Brushing up on Brush Embroidery
I tried some brush embroidery at my sugar craft class last week. You need a cake board covered with coloured icing. I used ready to roll icing and used 8mls of blue food colouring. I found my first experience with rolling out coloured icing very troublesome – dying the work surface blue and just made a lot of mess. I found the crucial factor in rolling icing was using a lot of icing sugar to cover the work surface and the rolling pin. This gives a much smoother finish. The iced cake board needs to dry out for about four days. You can also easily cut the icing into smaller shapes and let those dry similarly for about four days.
Now onto the design. I’ve tried out a few different things but have found that face-on flowers with ruffled petals like roses and poppies work well, as well as butterflies, leaves and owls. Basically you want a design which has simple lines which are well spaced to give plenty of room for brushing, as well as plenty of layers to build up a nice effect.
Once you have a design that you’re pleased with and a cake board that is hard, you need to trace the design onto greaseproof or baking parchment. Then you can trace the design onto the cake board. You can always go over the design if it isn’t too clear but need something pretty clear to follow for your piping.
You need to prepare some royal icing. Egg white powder is available from supermarkets and you’ll need to mix one part sifted egg white powder to four parts water. Whisk this with a fork until frothy. Now add one ounce of sifted icing sugar for every teaspoon of water. This needs to be added a spoonful at a time, whisking thoroughly between each spoonful. For example, for one teaspoon of egg white, use four teaspoons of water and four ounces of icing sugar. You want a soft peak consistency so feel free to add a small amount more water or more sugar if the mixture is too dry or too watery.
Once you have the royal icing at the correct consistency, then you need to prepare some piping bags. Step by step videos should be available through Youtube and I’m planning one of my own soon, so keep an eye out for one on this blog. Parchment paper is the best for piping bags as it has the correct strength. For brush embroidery, you’ll need a Number 1 or a 1.5 piping nozzle. Once you have the piping bag made and the piping nozzle in place, fill the bag using a pallet knife. You want to place around two pallet knives worth of royal icing into the bag, pressing down onto the piping nozzle and scraping against the side of the bag. Simply fold over the top of the piping bag and you’re almost ready to start your brush embroidery.
Before you can start on the brush embroidery, you’ll need your dried iced cake board or icing shapes with your design traced onto it, a container of water, a flat number four paint brush, your prepared piping bag filled with royal icing and with a number 1 or 1.5 nozzle and a good amount of light. You want to work from the outside to the inside of the design so that the layers build up nicely, you also want to work section by section, for instance petal by petal if you are doing a flower. Pipe the line and then pipe a line inside. It doesn’t matter if this piping is slightly dodgy as it will get brushed out. While the icing is wet, dip your brush into the water and pull the excess water of with your fingers. Now drag the icing inwards with the brush, pulling it out until nothing is left to get a smooth finish. You want some water on the brush to get this smooth fade to nothingness, but not so much water that you loose the texture of the brushing. Keep moving along the piped line, leaving a small amount between each brush stroke to create a nice effect.
The amount of icing you pipe, the amount you press with your brush and the amount of water on your brush all affect the overall result but you’ll soon find out what is right for you after a little experimenting. Keep working on the design, working section by section, letting sections dry before painting onto them with nearby sections. Your design will slowly build up and you soon get the hang of it. Me and my mum spent about an hour doing it and saw a lot of improvement in our technique.
If you find you piping nozzle getting blocked then use a pin to unblock it and keep it inside a food bag whilst you aren’t using it to prevent it from drying out. For me, this was a simple technique which creates a lovely effect which is visually impressive and therapeutic to do. I found that a rose, a poppy, leaves, a butterfly and an owl design using this technique proved highly successful, but draped material and sweeping hair would work equally. Brush embroidery is a very useful technique which is pleasurable to utilise and results in lovely designs.