How to Carve the Perfect Pumpkin This Halloween

Creating a stunning jack-o-lantern centerpiece using freehand pumpkin carving techniques can be a fun and unique way to celebrate Halloween. Let Martha Stewart show you the best way  to carve intricate designs using templates with a step-by-step guide.

Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Miracle-Growing by Martha Stewart partnership.

Why approach pumpkin carving freehand? Use our clip-art pattern and you'll get picture-perfect results – every time. Read more to learn how to pull off this trick (or treat)!

Goofy-grinned jack-'o-lanterns makes for a smile-inducing seasonal centerpiece. Light the pumpkins with twinkle lights placed in small glass ramekins. Set the pumpkins on small plates or saucers, and then arrange them on a leaf-strewn table.

Treat your gang of goblins to this pack of jack-o'-lanterns tricked out with these easy-to-replicate carvings. Inspired by paint-by-numbers kits, this design uses a color-coded template to show you how to create a playfully spooky scene by scraping away orange pumpkin skin: how much and where to cut, shave, or scrape.

Following the color-coding, you will cut through the pumpkin on the template's yellow sections, scratch away the parts marked light orange, and leave the dark-orange areas "as is." Once illuminated, the designs appear textured, shining bright yellow in cutout areas and merely glimmering in others.

Tools and Materials

●      Pumpkin

●      Keyhole saw or sturdy knife

●      Large, sturdy spoon

●      Masking tape

●      T-pins

●      Sharp blade (such as X-Acto knife)

●      Linoleum cutter with No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 blades (available at craft stores and online)

●      Petroleum jelly (optional)

●      Electric twinkle lights or candle

●      Glass jar (optional)

Let's get Started

1. Pick Your Pumpkin

For the best results, look for a pumpkin that suits the size and shape of the template. Also, be sure to look for a pumpkin that's firm all over—soft spots near the stem or base can indicate premature rot.

2. Cut a Hole for Lighting

Place pumpkin on its side on a flat, stable work surface. Use keyhole saw or sturdy knife to cut a circle through the base or the top of the pumpkin. (If lighting with electric twinkle lights, cut the hole in the bottom; if lighting with a candle, cut the top for ventilation.) Reserve the cutout.

3. Remove Contents of Pumpkin

With large spoon, remove seeds, stringy pulp, and a thin layer of flesh from inside of pumpkin. A clean, smooth interior reflects light best. (Reserve seeds for toasting if desired.)

4. Print and Use Template

Print template. Attach design to pumpkin with masking tape. (You may need to cut slits around the template and overlap so it conforms to the shape of the pumpkin.) Using a T-pin, prick every 1/8 to 1/4 inch along template outline. Remove template but keep it nearby for reference.

5. Carve Yellow Parts of Template

Using a sharp blade, carve through pumpkin in the sections that correspond to the template’s yellow parts. Brush away excess.

6. Scrape Light Orange Parts of Template

Use a linoleum cutter to scrape pumpkin in sections that correspond to the light orange parts of the template. Start with the outside of the design and work inward. For detailed or smaller areas, use a No. 1 or No. 2 blade. For larger areas, use a No. 3 blade. Scrape in the same direction in each section to keep the lines uniform. To prolong the life of your carved creation, apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly to exposed areas.

7. Lighting the Pumpkins

Light the completed pumpkin with electric twinkle lights or candles. If using lights for small pumpkins, arrange strand’s bulbs into a bouquet like bundle and place wires in a glass jar or ramekin. Use a 25-light strand for small and medium pumpkins. (Wrap 50-light strand around a glass jar for larger pumpkins.) Place jar on reserved cutout base, then place pumpkin over lights. (Make sure the lights don’t touch the inside surface; this can be a fire hazard.) Secure base cutout with T-pins.