A guide to carving pumpkins! By Dinah Wolf

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A Quick Guide to Carving and Decorating Jack O’ Lanterns

As summer comes to an end, the signs of fall gradually take over: changing leaves, chilly temperatures, football flags proudly waving on your neighbors’ front porches or at a tailgate party. Every coffee shop and bakery has the distinct aromas of pumpkin-flavored coffees and pastries. Pumpkin patches pop up in every city, and Jack O’ Lanterns start popping up in store windows and lining the front steps of every home. Pumpkins are everywhere this time of year. We carve them, eat them, and wear them as costumes. We line our mantels with them, turn them into table centerpieces, and bake cookies, cakes, and pies with them. For many, pumpkins symbolize family and tradition during this time of year.

History of Jack O’ Lanterns

But why do we go crazy over this iconic fruit, and where does the pumpkin-carving tradition come from? Jack O’Lanterns were originally carved out of turnips and potatoes. While Jack O’Lanterns’ location of origin is uncertain, pumpkins are native to North America, and carving and lighting them gained popularity after Irish and Scottish immigrants arrived in the United States in the mid-1800s. Pumpkins are harvested in October, just in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving. It was once a common belief that carving scary and grotesque faces in pumpkins and placing them in front of your home would ward off evil spirits (or pranksters) on Halloween.

Several different folklore urban legends are associated with the Jack O’Lanterns. One common legend with many different versions is that of Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack was a manipulative drunk who tricked the devil more than once with his devious ways. When Stingy Jack died and arrived in heaven at the Gate of Saint Peter, God would not allow him to pass, and he was forced to roam the earth, never to find a resting place, with only a small light inside a turnip to light his way for all eternity.

Over the years, pumpkin carving has become more popular. By the 1920s, pumpkins were widely embraced in the United States as part of Halloween and Thanksgiving traditions. Since then, it has turned into a multimillion dollar industry with pumpkin patches, Halloween decorations and costumes, and carving tools featuring on millions of shopping lists.

Basic Carving Tips and Tricks

Choose the right pumpkin. A large pumpkin with a sturdy stem and a flat base is ideal. Large pumpkins are easier to handle and carve, and a sturdy stem is a sign of a healthy pumpkin that will last longer. Be sure to examine your pumpkin from top to bottom, and avoid ones with soft spots and bruises.

Use the right tools. These days, many great tools for both kids and adults are available in retail stores. A boning knife or serrated knife works well for carving, an ice cream scoop works well for removing the pumpkin seeds, and a scraper cleans the inside walls nicely. For kids, you may want to purchase a carving tool set especially designed for them.

Cut the lid. First, create a lid by cutting at a 45-degree angle so it does not fall into the pumpkin when you place it back on top. I like to cut the lid in a zig zag shape. Another option is to cut off the back or bottom. The choice is based on what you want and the look you want to achieve for your pumpkin.

Scoop the goop. Remove all the seeds and pulp with an ice cream scooper. Place them aside and roast them later for a healthy snack! Once the seeds are removed, scrape the walls with a scraper. If you carve a pattern in the front, try to scrape the back of the pumpkin as smoothly as possible because it will be visible through your carved design and will reflect the light.

Draw and carve. Draw the face or trace a template for your desired design. Your design can be scary, grotesque, or funny. Consider using a dry erase marker so you can easily wipe off mistakes. If you are a beginner, start with a simple design. Use a small paring knife or Exacto knife for more detailed designs. Make slow, gentle cuts that go straight up and down, not at an angle. More experienced carvers may use drills and electric carving knifes.

Preserve it. You can preserve your pumpkin to make it last longer by spraying or soaking it in bleach or cold water. After you soak it, make sure to dry it completely to avoid mold. As an added preservative, apply petroleum jelly to the cuts. When you are finished carving, sprinkle a little cinnamon on the bottom of the lid or base of the pumpkin to make it smell like pumpkin pie!

Other Pumpkin DIY Ideas

You don’t have to carve a pumpkin to decorate it. There are also many beautiful but spooky alternatives to carving a pumpkin for your Halloween decor. You can paint them, decoupage them, or cover them in fabric or tulle. You can embellish them with flowers, gems, or gauze. You can even repurpose them and turn them into fall-inspired serving bowls, drink coolers, or flower vases.

To decoupage fabric onto a pumpkin, cut strips of fabric one or two inches wide. To determine length needed, measure from the stem to the bottom center of the pumpkin. Apply decoupage medium directly onto the pumpkin with a paintbrush. Place one fabric strip, and apply another generous layer of decoupage medium on top of the strip. Continue applying strips until your pumpkin is covered. Allow it to dry completely.

