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Whether you’re already a sewing enthusiast or new to the craft, our hope is that this September will encourage you to create wonderful sewn projects.
Here’s today’s post:
Kathleen Farris is a costumer from Memphis, Tennessee who has made costumes for hundreds of theater performances, concerts, ballets, operas, and films over the past two decades. I recently talked to her about her latest work sewing for the film The Help as part of costume designer Sharen Davis’ team. This week, I’ll show you a behind-the-scenes look at her work sewing costumes for several of the characters, including Mae Mobley Leefolt, Celia Foote, and Hilly Holbrook.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve given you an insider’s glance at film costumer Kathleen Farris’ work making costumes for the characters Elaine Stein and Elizabeth Leefolt. This week, I’ll talk about some of her other work for the film, as well as her impressions of working on a film set.
Kathleen sewed and altered the costumes for the character Mae Mobley Leefolt, Elizabeth’s daughter who is raised primarily by Elizabeth’s maid Aibileen. The toddler was played by three-year-old twins Emma and Eleanor “Ella” Henry. Kathleen loved working with them and still speaks of them fondly, calling them “cute little precocious girls.”
Costume designer Sharen Davis wanted Mae Mobley’s clothes to look as though she is growing out of them throughout the film, so Kathleen made her pajamas and dresses a little bit snug. One of the dresses she sewed for Mae Mobley was made of a pink and green checked fabric with miniature rick-rack.
Kathleen actually made four copies of this dress because each twin needed two dresses for different scenes. She also sewed chiffon nightgowns and changed purchased children’s clothing for the girls, altering them and making them unique. The final cut of the movie did not include several scenes in which Mae Mobley is shown growing over the course of one year; for those scenes, Kathleen made dresses that suggested the child was aging.
Kathleen also made a skirt for Jessica Chastain’s character, Celia Foote, a woman who is new to Jackson, Miss., and is ostracized by Hilly, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. The pencil skirt, made of pink, blue, and purple wool tweed, is meant to reflect Celia’s bright and ostentatious wardrobe style. In the film, Celia wears it with a purple-maroon sweater and a wide black belt belt when she attempts to bring a pie to one of Hilly’s social events.
In another scene, Celia accidentally tears the sleeve from Hilly’s green dress at a large charity auction. Kathleen was one of the costumers responsible for ensuring that the sleeve ripped properly. First, she lightly stitched the seam and clipped the stitches, which tore just fine in testing, but when it came to actually shooting the scene, the seam would not rip.
For the final scene, they lightly attached the sleeve with spray glue used for scrapbooking. Bryce Dallas Howard had to hold very still so that the seem would not fall apart too soon, and the sound editors had to add a more dramatic ripping noise afterward. The scene required about eight takes to shoot, so the costume team made one dress with twelve different bodices.
Overall, Kathleen says working with the costume team was a great experience. “[Sharen Davis] was the glue that held our department together. She was respectful of everyone, and kind and compassionate toward everyone,” Kathleen says. She also enjoyed working with fellow costumer Julie Yrjanson, who made many dresses for Aibileen, played by Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis. Kathleen tells me that the entire cast was pleasant to work with, especially Allison Janney, who played Skeeter’s mother, and Leslie Jordan, who played Skeeter’s editor in Jackson and kept the costume studio entertained while they altered his costumes to make them more characteristic of the 1960s.
Of course, this costume team is highly experienced. Sharen Davis won acclaim as the Costume Designer for the films Ray, Dreamgirls, and The Great Debaters, among others. Kathleen, the stitcher for The Help, has also made and altered costumes for The Notebook, Castaway, and A Painted House, among others. The costumes in The Help are unique because, instead of one overall costume theme, each character has her own unique style and color palette. I, for one, will be surprised and disappointed if Sharen Davis does not win the Academy Award for Best Costumes this coming awards season.
What do you think of these costumes? Do you think they will win awards this year? Would you enjoy working on films like Kathleen does? Have you designed or made any clothing based on those in films before?
If you like these costumes, try one of these great vintage sewing patterns from AllFreeSewing.com!