Fall is my favourite time of year! The leaves are changing colours, the pumpkin spice and pumpkins are out, and Halloween is just around the corner.
Fall is my favourite time of year! The leaves are changing colours, the pumpkin spice and pumpkins are out, and Halloween is just around the corner. One of my favourite things about fall is decorating for Halloween and one of my favourite ways to decorate is to carve pumpkins!
While I enjoy carving pumpkins, I have often wondered where the tradition of carving pumpkins came from? Well, it turns out the idea of pumpkin carving started long ago with the Celts, witches, and druids. Halloween, the Witches' New Year, was a very magical time and people were very superstitious. People would carve up turnips and gourds, light them with burning coal, and put them in their windows. The gourds served as a way to honour the deceased but it also served as a type of protection from the evil spirits. The pumpkin became the gourd of choice after the European settlers arrived in America due to it's size and it being easier to carve than the smaller gourds like turnips.
With that background information in mind, it is time to get down to the pumpkin carving. As you know, everything starts with finding and picking the perfect pumpkin. The perfect pumpkin depends on what you plan on carving on the pumpkin. The smaller pumpkins are great for small and quick and easy patterns like the common Jack o' Lantern patterns we normally see with the lovely faces. The medium and larger sized pumpkins are ideal for most stencils or patterns that people use or buy. Just make sure you know how big your pattern is going to be so you pick a pumpkin that is large enough to hold the pattern. Also, make sure that your pumpkin is tall enough to fit your pattern. I made the mistake of not checking this one year and we ended up having to carve the pumpkin on it's side. The final tip of finding the perfect pumpkin is to make sure it is the same colour of orange all around, meaning the same amount of ripeness, and has little to no scratches, dents, cuts, or bruises.
After picking out the perfect pumpkin, you need to gather your carving supplies. For beginners, I recommend the regular pumpkin carving kits they sell at most stores such as the Pumpkin Masters Pumpkin Carving Kit. The Kit includes the scooper, 2 carving saws, a drill/poker tool, and a pounce wheel. I personally do not use the pounce wheel but I have seen others use it with good results. For more advanced carvers, you can use a sharp blade like a scalpel for detailing on the more intricate patterns.
Now that you have your pumpkin and supplies, it is time to start carving! First, you must clean out that pumpkin. Start by putting either paper towels or newspaper on the floor and then putting your pumpkin on top. I recommend having a trash can nearby to put the pumpkin guts in that you do not keep. Next, you will need a sharp knife so that you can cut a hole in the top of your pumpkin around the stem. I recommend cutting the top in the shape of a hexagon that is about two thirds of the diameter of the pumpkin so that the top of the pumpkin will not fall through the hole when it is time to put the top back on the pumpkin and so you have room to clean out the pumpkin. After you have cut the top, use the big scoop to take out the guts of the pumpkin. I recommend saving the seeds and roasting them later for a yummy snack. Make sure that the bottom of the pumpkin is flat as you clean it out for the candle to be able to sit straight up when it is time to light it.
Are you ready? It is finally time to carve the pumpkin! There are two types of carving: free hand where you just draw your own design, or for the other type you can use a stencil or pattern to carve. If you chose to carve free handed, you can either draw the shape of the face you want on the pumpkin with a pencil or just go ahead and cut out pieces. Whatever you prefer is fine. If you chose to carve with a stencil or pattern, it is a little bit more involved. To start, find a pattern you like and print out a copy of the pattern. Once you have your pattern, cut around the outside of the pattern but leave about half an inch border. After you have cut out the pattern, it is time to attach the pattern to the pumpkin with tape. Place your pattern on the pumpkin and then tape the top, bottom, and sides. You will most likely have to crease as you flatten the pattern at the corners to tape it down since pumpkins have those lovely grooves that don't quite work perfectly with patterns. Now that your pattern is attached, it is time to take your drill/poker tool and poke out the outline of the stencil in the pumpkin. This part can be a little tedious depending on how intricate the pattern in but hang in there. If you have a friend or even an enemy nearby, have them help out. Make sure you don't poke too hard. The goal is to leave holes on the outside layer of the pumpkin but not to go through the whole pumpkin. Once you have transferred the pattern onto the pumpkin through the use of the drill/poker tool, remove the pattern but DO NOT throw it away. Keep it nearby in case you need to reference it as you are carving. It is now time to carve the pumpkin by using the carving saw and then basically playing connect the dots. Since this is a saw and not a knife, it is important to remember that you have to cut by going in a back and forth motion. If you reach a corner or a sharp turn, take out the saw, turn it at a different angle, and then insert it back into the pumpkin at the new angle. This will help keep the line clean and sharp. After you have cut out the pattern, very carefully removed the pieces you sawed out with your fingers. Do not push too hard or you may break the pumpkin. After you have removed the pieces, you may go back with a small knife and clean up the edges. Once that is finished, you have completed carving your pumpkin. Yay!
Now that you finished carving your pumpkin, it is time to light it and see what all your hard work has accomplished. There are various ways to light pumpkins now. You can go with the tried and true method of using candles with holders. Just be careful since you will be playing with fire even if for a brief moment. Another option is to use glow sticks. The only downside is that glow sticks don't last that long. The third method, which is the one I use, are these cool pumpkin lights that you can find in stores now. No more worrying about the pumpkin burning or the light going out. So, whatever method you chose, light your pumpkin, stand back, and enjoy your hard work.
For free patterns, I recommend the website http://www.spookmaster.com/. There are lots of fun and interesting patterns that are great for beginners to expert carvers. Happy pumpkin carving!
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