How to Carve a Pumpkin Using a Pattern

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Pumpkin carving kits include scoops for cleaning the inside of your creation.
Pumpkin carving kits include scoops for cleaning the inside of your creation. (Image: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Carving an elaborate jack-o'-lantern doesn't require great artistic skill. A paper pattern is the secret tool that allows you to recreate everything from spooky scenery to detailed faces in carved-pumpkin form. Like stencils, designs that have a lot of space between lines work best.

The Perfect Pattern and Pumpkin Pairing

You may already have a pumpkin, or, if not, you may have an idea in mind for the type of image you wish to create. Find a free carving pattern online, or print out a clip-art style image in a size that fits your pumpkin. If you don't yet have a pumpkin, choose one that suits your design idea. For instance, a jack-o'-lantern face with an extra-wide mouth displays best on a wide, short pumpkin, while a tall, narrow pumpkin comes in handy for a full-body image of Frankenstein or a zombie walking. If the paper printout isn't quite the size you need for your pumpkin, enlarge or reduce the image size on a copier.

Preparing the Pumpkin

Rinse the pumpkin off -- ideally outdoors -- then wipe it down with warm, soapy water. Once it is dry, it's ready to be gutted. Place it atop newspapers or on a plastic tablecloth; then cut a lid in the top using a large pumpkin saw, angling the blade toward the center so the lid stays put on the pumpkin when you replace it. If you prefer to cut the bottom out instead, still angle the blade toward the center as you cut. Scrape and scoop out all of the pumpkin innards using the scoop included in a pumpkin carving kit, or use kitchen supplies such as an ice cream scoop or a slotted spoon. Continue scooping until the inside of the pumpkin is relatively smooth and clean.

Applying the Pattern

Tape the pattern to the best-looking side of the pumpkin, as this is the side that will be on display. Use painter's tape; it peels away more easily than many other household tapes. Smooth the paper onto the pumpkin so the paper is touching the pumpkin along all areas of the design. If necessary, cut small slits in the paper -- beyond the design area -- to make the paper sit more smoothly along the pumpkin. Use as much tape as you need for a close fit. Poke a dotted line along every line on the pattern using an awl, a roofing nail or the poking tool from a pumpkin carving kit. The holes should be 1/4 inch apart over large spans, or as close together as necessary along highly detailed or curved areas; the more holes, the easier it is to follow the dotted lines while carving.

Carving the Design

Peel the tape and pattern off the pumpkin; then cut along the dotted lines using a pumpkin saw. If it's hard to determine which lines belong to which areas, look at the original pattern again; then color in areas of the pumpkin with a permanent marker to indicate regions that should be cut out. Use the largest pumpkin saw for fairly straight cuts and slight curves; use a finer saw for highly detailed areas.

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