. Waiter! There's A Tie in My Soup!

There's been a cloakroom heist at the Jockey Club. The thief passed up the sable-lined raincoats and the Burberrys and swiped only a hanger of old ties. They were the ties offered by congenial maitre d' Martin Garbisu to men who arrived for dinner sans cravates.

The ties are easy to recognize -- oversized polka dots, splashy prints, screaming stripes, all on fat polyester ties. Garbisu had acquired them from a dry cleaner who had them left over when customers never came back to claim them. (Do you wonder why?)

If you see someone selling them or wearing them, do the Jockey Club a favor. Don't give them back. Bats About Cats

It may be the Year of the Tiger to the Chinese, but to those fashion faithfuls who follow the word of Italian designer Mariuccia Mandelli, whose new collection for The Limited stores is called Moods by Krizia, it is the Year of the Cat.

Mandelli featured the cat in her top-of-the-line boutique collection several seasons back. Last year, it was a cat theme that appeared in Krizia Poi, her lower-priced line. And now cats show up on her sweaters, jackets and more in The Limited.

Mandelli was so impressed when she saw The Limited items produced in the Far East, she took a printed cat blazer for herself, according to her husband and business partner, Aldo Pinto.

Mandelli has honored the eagle one season, as well as the butterfly. And what will she feature when her fall collection is shown next month?

"I would tell you if I knew. But Mariuccia won't even tell me," laughed Pinto. Clothes for the Country Gentleman

Edward Duke, star of "Jeeves Takes Charge," which winds up at Ford's Theatre today, calls himself a "perfect-ish English gentlemen," adding quickly, "I'm not really that fond of the English at the moment." He's particularly not fond of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher "who is not good for the arts," he said.

Duke, who was wearing a immaculately tailored pin-striped suit with an obviously American, pink oxford button-down shirt, had only good things to say about British style. His indulging in American items stopped with the pink shirt. He tried American shoes once -- only once -- and found them a "big mistake." This week he was at Hopson Jones Ltd., a small shop in National Place carrying accouterments from crests to cribbage sets for the proper English gentlemen. The British cultural attache', Michael Barrett, saluted him for his contribution to British culture through his role in the P.G. Wodehouse classic.

He's been known to go out without a tie, "and that's considered 'not-on' " he admitted, with a smile suggesting something scandalous. "I'd never wear something outrageous. Maybe something eccentric," he said, using his Driza-bone Australian raincoat as an example.

He can't wear American boxer shorts, he said, after he noticed heart-printed shorts in the shop. "They are too baggy for me." The shorts were, in fact, British made, and shop owner Hopson Jones said they suited a British gentleman. Even himself. "It has been known to happen."