If the idea of your young children running around with sharp implements gives you nightmares (and it should), consider skipping the carving this Halloween —just don’t skip the pumpkins.
There are benefits to keeping that splendid orange gourd in tact. By not cutting into a pumpkin, you avoid introducing bacteria into the pumpkin’s flesh, which hastens rotting. In other words, your pumpkin will last a lot longer—possibly even past Thanksgiving. Alternative decorating methods also give you more opportunities to be creative.
So, slowly back away from the knife and consider some of these more pumpkin-friendly alternatives.
For the little ones
Even the littlest ones in your family can participate in the pumpkin festivities when you keep it simple with stickers, washable paints and markers. If your children are under the age of 3, give them a pumpkin and let them have fun. As long as they get to have their own pumpkin on the porch like everyone else, it doesn’t matter what it looks like.
For the slightly more advanced kids, there are millions of possibilities with paper, scissors and glue.
Nora Hackenberg, creative director at Artist and Display in Milwaukee, suggests everything from replicating a carved pumpkin with black paper cutouts to creating your own stickers.
"You can make any kind of paper into a sticker with double-sided adhesive tape,"she says. "Kids can also cut out magazine pictures and collage them on a pumpkin."
Plenty of other items can be glued to create a pumpkin masterpiece, too—ribbons, yarn, small pom-poms, pipe cleaners and feathers. Take a stroll through your local craft store and see what catches your eye. Outdoor pumpkins will require waterproof glue, such as Weldbond, but indoor pumpkins can be done with any type of craft glue or hot glue gun.
If you are feeling adventurous, try paint markers. Unlike water-based markers, they are opaque so the design will be solid and stand out. And although silly faces are always popular, a pumpkin can be a canvas for whatever art your child wants to create. One of Hackenberg’s favorites is to draw cool spider web designs. From there, kids can put on spider stickers or pictures of spiders they cut out of magazines.
As with any craft project, however, remember to put down some newspaper and keep an eye on the activity. Paint markers are permanent, Hackenberg warns, so you won’t want the kids doing this on your carpet. For outdoor pumpkins, oil-based paint markers will work best. Otherwise, indoor pumpkins can be decorated with poster paint markers. Acrylic paints can also be used on pumpkins, but they will require a clear sealer or lacquer to protect them outdoors.
For the crafty ones
Some pumpkins, by their very nature, are just meant to be more than a jack-o’-lantern. A tall, skinny pumpkin can be transformed into a ghost with a coat of white paint and a few black circles for eyes and a mouth. A wide, boxy pumpkin can turn into Frankenstein with some green paint and a few bolts glued to the side. That cheap irregular pumpkin with all the bumps may just be a many-eyed monster in the making.
Another simple pumpkin transformation is a mummy pumpkin. DeeAnn Jensen, a floral design specialist in Germantown, says the mummy pumpkin is a perpetually popular idea. By using a paper-maché type paper called Rigid-Wrap, you can faux-bandage the pumpkin, add some eyes and have a very ghoulish gourd.
Once your pumpkin creature is done, don’t forget to top it off right.
“Something else really fun is to make a paper crown or hat for on top of the pumpkin,” says Jensen. “You can make a dunce cap, a witch’s hat or a crown.”
Pumpkins can also serve simply as the head for other creations. Dave Flannery, owner of Apple Holler in Sturtevant, says they paint several pumpkins each year for decoration and they frequently use pumpkins as the heads for scarecrows.
For the grown-ups
While the kids are making their own silly or scary pumpkin, you may want to buy a few extra supplies and make something a little more grown-up for yourself. Uncut pumpkins make great centerpieces and indoor décor, and they can last four to six weeks depending on their size.
One popular decorative choice is a glitter pumpkin. Jensen says glitter sprays in gold, silver or opal can transform a natural pumpkin into an easy centerpiece. You can also create the same look by mixing regular glitter with decoupage and brushing the mixture all over the pumpkin or by brushing glue onto a pumpkin and then sprinkling the glitter on top of it. You don’t have to spend hours plotting out a fancy design. Hackenberg suggests simply creating a repeating pattern for an easy but stylish look. She says items like rubber stamps, tissue paper, or double-sided tape with some glitter all work well on pumpkins.
"Taking one pattern like a circle and repeating it all over would be dramatic looking and really fun," she says.
And if you are going for the decorative look, don’t limit yourself to pumpkins. Hackenberg says the rubber-stamping works well on gourds as well. A variety of sizes and shapes will add contrast and dimension on a mantel or as a centerpiece.
Stencils can also be used to paint a name or add a phrase such as “Boo” or "Welcome." If you want your creation to last longer, you may want to buy a foam pumpkin to decorate instead of a natural one.
"You’ll have it for as long as you want it," says Jensen. "And, you can change it over the years."