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Brush embroidery is a surprisingly simple technique that allows you to create elegant and textured cookie or cake decorations, giving the impression that it was an arduous task. Put simply, it’s the method of using quick, gentle brushstrokes to pull lines of royal icing so that it resembles lace. This decorating method is especially perfect for those prone to making little mistakes – a slip of the hand may well look like the intention!
Ordinarily, brush embroidery designs sit on a fondant-covered cake or iced biscuit for a strong, smooth base – but what designs can you actually create on top? Well, a lot more than you'd expect! Traditionally, cake decorators favour dramatic floral designs, however you honestly can go as far as your imagination takes you. From animal fur to ocean waves, the world truly is your oyster – if you're short of time but looking to impress, brush embroidery is definitely the technique for you.
Royal icing will act as the basecoat for cookies as well as the embroidered design for both cookies and cakes. If icing cookies, it's recommended to ice the basecoat at a flood consistency. For the design, it's important to use soft-peak-to-stiff consistency icing to allow for brush manipulation.
You'll require a piping bag and a round tip for the icing basecoat (that's assuming you're decorating cookies), and then another set to create the embroidered designs. Round tip #3 is recommended for the cookies' basecoat, then tips #1 or #2 are ideal for the design, depending on your image size.
As expected, brushes are your primary tools in brush embroidery. Different sized and shaped brushes will produce different effects, but flat brushes are often preferred. If you're still perplexed, take a look at our Cake Decorating Brushes page to see which types of brushes are best for this technique.
It's important to note that brush embroidery can be completed with the help of a pattern or free-hand – it's all up to personal preference. If you're not using a pattern, simply skip that step.
In advance: Prepare your cake or cookies. Bake your cake or cookies, then leave to cool. Depending on what you bake, smoothly cover with fondant or ice with flood consistency royal icing, then leave to set for a good few hours.
Prepare your design. If using a pattern, imprint it onto the surface of your cake or cookie. This can either be done by gently pricking or scratching the design into the surface, or simply tracing.
Prepare your royal icing. Get your icing to a soft-peak consistency for easier manipulation, but stiff enough to hold shape. As the icing hardens quickly, only fill your piping bag one quarter full or less.
Begin piping the outline. Use a smaller-sized piping tip, depending on the size of your design – round tips #1 or #2 are ideal. It's important that you pipe one small line at a time. As the icing dries quickly, it's much more difficult to brush when it's semi-set!
Create brushstrokes in the icing. You should try to work quickly, or at least before the icing begins to set. Starting from one end of the line and working your way down to the other end, use your brush to sweep the line of icing towards the centre of your design in short strokes. Use different brush sizes and shapes to create different effects. It's important to note, however, that brush embroidery should always be worked from the outside, then pulled in towards the middle of your design.
Complete the rest of your design. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the entirety of your design has been outlined and brushed. It's crucial that you clean or wipe your brush often, thus allowing the bristles to have more of an impact on the lines of icing.
Build upon your design. If desired, you could continue your brush embroidery design by building up layers to add even more texture and dimension, by changing icing colours for a contrast effect, or by adding tiny dots of icing to accent the design.
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