It is a decorative technique used in sugar craft art. Royal icing is piped in series of lines looking just like stitching in fabric. This is a more advanced technique, so if you are just starting out use a larger nozzle/tube (e.g. size 2, 2.5 or 3) and as you get more confident switch down to a smaller tip. I also recommend trying Brush Embroidery first if you are a beginner to build your confidence with royal icing as a medium.
How to make royal icing (whether it is using a ready-mix, fresh egg white, dried albumen or meri white) and what the different consistencies look like. You will also need to be able to fit a piping tube correctly into a piping bag, place icing inside and keep it inside! The next skill you need is to be able to pressure pipe simple shapes, pipe lines, curves and dots neatly with a clean lift of and touch down (if applicable).
If you have no idea where to start with Royal icing and don’t know how to make it get yourself Eddie Spence MBE’s book ‘The Art of Royal Icing’ or use the internet for free information, just make sure it is from a good source! e.g.
2D flowers, 2D animals and objects. These images could be put on, for example cakes and cookies and pastillage plaques.
NOTE: Only use pencil on a pastillage plaque (e.g. items removed and not eaten), yes it is non-toxic, but it is not classed as edible. Draw the image onto tracing paper or baking parchment in reverse (or on both sides, right way up then reverse), flip it over the right way onto your plaque and draw over the top with the pencil. The image will transfer to the sugar as a faint line which is ideal.
The image you transfer should have some guide lines on indicating the direction/s in which the icing pattern needs to go and if there is a graduation of colour, when to change. For example the veins in leaves or the curve of a petal. The size of the project and the size of the tip you use will usually help guide you as to the level of detail that can be reasonably transferred from the reference. If you are limited with time to practice it would be easier to use a larger tip and go for a simple piping pattern without multiple colours. Your work will be neater if you don’t have to rush.
My top tip to successful piping is to always have the following tools next to your icing to remove and fix mistakes:
Small palette knife – good for large area scraping!
A scribe tool or large dressmakers pin – good for removing a small mistake e.g. a piped line or use to make a correction.
A damp paintbrush – a royal icers best friend! – use to tidy up your drop down lines and take the points from piped dots if present. You can also use it to make small corrections such as straightening a piped line.
If you have an acupuncture needle it is very useful to make really tiny corrections to the icing such as taking a bit of the end of a piped line if it is too long of squaring it off if it is pointed
The stitches shown are ones which may be of most use for a royal icer.
Use a practice sheet to warm up your piping hand before starting on a bigger project. Print the sheet off, stick to a board and cover it with a piece of acetate or put it inside a strong clear punched pocket sleeve/wallet.
You can wipe this clean after use and keep practicing until you feel confident. Skip this step if you are an experienced royal icer and get to the actual project.
Tip: if a row of lines you are piping contain more than one colour do them at the same time if possible, it is much harder to fit everything together otherwise, not impossible but challenging!
1. Make this template the size you want and transfer it onto your chosen surface. I used a 9” sugar plaque:
An HB pencil is ideal and tracing paper or parchment paper to draw onto. This flower template was 15cm high. The flower centre can be left off as it is added after the petals are piped.
2. Mix 2 shades of green, one dark and one light. Paddle and transfer a portion no bigger than a large golf ball to a piping bags containing a PME 2 tip.
3. Start from the background of the image and work to the foreground. For this project it means stem and leaves first, then the flower. We want to create the idea if a central vein and movement in the leaves so will pipe in-out. Pipe rows of dark green lines down the leaf centre and some on the stem. I piped all the dark green lines at once but in hindsight it would have been easier to pipe the second and third rows of lines along with the lighter green royal icing. This will make fitting the lines together neatly a lot easier. The size of the lines should be about the same but you can make some shorter and others longer to add more interest. You may have to do this to fit everything together nicely within the template. Use the guide lines to help pipe the lines in the right direction.
The same image with the rows of piping marked out for clarity:
4. Finish piping rows of lines out to the edge of the template guide lines using the light green royal icing.
5. Give the leaves and stem time to set-up before proceeding with this stage – 20-30 minutes should be sufficient or more if you are able. Take the some leftover light green icing and mix it with an equal quantity of white icing to make a very pale green for the leaf veins. Place this into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5 tip. Next take some of the leftover dark green icing and make it very dark by mixing in come more Christmas green and some Holly green paste colour. Place this into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5 tip.
6. Use the very pale green icing to make a zig-zag central vein. Start off with a tight zig-zag and loosen it up near the tip of the leaf to give the effect of the vein narrowing. Next take the very dark green icing and pipe a running stitch to define the areas where the leaf and stem meet.
7. Next it’s time to pipe the petals. We will need 3 shades of blue icing. Make the pale and mid blue icings by adding Ice blue paste colour. To make the dark blue icing you will need both Ice blue paste colour and Wisteria paste colour. Place these into a piping bags fitted with a 2 tip.
8. The edges of the petals are defined by using padded satin stitch. Pressure pipe the ‘padding’ lines for the edges of the petals using the pale blue icing. Go a little smaller than you think you need to as they will double in size when lines are piped over the top. Don’t worry about making the icing ridge free, it is going to be covered. Allow these lines to crust for 20-30 minutes or longer before continuing. This time we are working out-in for the petals.
9. Pipe parallel lines over the pressure piped lines of the 5 outer petals following the guide lines for the correct direction. To neaten things up use a damp brush to tuck the icing up under the petal edge. DO NOT pipe over the petal edge near the centre, we need to do this as one of the later steps as the inner petals need filling first.
10. Pipe a row of pale blue satin stich lines inside the 5 petals around the edge
11. Take the mid blue icing and pipe two rows of lines below where the pale blue rows finish.
12. Take the dark blue icing and pipe rows of lines until there is a small oval left at the flower centre. Since this area will be covered shortly by a flower centre, you can fill it in with a wide zig-zag stitch to save a little time.
Now the petals are filled take the pale blue icing again and pipe the padded satin stitch lines on the remaining petal edge near the centre. Allow the lines to set-up for 20-30minutes or more before proceeding to the next step.
13. To add the flower centre you have two options. Pipe it as an off piece on acetate and then just pop it on with a little royal icing at the end or pipe it onto the flower directly. I chose the latter so I cut out two templates for the flower centre: one for the stamens and another for the pistil. I piped a few guide lines with some pale green icing around these templates.
14. Put a little pale green icing into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5 tip then make some yellow icing and add it to a bag fitted with a 1 tip.
Pipe backstitch for the style in pale green and pressure pipe seed stitch for the stigma in yellow.
Pipe lines in pale green for the filaments and pipe small seed stitches in yellow for the anther.