THIS WAS a record-breaking year for Weekend's Wrapping Paper Contest. In its fifth year, 1,444 kids drew, finger painted, watercolored, collaged, made prints and did other imaginative things to create an avalanche of designs. Not only did we receive 400 more entries than our previous record, but art classes from 50 schools, twice as many as last year, took part.

But the stars and the moon were in perfect alignment for 11-year-old Ashley Weech of Kensington, whose blue celestial design stood out among the many entries and made an immediate impression on the judges.

A sixth-grader at Kensington's Grace Episcopal Day School, Ashley said nothing in particular inspired her entry; the idea came out of her head.

Her class was designing calendars for the year 2000 when the pattern started taking shape. "And I really like moons and suns and stars," she explained. For the Wrapping Paper Contest, she used linoleum block to repeat a series of icy blue crescent moons.

It was a two-step process: First, Ashley pressed a plain linoleum block covered with white ink onto light blue paper to create a mottled white background. Then she used darker blue ink on a block she had carved with a moon and stars to create the final design.

She liked the way moons curved, "but that was too plain," she said. So she added some stars and bisected each crescent "to make it more interesting." Ashley also tried other color combinations before settling on gradations of blue and white.

"She's very interested in art, both in school and out of school," said Ashley's father, Paul Weech, a director of policy at Fannie Mae. "Especially because she has a very excellent teacher."

Nina Muys, the art teacher at Grace Episcopal, has had a great influence on Ashley. In second grade, when students were invited to come to school dressed as the people they admired most, Ashley dressed up like Muys. "I think she's a very good artist and she's very, very patient," said Ashley.

Ellen Suthers (an anthropologist who is currently an at-home mom), says her oldest daughter leads an active life, including piano lessons, Girl Scouts, softball, horseback riding and reading. She's also secretary of her book club, the Newberry Book Babes, and recently wrote their first newsletter.

"It keeps us all really busy," said Ellen. "I think she's adventuresome to try lots of new things and have many varied interests. I really admire her for being able to do all that and balance it with her school work."

But among all those activities, art is Ashley's favorite. Last spring she entered a contest for a children's calendar sponsored by WETA and, although she didn't win, her entry was among those chosen to be displayed at local art spaces.

Ashley's 7-year-old sister, Katherine, also exhibits artistic talent. One of her pastels has been displayed at Cafe Monet, a coffeehouse in Kensington. She says she'll enter next year's contest.

This year's finalists used a variety of motifs and materials, ranging from iridescent candles crafted from tissue paper (by Anthony Sylvester of Germantown) to construction paper mice connected by string (by Alicia Betancourt of Silver Spring).

Ashley's design as well as those of the eight finalists (shown at right) are on display in the front window of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW (Metro: McPherson Square or Farragut North) between now and Jan. 2.