Editor's note: The October Issue of Martha Stewart Living and the Martha Stewart Halloween Special Edition are currently available on newsstands.
(Martha Stewart Living) -- Host a gathering that kicks off Halloween with a movable feast, friends and family, and a riot of funny faces. Here's your go-to guide for everything including pumpkin picking strategies, carving techniques, and printable templates. We'll even show you what to do with the seeds!
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Smashing pumpkin Halloween invitations
Get your party started right with Halloween invitations adorned with a familiar grin.
Choose a carving location
If weather permits, consider having a daytime party outside on a picnic table, where it won't matter as much if you make a mess. Keep sharp instruments safely organized in buckets and on trays on the picnic table.
Whether you're inside or outdoors, cover your table (or tables) with newsprint or kraft paper for quick, easy cleanup. If inside, you may want to protect the floor, as spilled pumpkin flesh and seeds can be slippery.
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How to pick pumpkins
Ask guests to bring their own pumpkins, or plan on providing them for the whole party. Be sure to choose ones that are smooth, firm, and symmetrical. They don't need to be giant -- keep in mind that people will be taking their jack-o'-lanterns home at the end of the party. Have a few extra pumpkins on hand for any late arrivals.
What to ponder at the patch
Design dictates shape: If you know what design you want to make, pick a pumpkin accordingly. Tall, oblong ones will work best for vertical designs, whereas short, squat ones are better for horizontals. Flat can be fine.
Some pumpkins have a flatter side (where they rested against the ground as they grew). Work it to your advantage, since carving on a flat surface is easier than carving on a rounded one.
If you plan to group pumpkins, rotate them to see how your design will continue from one to the next. Also try rotating if you're stacking pumpkins: Some nest better at certain angles. (Leave the bottom pumpkin's stem intact, or just trim it—cutting it off can invite premature rotting.)
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This year, try an upgrade on the usual toothy jack-o'-lantern and carve something that looks like art. Find inspiration for a design in the fabric of a favorite dress or a beloved wallpaper pattern from your childhood home. The results are so sophisticated and eye-catching, sometimes they don't even need the help of a candle to shine.
Plan the design
Consider how the pattern will fit on the pumpkin and how it will repeat. Tape it to the pumpkin. (You may need to cut slits into the perimeter of the template and overlap it so it conforms to the roundness.) Using an awl, a pushpin, or a T pin, prick every ⅛ to ¼ inch along the outlines of the template. Then remove the template, but keep it for reference.
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Create the design
Use linoleum cutters to scrape the pumpkin skin. Start with the outline of the design and work inward. For details, use a No. 1 or No. 2 blade. For larger areas, use a No. 3 or No. 5 blade. Scrape in the same direction in each section to keep the lines unified.
Look beyond the knife drawer to implements intended for other uses -- say, a melon baller or a keyhole saw. These pumpkin-carving tools will make carving an easy task for you and your guests.
How to carve pumpkins with kids
Try a new approach to pumpkin carving with smaller kids: Have children use their own drawings to create a template. First, sketch a design on a piece of paper and cut out the pieces of the face separately. Next, tape the parts to the hollowed-out pumpkin. (Note that as you're going from paper to pumpkin, you may have to interpret the layout of the face a little differently.) Then trace the lines of the template by pokingholes with a needle tool. Guide your kids if they need help with sharp tools. Last, remove the template and carve along the dotted patterns with a miniature saw.
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Party menu and favors
When the crew starts feeling as hollow as their creations, let them break for fall fare, including sage popcorn in handheld portions.
The trio of cheddar, Gruyere, and fontina gives mac and cheese layers of sophisticated flavor, but it's still informal and delicious for all. The single servings make it easy to hold and carry.
Grown-ups can warm up with a hot whiskey sour with Nocello, a walnut-flavored liqueur that adds a nutty twist.
Sweet-potato soup gets its smoky essence from chipotle and a bit of crunch from a topping of salted pepitas; served in a mug, it's portable and hand-warming.
Make sure to save room for dessert, a tasty sundae with an apple "bowl" that's been hollowed out to accommodate a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a drizzle of homemade caramel sauce, and toasted walnuts.
Make a classic Bundt cake, baked with caramelized apples, walnuts, and spices, to await the partygoers; the glaze is made with apple cider.
For party favors or treats, fill crepe-paper pumpkin pouches with tiny toys and candy eggs.
Keep your party treats somewhere special. Transform a few hollowed-out pumpkins into candy jar creatures by sawing open pumpkin tops and placing a bowl inside. Guests will love this witch who thinks she's gourd-geous.
The party doesn't have to end once guests have finished carving their pumpkins. Browse our best pumpkin-seed crafts and recipes, including a pumpkin bird feeder, a pumpkin seed necklace, and more creative ideas to keep the gathering going.
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