3 Canadian carving ideas for your Halloween pumpkins

Carving aficionado Arlene Lott has all the stencils, instructions and tips you need to nail these patriotic pumpkins.

Carving aficionado Arlene Lott has all the stencils, instructions and tips to nail these patriotic pumpkins

(All photography by David Bagosy)

While you can never go wrong with a classic jack-o-lantern wearing one of those wicked grins, this Halloween we wanted to do something a little different and go full Canadiana with our pumpkin carving. To do so, we enlisted master carver and baker extraordinaire Arlene Lott, who created these  incredibly artful  pies for us, to come up with three perfectly patriotic pumpkin carving DIYs that anyone can execute. Below you'll find Arlene's stencils and instructions for each of these ghoulish gourds — but first, here's what she wants you to to keep in mind before you get started:

  • Those pumpkin carving tools that look like they're for kids? Yeah, they're the real deal.  Their serrated, dull-edged blades work better on cutting through pumpkin flesh than my sharpest knives, and that big, scrapey spoon does a perfect job of removing the flesh and seeds. So grab a set. They really make this project much safer and easier.
  • Linoleum carving tools work great as well, and are reasonably priced. They're especially helpful for removing flesh without cutting all the way through your pumpkin, so when you get a little more skilled at carving, opt for these on top of your basic set.
  • Cut your pumpkins open at the bottom instead of the top. This makes it way easier to light the candle and then lower the pumpkin over it rather than having the flame creep all the way up your arm when you try to light it from above. And if you don't want to worry about IRL flames, skip the candles altogether and go with a little push button LED light that can be found at the hardware store.
  • If you want to carve your pumpkin in advance of Halloween and keep it looking good, the general rule of practice is to soak your pumpkin in a solution of bleach and water after carving. To make this mixture,add 1 tbsp of bleach to 3 litres of water and dunk that pumpkin for 2-3 minutes. This should help delay decay and mould for a week to 10 days.  You're going to want to do this whole process outside or let it dry in your laundry basin or tub. Best to not let the bleach solution get on any fabric or surface you care about.
  • Remember: mistakes are fixable! Toothpicks and floral wire will help you out of most jams if you break off a piece mistakenly. So don't stress, this only a jack-o-lantern after all.

Now that you're ready to start, here's what you need to do:

  1. Clean the surface of your pumpkin to remove any dirt or grime.
  2. Cut out the bottom of your pumpkin and scrape out the guts. Save the seeds to roast if you're feeling it — or go buy some later, we won't judge!
  3. On the computer, size your stencil template to fit your pumpkin and print it out.
  4. Tape your stencil to the surface of your pumpkin. It may be difficult to get a flat piece of paper to take the curves of a pumpkin, so trim off the excess and cut some release cuts into the paper so the template lays flatter.
  5. Poke holes through the template into the flesh of the pumpkin with a skewer, or other sharp tool. Then it's as simple as connecting the dots!

Creature of Canadiana

Difficulty level: You got this!

Time to complete: 20 minutes

This red and white creature is easy to execute — it's just a whack of straight lines. Once you've carved out your pattern, you're going to light this frightening beast with a red LED bike light, which can be found at stores like Walmart or Canadian Tire. Throw that inside your pumpkin and watch all your neighbours say "Oh that's so clever!" as they send their kids up for candy.

BOO! (sorry)

Difficulty level: Total show-off

Time to complete: 45 minutes

If you happen to love typography, this template makes it easy for you to subtly nod to your patriotism.

When you're ready, start with the big letters first and use your smaller serrated tool to carve. For the "(sorry)" text, cut along the dotted lines with a sharp blade — a utility knife or sharp paring knife will do the trick. You want to cut into the flesh very lightly, so as not to pierce all the way through.Then, using your linoleum cutters, gouge out the flesh and scrape it away until you're left with a thin layer of pumpkin. This will glow when the light is placed inside, and people will think you're a genius.

Damned beaver!

Difficulty level: Buckle up

Time to complete: About an hour

What happens when Canada's furry mascot starts chompin' on necks instead of wood? This vampiric pumpkin, of course!

With this one, start with tiny details in the middle — the eyes, the lines in the tail — and then work up to the big open areas. This way, you have as much surface area holding your pumpkin together while you're working on the trickiest parts. You might also find it helpful to place a hand inside the pumpkin to support it while you clean up the edges.

Download all three stencils here. Happy haunting!

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