Kathleen Farris is a costumer from Memphis, Tennessee who has created countless costumes for theater productions, concerts, ballets, operas, and films over the past three decades. I recently talked to her about her latest work on the set of the recent film The Help, which was released in August 2011. This week, I’ll show you a behind-the-scenes look at the costumes she made for the character Elaine Stein, played by Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen.
Based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, The Help tells the story of three women striving to change the rigid social restrictions and racial discrimination that gripped Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. On set in Greenwood, Mississippi, Kathleen sewed as part of Academy Award-nominated costume designer Sharen Davis’ creative team, whose primary objective was to create a diverse collection of historically accurate and stylistically unique costumes for Stockett’s distinctive cast of characters.
Over three and a half months of filming, Kathleen created, sewed, repaired and altered over 400 costumes for the entire cast. She primarily worked on the costumes for the characters Elaine Stein, Elizabeth Leefolt and Mae Mobley Leefolt.
Kathleen takes particular pride in her work sewing costumes for Elaine Stein, played by Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen. In the film and the book, Elaine speaks to and publishes a novel for Skeeter, one of the three leading ladies. A female editor working in New York in the 1960s, Elaine is a seasoned professional and a woman before her time.
Professional costumers like Kathleen create costume patterns to match the personality of each character. “Everything [Elaine Stein] wore had to be on the cutting edge of fashion,” Kathleen explains. “She is smart and professional, a woman who would shop in Paris, a woman of high income and title.”
This production photo shows Steenburgen dressed in one of Kathleen’s creations, a checked green business suit made of a tweed-like wool. The design and material for this suit pattern are befitting of a 1960s progressive businesswoman.
Kathleen also made the skirt and finished the blouse for the costume above. The knot of pearls complements the pearly buttons on her blouse, suggesting high status and wealth. The pencil skirt pattern is made of navy blue wool.
Kathleen says her favorite costume she made for the movie was a set of pajamas for Steenburgen’s character, made of a two-ply, buff-colored silk with pink trim. “They were just so completely luxurious,” Kathleen gushes. Steenburgen liked the pajamas so much that she actually kept them after filming ended!
If you see the movie, look for Kathleen in the credits! She’s listed as the Stitcher. Next time, I’ll feature Kathleen’s work sewing costumes for the character of Elizabeth Leefolt, played by Ahna O’Reilley.
What do you think of Kathleen’s artistry? Have you read the book or seen the movie? I will be in touch with Kathleen, so post any comments or questions for her below, and I’ll answer them in the next post.
If you like the dress and skirt pictured above, check out these great vintage sewing patterns from AllFreeSewing.com!