To make a drink cooler, choose a large, wide pumpkin. Follow the tips and tricks above for cutting the lid, removing the seeds and pulp, and scraping the wall. Do not carve it. Place a glass bowl inside the pumpkin. Fill the bowl with ice and place a bottled beverage inside. Consider embellishing the pumpkin by painting it or attaching paper bats to the outside. This pumpkin drink cooler is perfect for Halloween parties and get-togethers.

The pumpkin is officially an icon of autumn. From Halloween through Thanksgiving we can’t get enough of them. So now that you know why we carve pumpkins and how to carve one, it’s time to make it a family tradition. Join front porches all across America, carve them, line them up, and light those Jack O’Lanterns!

Originally published to Fix.com

Pumpkin Carving in 7 Easy Steps!

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If you are anything like me, you get super excited about pumpkin carving every single year and then you mess it up and you’re always wondering what you did wrong and how you can ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Lets face it, everyone KIND OF knows the pumpkin carving steps, but I think there’s an actual fool proof system out there that we’ve been neglecting to give attention because we just think we already know how to carve our pumpkins.

Every year it’s the same thing with me… I don’t carve the walls thin enough and therefore I can’t carve through… OR I carve the walls too thin and my pumpkin wall just collapses… then, I use a stencil that doesn’t want to stay on and it gets wet and soggy and rips off and I’m left with a “design” that looks nothing like it’s supposed to. At that point, I’ve given up and I’m left with a huge mess of pumpkin seeds and wet pulp to clean up.

I’m simply trying to break the cycle of this awful pumpkin carving experience for myself, and all of my readers. There HAS to be a more successful, enjoyable and cleaner way to get our pumpkins carved and placed out on the porch glowing brightly in the night!

Now, carving kits are wonderful inventions for pumpkin carving because they usually include a few different tools to help you and they usually also include a variety of different Halloween stencils to choose from. They’re basically an inexpensive and convenient way to pumpkin carve. I personally think they are a great idea for kids as most of the tools aren’t as sharp as knives or saws or other tools you might use for pumpkin carving, therefore I highly recommend you pick one up here to help guide you through the pumpkin carving process even if you do decide to use some more intense tools.

So, first things first!

1. Bring Mr. or Mrs. Pumpkin home and lay out your tools. Whether it’s your carving kit, or other tools, you’ll want to have them ready for the job. You can actually use a number of different tools to create an incredible pumpkin carving. Some of these tools you may not have at home or may not have even heard of them, stick with a few you have at home or pick a couple up at your local shop! Here’s a list of some super helpful carving tools:

2. Pick out your pumpkin! This step can easily be one of the best steps… skip your local super market and go pumpkin picking with your family or significant other! Places that have pumpkin picking are usally farms that also have hay rides, corn mazes, games, hot chocolate and other fun things to do while you choose your favorite pumpkin. I also recommend getting a back-up pumpkin, just in case something goes wrong with your first one.

  • miniature or keyhole saws
  • power drill
  • needle tool or pin
  • cookie cutters
  • scraping tool

You also want to make sure you have stencils and tape if you’re going to do a design on your pumpkin. If you have a carving kit, most will include a variety of different stencils to choose from.  Once you have your stencil chosen and your tools ready, make sure you pick an area of your home where you can easily lay everything out. Lay a towel or trash bag down to collect pulp and pumpkin seeds so you don’t make a mess!

3. Once you have your pumpkin carving location ready and set, the first thing you want to do is carve a hole in your pumpkin. Most commonly, people will choose to carve a hole in the top where the stem is, you can do that or you can carve it in the bottom. Either option is fine because you are doing this so you can put a candle or tea light in your pumpkin to illuminate it when you are finished.

4. The next step is the messiest! Now is where you will get all the pulp and seeds out of the inside of your pumpkin so you have a nice, smooth, clean area for illumination when you put your pumpkin outside at night. Use a large spoon or scraping tool to get as much of the gunk out as you can while simultaneously thinning the inside walls of the pumpkin for easier carving.

5. The next step is designing! Your stencil will most likely be a standard size of 8.5 x 11 so cut around the design slightly to make it smaller and more manageable on your pumpkin. Then you’ll want to tape it or secure it to the pumpkin the best way that you can. Make sure you pick a nice, smooth, clear side of your pumpkin for your design! Use the needle tool or pin to poke holes to replicate the design on to your pumpkin. Make sure you poke the holes deep enough so you are able to see them once you remove the stencil.

