Trix Up My Sleeve

I haven’t carved a pumpkin in a few years. Growing up my mom would cut out the top. Then my sisters and I scooped out all the goo and seeds. We rinsed the seeds and toasted them with salt.

Not everybody is as fortunate as I. Many of you may have never carved pumpkins in your whole life. My mother is extremely creative and puts most artists to shame without a significant effort. All my sisters get our creativity from her. If you still have a fresh, uncut pumpkin try it out now as practice for later.

Even my dad was pretty creative. One year, he made about 50+ pumpkin pies. I’m not exaggerating. Ever since, I can’t eat them.  It looks good, but after being force-fed pumpkin pie for days on end, I’ve lost my desire to do so. He also thought saving that stringy crap would make great soup. I’m in culinary school and I can tell you right now, you don’t want to floss while you eat. Anyway he froze all of it for about 15 years and it must have made an excellent ice pack.

However, you need not be intimidated. Pumpkin carving is easy, fun, and impressive. I’ve got some tips to help you next year. You can carve your pumpkin outside or inside, whichever you prefer.

What you’ll need: Pumpkin (choose one with a good stem and a firm exterior), Newspaper, a Pattern (simple is best, you can find one at this site.)  Level Surface (Table), Carving knife, a BIG (thick) needle, Pairing knife, Sharpie, Tape, Pottery tools (Check Amazon if you don’t have any), a large bowl, a Candle (to put inside), Oven (optional). Oh, and don’t forget your enthusiasm!

Once you have your tools, cover your work area with newsprint and set the  pumpkin on newsprint. With a sharpie, make a circle around the stem of your pumpkin about 2 inches away from the base of the stem.  No, don’t get a compass out, it works better just by hand.

Now is the tricky part. Hold the carving knife at a slant. This is an important!!! If you cut the circle straight down the “lid” will fall into the pumpkin and squirrels will probably eat the whole thing before Halloween. Carefully cut all the way around the stem following your pre-drawn circle as closely as possible.

Next, go around your lid again to loosen the opening. A pumpkin is more or less hollow so you should feel it if you’ve broken all the way through to the center. Now that it is cut hold your stem at it’s base, and pull upward while twisting it slightly. You will now see the stringy mush and seeds inside.

If you decide to keep the seeds, you may want a smaller bowl to save them in.Otherwise, all the seeds and mush can be thrown outside for the squirrels who will appreciate it greatly.

Once most of the interior is clean, you can use one of those circle-y things to scrape the sides clean. DON”T take away too much in this case more is better. If the sides of your pumpkin are too thin the whole thing will collapse. Now you’re ready for the fun. Tape your pattern to the front of the pumpkin. While carving don’t keep checking to see if it looks okay, it is tempting but your pattern may move off center if you keep removing your tape.

As my sculpture teacher always says, “Use the KISS principal (Keep It Simple Sweetheart).”

Take the needle and begin to poke tiny holes around the outline. If you are using the pattern from the website above (, the gray is cut out and the white will still be pumpkin. Be sure to make holes in all gray areas, then remove the pattern and you should be able to see the outline.

There are two choices below, just pick one.

Choice 1: Remove the largest gray areas first. Then, work on small stuff. For me I found a jagged edged apple corer to work well  initially but it is not neccessary. It is also easy to make circles with. Look for something in your kitchen, you can probably use a spoon or something. Once the skin of the pumpkin is off, use the small circle-y tool to scrape just enough away so if a candle is lit it will glow. If you accidentally scrape all the way thru it’s okay, it won’t ruin your hard work.

If you chose this method skip the next paragraph.

Choice 2:If you want to cut all the way through the pumpkin, which is easier, skip the above step. Instead use a small sharp knife, such as your pairing knife to cut only around the outlines of your needle marks. Remember to cut out anything that is gray, it may help to shade those areas or draw with a sharpie on the needle marks. For small gray areas, such as eyes or a tail, too small to cut use the needle and poke it all the way into the pumpkin.

Once you cut the bigger shapes they should just fall out.

That’s about all. There is no right way to do this and practice makes perfect! If you have any questions just ask. I’ll try to give prompt answers. You are welcome to print this for personal use only. Taking credit for other people’s work is a crime and will give you bad karma.

Here are some photos. Mine is the cat and my mom carved the owl. Special thanks to, Amazon and DLTK, without which I would be without a free pattern, pottery supplies and a happy pumpkin!


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