Hilda M. Schnitker, a Towson seamstress who once owned dress shops on New York's swank Fifth Avenue and Baltimore's Saratoga Street, died of cancer March 16 at the Manor Care Nursing Home. She was 85.
Mrs. Schnitker spent most of her life hunched over a sewing machine, turning out almost anything that could be made with a bit of fabric, thread and loving care, according to friends and relatives.
"Hilda and that old factory Singer were inseparable. She used to make that thing sing for her -- zip, zip, zzzip," said Genevieve Jones, Mrs. Schnitker's longtime friend.
"Sewing was the heart of Hilda's life," Mrs. Jones said. "She lived to sew -- almost up until the day she went into the hospital."
The former Hilda M. Caskey immigrated to America and settled with her parents and siblings in Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood. Her mother taught her to sew in order to make clothes for the family and decorations for the home when there was no money to buy them.
Mrs. Schnitker worked in Baltimore's garment factories during the 1930s and, later, in the sweatshops of New York's garment district. "She was a top-notch producer," said Mrs. Jones, who had worked with Mrs. Schnitker. "She was fast; no one could match her record."
With no formal training, the young Polish seamstress began to design clothes of her own, using one-size patterns to fit any figure. The business thrived, and she soon opened her own dressmaker's shop in a New York hotel on Fifth Avenue.
The young woman returned to Baltimore during the 1940s and opened another shop on Saratoga Street, making everything from wedding ensembles and fur coats to drapes and couch covers.
She later married John W. Schnitker, and the couple settled in Towson.
Mrs. Schnitker continued to work until she was 62, then retired with her husband to Florida. There, she took courses in painting and gave her works to friends and family.
After Mr. Schnitker died in 1980, she went to live with her brother in California, then returned to Towson about 10 years ago. Mrs. Schnitker lived at the Hampton House and worked as a seamstress from her apartment until her death.
Her survivors include a sister-in-law, Ruth Cate of Baltimore; a niece, Carol Maulsby of Baltimore; and two nephews, Trent Schnitker of San Francisco and Terry Schnitker of Gettysburg, Pa.