6. After you remove the stencil paper, you should be able to clearly see your poked holes. You will carve these areas with a miniature saw or carving tool from your kit! Carve well so the pieces fall out, grab each once and toss it away. You’ll already start to see your design coming together! Once you are finished carving all the area you made with your pin, marvel at your hard work! Do any last minute touches to your design!

7. To light up your pumpkin, simply place a small candle or electric tealight inside and place your pumpkin outside in a special area where everyone can see it.

Tip: To keep it from turning brown and last longer, apply a thin exposed areas of your pumpkin with a thin layer of Vaseline!

Check out our carving kits and and other pumpkin tools like tealights, here!

Find more information for pumpkin carving here!

5 Awesome Group Halloween Costume Ideas

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Group Halloween Costume Ideas

If you and your family or you and a group of friends are going out trick or treating or just to have a little bit of fun this year, you might want to consider dressing up as a group. Nothing makes a huge impact like dressing up as a group—and it’s a good way to prevent your friends from abandoning you at a party. Here are five seriously awesome group Halloween costume ideas you are sure to love:

Men in Black

This is probably one of the groups Halloween costume ideas to execute. All you really need at least one other person and a black suit and tie. While this is group for a pair, it can be just as effective as large group of people. Here are some tips to make sure you get the look right.

  • Make sure you get some dark, matching sunglasses. The suits don’t necessarily have to all have the same fit, though they should all be black. The sunglasses, on the other hand, are what are really going to pull your group look together. Go to the grocery store and pick up a bunch of cheap pairs of the same sunglasses so you really look cohesive.
  • Decide which men in black you want to be. A pair of black-suited, sunglass-wearing people will look like alien-fighting Men in Black. A large group of people all wearing the same black suit and sunglasses might look like Agent Anderson from The Matrix. There’s nothing wrong with that, just know that you’re probably going to be identified as everything form FBI agents to secret service, to sentient computer viruses for most of the night.

Disney Princess

This idea is great for a group of girls that all want to go together, but don’t want to match exactly, or for a group of guys that want to do something a little wacky. There are lots of different Disney princesses to choose from, so each person can pick the princess they like best. Putting these costumes together usually isn’t very difficult, depending on how accurate you want to be.

An interesting twist on the typical Disney princess costume is to go as “hipster” Disney princesses. All this really requires is some ultra-cool clothing in the princess’s colors and a snarky, “I was into _____ before it was cool” saying to match that princess’s vibe.

Most costume stores will have Disney princess-type costumes or some type of costume that will work with a little bit of tweaking, but don’t be afraid to just scrounge your own costume out of party supplies.

Tetris

While Tetris might not be the most exciting game that’s ever been made, it is a classic, and dressing up as these different colored blocks for Halloween as a group is actually pretty simple. All you’ll need is cardboard, paint in the primary colors, and some black duct tape. The construction process is actually fairly simple.

Start by mapping out which pieces you and your group want to be. All Tetris blocks are made up configuration of the same four squares. You’ll want all the cubes in your final costume to be the same size so you can latch the Tetris pieces together when they are finished. Once you’ve constructed the pieces, make sure there are holes for your head and arms, paint the boxes, and hit the town!

Sims

For fans of the wildly popular Sims franchise, this one of the best group Halloween costume ideas and it requires very little work or preplanning. Unless you want to go as one of the Sim’s more iconic townies (like Bella or Mortimer Goth), you can wear whatever you like and simply make the plumbob (that thing that Sims have over their heads that helps players gauge the Sims’s mood) out of cardboard. Use a coat hanger to make a little stand for it and attach it to your head, neck, or back with a little bit of tape. A group of Sims together is always much more effective than just one running around by himself!

If you are really dedicated to making these the best Halloween costumes ever, you might want to learn some of the Sims’s iconic gibberish language so you can speak it amongst your group and really sell the image. Older people might not know what you are, but any modern day gamer will know instantly and be impressed.

The Seven Deadly Sins

A classic—especially if you a group of seven people you’re going out with on Halloween. Just for reference, the seven deadly sins are pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Some of those will be easier than others to evoke, but when you’re all together in a group, it will be fairly obvious what all of you are.

One person can be “green” with envy, another person in a red outfit for anger. Gluttony should be food-themed, and sloth can actually just be a sloth, or a person who is sleepy. Pride can also be interpreted as vanity, so someone who is carrying and looking in a mirror is a good way to evoke that sin. Just have fun with it!

A Rainbow with a Pot of Gold

This is one of the best group Halloween costume ideas because it can be easily adjusted to however many people are part of your group and the costumes are simple to put together. Each person will be a color and the final person will be your pot of gold, with plastic gold coins attached to his or her shirt.

This works whether you have five people in your group, or whether you have fifteen and you really want to play on different color variations!