We’ve got information about the history of jack-o-lanterns, basic instructions for carving pumpkins, and plenty of tips for carving simple to elaborate, professional-looking pumpkins.
A short history of pumpkin carving
So where did the tradition of pumpkin carving originate? And how did it become associated with Halloween?
Jack-o-lanterns, the practice of carving out and lighting a pumpkin has roots in Ireland. An Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack ends with Jack dying and wandering the countryside as an “undead”, using an ember from hell placed in a carved out turnip to light his way.
So, whenever you see an unexplained light in the dark, it could be Jack, trying to lure you to his same unfortunate end. (Okay, we’ve really shortened the story here, but we’ve got more to tell you.)
Thus began the practice of lighting turnips to ward off evil spirits, which eventually spread from Ireland to Scotland and England, and eventually to America. Instead of turnips, people used whatever was common to their locale, including potatoes, beets, and for immigrants to America…pumpkins.
Basic steps to create a jack-o’-lantern
Here are the basic steps for carving a pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern:
- Cut off the top of the pumpkin to form a lid. Be sure to cut at a 45-degree angle so the lid sits atop the pumpkin, rather than slip down inside it.
- Scoop out the pumpkin flesh and seeds. The soft flesh is usually discarded.
- Optionally, the seeds may prepared for a snack in the following way: rinse the seeds of any flesh, cover with water and boil for 10 minutes (boiling is optional, but helps make the seeds crispy), drain and pat the seeds dry, toss lightly with oil and salt, and bake in a moderate oven (350°F) for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Carve an image into the side of the pumpkin, typically a monstrous or comical face. But be as creative with your design as you wish (see templates below).
- To create a lantern effect, place a light source such as votive candle (or today, an LED light) inside the pumpkin.
Pumpkin carving instructions and templates
These sites offer free pumpkin carving patterns along with plenty of instructions, tips, and tricks for carving simple to elaborate, professional-looking pumpkins. Most also offer additional patterns and products for purchase.
- How to Easily Carve an Elaborate Pumpkin Design. Illustrated guide with text and photos shows how anyone can turn a pumpkin in to an elaborately carved and professional-looking Jack-O-Lantern
- How to carve a pumpkin Wiki gives a complete tutorial on choosing, carving, and displaying a jack-o-lantern.
- Martha Stewart: How to Carve a Pumpkin: pumpkin carving slideshow plus lots more on the Grande Dame of crafts.
- DLTK’s Pumpkin Carving Patterns: patterns and instructions and lots more on this great site for kids and moms.
- Pumpkin Masters: free Pumpkin carving videos, tips, tricks, and free patterns.
- The Pumpkin Wizard: Celebrity patterns and more!
- SpookMaster free patterns, plus hundreds of other pumpkin carving patterns for just one payment of $5.95.
Seattle sports teams pumpkin carving templates
Here are pumpkin carving patterns for local sports teams, including the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners, UW Huskies, and WSU Cougars.
- Stoneykins 100 free pumpkin patterns, plus hundreds of other pumpkin carving patterns for a fee, starting at $5.00 for 25 credits; many patterns are just 1 credit. Buy NFL football and other sports patterns.
- Seattle Mariners Halloween pumpkin stencils, just download the PDF.
- UW Husky pumpkin pattern on Facebook. Dawgs and paws from Siberian Husky Rescue.
- WSU Cougar logo. Carve your pumpkins with the Coug spirit!