What we now know as Halloween has origins as a Celtic ceremony marking the end of one season and the beginning of another. This makes sense to me: We dress up as anyone other than ourselves, decorate our homes with symbols of mortality, and snack ourselves into a sugared frenzy by the light of a jack-o’-lantern as winter approaches. It feels primal—it feels right for this time of year.
It’s the season where we play with fear on purpose and call it fun. Not the fears that keep us up at night, like fear of failure, missed opportunities, or never forgiving ourselves for the mistakes littering our doorsteps like leaves. Nothing so drastic. Just the mortal fear of death, which we confront with humour and wit, attending parties advertised as Dracula Spectaculas, Bogeyman Barbecues, and Sorceress Soirees. They all look the same: dim lighting, pumpkins aplenty, skeleton cookies on a plate, and red wine claiming to be the blood of your enemies.
If you’re thinking of throwing a Halloween party this year, feel free to run with any of the above ideas. Actually, not the Sorceress Soiree. I’m keeping that one.
Every year, I craft a Halloween costume for a friend’s annual party I end up not being able to attend because I can’t find a babysitter. There was the year I carefully crafted a Gal Gadot–esque Wonder Woman costume (because I have never been about the sexy costume but felt like it was time to try something bold). Or the year I bought a blond wig and a brown faux-fur coat to be Margot Tenenbaum, from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, and the faux fur was accidentally donated in a fit of closet purging when I didn’t remember it was part of a Halloween costume. I regret getting rid of that coat. Regret is its own kind of haunting.
What I find scary about this time of year, this Old World magic new year, is that anything feels possible: ghosts, vampires, the undead looking for brains upon which to feast. These are, in fact, just metaphorical labels for the types of people you meet at parties. So my fears are not completely unfounded. But that fear is really about possibility—the idea that the veil between what is and is not possible thins, and anything imagined, good or bad, could happen.
We dress in Halloween costumes to play with this idea of infinite possibility, including the possibility that we can transform. Our costumes conjure up magic, a sort of glamour around ourselves: we can dress for the job we want (celebrity, superhero) not the job we have (zombie, any character from The Office). This only works early in the night, of course. A couple of hours into any Halloween party and the fiddly bits of our costumes have been discarded, itchy wigs left like pelts of mythical beasts on the floor or on a lampshade. Later, at home, after you’ve scrubbed the remainder of Halloween makeup from your face, you might pause to look at yourself in the mirror, glimpsing a ghost behind you as that previously costumed self slides out a back door, an open window, into some other life you didn’t choose.
We entered the night dressed as an other, cloaked in disguise, but we wake up on November 1st, the dawn of a seasonal new year, our same old selves. Change is frightening, but lack of change is sometimes a haunting of what could have been.
This pattern works for a variety of sizes, so you can absolutely use bigger yarn and needles—you’ll just end up with bigger pumpkins. Different-sized pumpkins shown are all knit with a cast on of 54 stitches, but some were slightly larger and knit for more than 2 inches. The biggest was 3.5 inches of fabric in height. Using worsted weight or D.K. yarn and knitting until fabric is 3 inches from cast on will yield a pumpkin approximately 3 inches in diameter. Pumpkin knitted as written below will yield a pumpkin approximately 2.5 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches tall. Feel free to experiment with the fabric length—the shorter the knitted fabric from cast on, the smaller the pumpkin.
Assorted yarn (40 to 60 yards per pumpkin), in fingering or D.K. weight
3 mm double-pointed knitting needles, or 3 mm circular needle in 9 inch length (2.75 mm/U.S. 2 also works well)
Tapestry needle for sewing in ends and assembly
Stuffing for pumpkins, ideally polyester fill (I also often reuse yarn ends for stuffing)
Cast on 54 stitches and join for working in the round. Place stitch marker to mark beginning of round and work as follows:
*K8, P1*, repeat from * to * until end of round.
Continue as established until fabric measures 2 inches from your cast-on edge. Then cast off all stitches knit-wise.
Cast on 4 stitches.
Row 1: K1, P1, K1, P1
Row 2: P1, K1, P1, K1
Repeat those two rows until stem is 1 inch long. Cast off and weave in end for the top, leaving the long cast-off tail at the end to sew it to the top of your pumpkin.
Using your tapestry needle, run your cast-off tail of yarn through every third loop on the cast-off edge and pull tight, like a drawstring, adjusting the fabric as you go. Sew any remaining gaps shut with a few stitches of the yarn.
Turn over the pumpkin and, using the long cast-on tail or a new length of yarn, thread it through every third stitch of the cast-on edge. Before drawing it in tight like you did the other side, stuff the pumpkin with the polyester fill. Then pull the yarn tight to close off the pumpkin and finish with a few stitches in the centre to hold it in place.
Using the long cast-off tail from your pumpkin stem, sew the pumpkin stem to the top of your pumpkin. The top can be whichever side of the pumpkin closure you would like it to be—there is not an official top or bottom to the pumpkin before you sew on the stem.