We’re not shy about letting you know that pumpkins are the stars of our Harvest Festival. At Dollywood, we have nearly 15,000 pumpkins on display, so you might even say we’re gourd experts! We thought sharing some carving tips would only perpetuate pumpkin passion, and that could only be a good thing—right?
Now that the calendar has turned to October, allow me to introduce you to our master pumpkin carver, Jaimie Christian-Houser. An ER nurse by day, Jaimie was recruited to help launch our Great Pumpkin LumiNights four years ago when her husband came home talking about Dollywood’s idea for a new nighttime element for Harvest Festival. You see, Kris is our Senior Manager of Special Events—i.e., he is responsible for overseeing the planning and implementation of Dollywood’s festival features. Though Jaimie’s has a nursing degree, she’s multi-talented and has a passion for art. She particularly loves fall and carving pumpkins. Kris knew Jaimie would be a tremendous asset to pull into the planning process because of her eye for pumpkin designs. On average, she carves between 300-400 pumpkins every year—though last year it was closer to 600! (Remember, her work hours are spent inside the Emergency Room at our local hospital. All that carving takes place when she’s not working her day job!)
With this kind of resume, I figured you’d be interested to hear what Jaimie recommends when it comes to carving your pumpkins at home:
🎃 Before you purchase your pumpkin, decide what you want your design to look like. That way when you go find your pumpkin, you can look for one with the right specs. Should it be tall or wide? How much surface do you need for carving?
🎃 Never buy a pumpkin without a stem. It won’t last as long. And, for that reason, NEVER pick a pumpkin up by the stem!
🎃 Store-bought pumpkin-carving kits work great. Jaimie has also used wood-carving knives, a Dremel tool and even a linoleum cutter blade when working on her pumpkins. But, remember, she’s an expert!
🎃 Before you carve, thoroughly wipe down the pumpkin with a clean cloth. You’ll want to wipe it down again after carving to help prevent molding!
🎃 Don’t cut the top of the pumpkin. Cut a square hole in the back and gut it there.
🎃 Be sure to gut the pumpkin completely to extend its life.
🎃 Jaimie recommends either sketching your design onto the pumpkin with a grease pencil or drawing the design on paper and then taping that paper (using painter’s tape) to the pumpkin. If she uses the second method, she will then use a toothpick to poke holes as an outline, creating a stencil. The store-bought carving kits usually have a tool for this! At that point, you can remove the paper and follow the holes as you carve. This is a great way to help children carve their own pumpkins!
🎃 Heat makes pumpkins rot, so try to find a shaded spot for your gourds. If you really want to keep your pumpkins for as long as possible, bring them inside.
🎃 For lighting, consider using an LED bulb on a cord (cut a notch in the back for the cord to run through). This option is safer than a candle and it won’t cook the pumpkin’s insides!
🎃 Rotting pumpkins emit a gas and it will spread to other pumpkins. (It’s like what happens with bananas!) As soon as you notice one rotting, remove it!
🎃 If you are looking for tips for painting pumpkins, Jaimie recommends using acrylic paint. Her tip is to outline the design first and then fill the rest as you paint.