Jill Palkovitz, a dressmaker who was described as a "natural designer," died of liver disease Monday at Long Green Center. The Roland Park resident was 50.
Born Marcia Jill Hughes in Midland, Texas, she was a graduate of Stanton High School in Stanton, Texas, and earned a degree at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. She also attended Texas Tech University at Lubbock, where she studied linguistics, and had a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University.
"She was a bit of Texas air in Baltimore City," said Connie Fitzpatrick, a close friend and neighbor. "She did everything in a big way. My enduring vision of her involves her pair of cowboy boots. She loved life and was totally committed to anything she undertook."
She moved to Baltimore in 1982 and became a secretary at a downtown law firm, Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver, and was later office manager at Quinn, Ward & Kershaw. She met her future husband, attorney Jeffrey C. Palkovitz, while both were riding to work on the No. 61 bus.
Mrs. Palkovitz was a dressmaker and once had a small business, Designs by Jill, where she made party dresses and formal gowns.
"She had a delightful sense of color," said her husband. "She once attended a party in a Betsy Patterson Bonaparte look-alike dress."
A 2000 Baltimore Sun article said that "she lives in the wonderful world of color." The article noted that Mrs. Palkovitz grew up in a family of quilters, weavers and sewing mavens. "She is a natural designer who can throw a dress together in less than two hours. And chances are, the dress will have very little to do with black, the fallback color of so many women for so many occasions."
She told the reporter, "I see color before I see anything else." She also said, "I try not to look like an aging hippie.'"
She once made a Western-themed extravaganza outfit to contrast with a historical piece from the Maryland Historical Society collection.
Mrs. Palkovitz described her dress as "a ball gown with a bustier top with fake fur, a tutu skirt, and a velvet bolero jacket with fringe, and a Western yoke and back."
In the interview, she said she learned sewing as a child and picked up techniques on her own. "You need an engineering mind to keep a strapless dress on a flat-chested woman. Hips help!" she said, adding, "My own party dresses always had a sense of humor. Not everyone is as courageous. Some people aren't as accustomed to the freedom of designing your own clothing. No knockoffs."
When asked if she had a weakness for any particular accessory, she said, "I have a huge hat collection."
She also disclosed the source for her materials. She drove to G Street Fabrics in Rockville. "It's a mecca. If you want pink leather or suede periwinkle, they have it," she said.
Mrs. Palkovitz was also active at her children's schools. She was co-chair of the Gilman Exchange and taught art at St. David's Day School.
"She was a dear friend to many who was not only an accomplished couturier but also was an accomplished gardener, artist, chef and conversationalist," said a friend, Louisa Peters of Baltimore.
At her death, Mrs. Palkovitz was president of the Cliff Dwellers Garden Club.
"I was charmed by her," said a friend, Phyllis Ross, who lives in Towson and belonged to the garden club. "She was a multitalented person who shared her gifts. She was funny, artistic and arty. She had her own style, which was edgy and avant-garde. And she was just thrilled when she had her children."
Mrs. Ross said that her friend had tended a garden at the Evergreen House on Charles Street as part of her work with the Cliff Dwellers club.
Mrs. Palkovitz was also active in the women's committee of the Walters Art Museum, where a memorial fund has been established in her name. She had been the 2000 co-chair of the Maryland Historical Society antiques show.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at noon Thursday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where she was a member.
In addition to her husband of 20 years, survivors include a son, Robert C. Palkovitz, and a daughter, Alice O. Palkovitz, both of Baltimore; and a sister, Molly Henson of Midland, Texas. A marriage to Timothy Cleveland ended in divorce.