She was framing a watercolor. He was framing a few oil paintings. She admired his art. He admired her taste. They chatted and laughed over the long work table, assembling the frames. At closing time, they tucked the pictures under their arms, headed next door for a Chinese dinner and have been dating ever since.

"I never would have met him anywhere else," said Joan Moser, a 26-year-old computer specialist from McLean who is part of a growing number of Washington suburbanities who have discovered the hottest new singles spot: do-it-yourself frame shops, where patrons assemble their own frames for paintings and photorgraphs.

"You could spend $40 at a singles bar or spend $40 on a frame," said Alan Legro, manager of a frame shop in Alexandria. "At least this way you have something tangible to take home and put on your wall."

From Alexandria to Annandale, from Rockville to Bethesda, the phenomenon is catching on.

"It happens a lot here," said Tom Edwards, assistant manager of Frame World in Bethesda. "I guess it's the atmosphere. You meet interesting, fairly intelligent people. Maybe you can't see yourself in a bar. So you go to a frame shop."

"We've joked about it a lot," said Don O'Neal, owner of Frames By You in Vienna. "We call it 'Roller Disco Framing.'"

If you ask Joan Moser, it's downright upright to go to such places to seek potential dates.

"I don't go to bars," she said. "I haven't had much luck meeting men in Washington. In fact, I've been here 2 1/2 years and have dated three guys.

That was before Moser -- who earns $30,000 a year -- went to Gallery One in Arlington's Loehmann's Plaza one night recently and met a 35-year-old millionaire from Middleburg. "I was admiring some of his pictures," she said. "We stuck up a conversation and exchanged telephone numbers" before heading off for dinner together. "It turned out to be a really good friendship. Now we laugh about how we met."

The Washington area has traditionally attracted a large number of single men and women who often say it is difficult to meet one another in "nonpredatory" circumstances. As in other large cities, they seek out alternatives to the much maligned "singls' bar" -- jogging, roller skating, racquetball and other social settings. Framing shops appear to be the latest such meeting place.

"It's wholesome," said Dr. John Money, medical psychologist from Johns Hopkins University and author of "Love Sickness: The Science of Sex, Gender Difference and Pair Bonding."

"It sounds like people are there looking for partners, not just one-night stands," Money said of the do-it-yourself framing shop. "It's a real natural, isn't it? But I wonder how long it will last before all their walls are covered."

The atmosphere at the framing shops is casual, creative and conductive to conversation.

"These shops are like pubs," said Mike Bowman, owner of five Gallery One shops in the area. "You can stay there for hours, working on your projects. People help each other in selecting matching and framing [materials] and doing the work."

Saturday afternoons are the busiest, followed by the one or two weeknights most of the shops remain open. Some serve coffee and pipe in classical music.

"We've even had people bring their own wine," said O'Neal of Frames By You. Asked if the singles are rummaging through their closets, looking for more things to frame, O'Neal said, "Very definitely. Some people are addicts."

According to John Ozolins, owner of Venus Art Frame Plastics in Arlington, the do-it-yourself phenomenon may have started in the mid-1950s when a small shop in Georgetown, Kosto's, began offering seminars in crafts and framing. Ozolins opened his store in 1959, complete with a large U-shaped table for patrons to frame their own art work from precut materials.

Since then, he said, "I've known several customers who have met here and married."

Framing, those in the know say, is psychologically revealing. "What you're framing tells a lot about you," said Don O'Neal. "You can see right off someone's taste, and whether they have dexterity."

Apart from the social scene, the make-your-own frame shops offer a discount, from one-fourth to one-third off the regular custom framing price. And with inflation, owners say, more and more people are doing it themselves.

"It's a crazy type of thing," said one patron. "Framing in general seems to bring people together."

But not always, Don O'Neal said, noting that some people tend to take out their frustrations in the shop.

"I've seen couples totally disagree on what color the mat should be," he said. "I've seen them slamming down the tools and walking out."

O'Neal laughed. "I suppose we've had a few marriages break up, too."