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Live Chat with Hillary Ramos, The Cookie Countess

The chat has started!
Welcome, Hillary! Thanks so much for joining us today! It's especially interesting to me to have a fellow stencil-maker with us!
Good Morning Julia! Thanks for having me!! So fun! I hope I can keep the typos to a minimum in my speed typing!
Good morning to everyone joining us as well! I encourage everyone to jump in with questions. These chats are for you - and are always more fun and informative when people don't hang back on the sidelines!
Before we dive into Q&A, just a few housekeeping notes for newbies to our chats: questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Hillary reads and answers them. We'll work through questions that were logged in advance first; then start working on questions asked live during the chat. That said, please be patient and do not re-post the same question. It may take some time to answer your question, depending on where it sits in the queue. But I will personally make sure every question gets answered before we're through.
Also, please ask just one question at a time (per post); it's easier for our guests to keep up and others to read the chat transcript if they're not hit with too many questions at once. Thanks!
Okay then, while you're all formulating questions for Hillary, I'm going to post some of her cookies made with her Cookie Countess stencils! I'm hoping they'll be good food for thought - and fuel for questions!
Here's a closer view of that super summery set that appeared in Hillary's chat banner.
I haven't had breakfast yet, so these are particularly enticing . . .
So sweet (pun intended)!
These look to be a layered set, but we'll ask Hillary more about layering later!
Just love these succulents!
We have a few questions in the queue from me, but I'll take others' questions now/live as soon as you have them, as I do not want to dominate the chat.
Here's my first, logged earlier . . .
So, I have a few questions for you, Hillary! I want to start with a bit of background on you and your business. You've been making stencils for a number of years now, and were among the first to offer cookie stencils. But when did you actually sell your first stencil, and what induced you to get into this business in the first place?
JULIA - So I decorated my first cookie in January of 2011. I remember the date because it was for my son's second birthday. Train cookies! There is where I got hooked on cookies. After about four months, I started getting requests for orders from friends and family. Fast forward about two years, and I had a steady stream of custom cookie orders. At that time, using stencils on cookies was not seen too often. And my airbrush gun was still a mystery to me! lol But I used a tire track stencil on a cookie order, and when I posted pictures of that order, people were pretty excited about the tire track! Callye from Sweet Sugarbelle asked me to write a guest post on her blog about stenciling and airbrushing after she saw those cookies. This was in April of 2013. And, again, I saw the excitement and interest from fellow cookie makers about stenciling. Almost all of the cookie stencils available at that time were very traditional and small round ones. A lightbulb went off, and I saw a demand that was not being met. I don't have an exact date on when I sold my first stencil . . . But it was around July 2013 - and I haven't looked back! 😊
Well, congrats! You really helped to broaden the market for stencils as one of the pioneers.
Do you have preferred types (alcohol- vs. water-based) and brands of airbrush coloring, and, if so, why?
JULIA - I prefer water-based airbrush colorings - and quite selfishly - our own Cookie Countess brand.😉 They are highly concentrated, but thin enough to go through an airbrush gun very smoothly, and not splotchy. Alcohol-based colors are great for working on chocolate! They're the only ones that will dry on chocolate. But they have to treated differently than water-based ones, and having sold them for a few years, I have seen where there can be a lot of user error with them. After Dinkydoodle stopped selling them under her brand, we stopped. But we are still investigating different options for our customers who love the alcohol-based colorings.
I''m interjecting with a live question here, because this answer piqued my curiosity . . .
When you mention "user error", what do you mean specifically?
Ethanol (alcohol) based colors dry out incredibly fast in your airbrush gun. So if you don't clean your gun our as soon as you are done it will dry up and make it hard to clean.
I like both water-based and alcohol-based ones for different reasons. Water-based ones, as I'm sure you know, are great for blending, but when I want less color mixing on the cookie and more opaque coverage, especially with white, I use alcohol-based ones.
Leaving behind bits to further clog.
Ahh, yes, cleaning . . . key!
I am going to post another live question and then come back to my earlier-logged ones later . . .
Is the alcohol colorings thicker than the water? is that the difference?
Not exactly. But because there is no water - it can be used on surfaces like chocolate. Water would bead up.
Hillary - Are you going to have a booth where I can buy stencils?
Sandi - I'm assuming you mean at CookieCon, right?
If you leave the tops off your alcohol based colors - they can slowly evaporate - which yes, would then make them thicker and not as intended.
This year will we not have a booth. As an instructor it would not leave me the time to man a booth, and it was not good timing for us to bring some of our staff with us.
But come to my class and say hello! :
I'll have to try your water-based white, as I've found most others too wet. I always use alcohol-based white for that reason, but I imagine you have completely resolved that glitch.
OK. Thank you
Yes, the instructors GO NON-STOP!
Any other live questions?
If not, I'll go back to mine.
Well - I wish I could say I have... But it's still not the same as alcohol ones. I use it more for blending with other colors
Got it - I've also had some weird reactions with some brands of water-based colorings (not yours) with alcohol-based ones? They suddenly get very thick.
When mixed together . . .
Have you seen this?
One Smart Cookie, viciki0052, Cathy Lorenzo - Hi! Do you have any questions for Hillary?
Hmmm - I honestly have not spent much time experimenting with mixing them.
Feel free to jump in!
Onward to my old questions in the meantime . . .
I've had my coffee! I'm ready! lol
Since you have the vantage point of more years in the stencil business than most, you're uniquely and expertly positioned to talk about stencil trends! Is interest in stencils for cookie decorating continuing to grow rapidly, or is it beginning to wane as stencils are becoming a more established cookie decorating tool? What do you think is the root cause of any growth trends you're seeing?
My coffee is sitting next to me on the bed, and I'm hoping I don't knock it over as I type . . .
Still getting my morning infusion of it . . .
JULIA - Stencils sales and interest are definitely continually growing! In many ways they have become a new norm. What drew me into stenciling as a cookie making tool were two things: (1) the ability to put designs on a cookie that I either didn't have the skill or patience for, or simply weren't possible without a stencil, and (2) the time saving factor of stenciling vs. piping. These are the same reasons our customers love stencils! As the specialty desserts industry continues to skyrocket, there are more people getting into cookie decorating and more people selling their cookies. For those decorators who are cranking out crazy amounts of cookies every week, stenciling is letting them make gorgeous designs in a fraction of the time compared to piping. And as we all know - time is money! Stenciling is also great for beginners, who with a little practice, can make stenciled cookies that look intricate and exciting, even if their piping skills are still in progress. I receive so many emails from excited customers who can't believe how great their stenciled cookies look with just a pass from their airbrush gun, or a swipe of icing.
Again, you've really opened up the market to others . . . thank you for that!
I didn't realize that you could mix water and alcohol.
Yes, the two types of colorings do mix very well (I mix white alcohol-based with water-based). I only get that reaction I mention when working with AmeriColor black - it's odd.
Julia Usher, are you in bed? lol
Typing in my bed - I went to bed at 3 am and got up at 8 am, so I can't say I sleep there much! :0
Hillary, do you prefer to airbrush or scrape the icing on?
yikes Julia! Night owl!
Yes, burning too much midnight oil. I can never seem to get caught up.
Question from Donna above, if you missed it.
I can't say I prefer one method over the other. I like to layer stencils - so my cookies usually use both methods.
Hillary - This is just a FYI and compliment. From the items I have ordered from you, your shipping time is very fast which makes ordering fun, easy and exciting when I receive the order so quickly.
Aww thanks Sandi!! We have a great team that keeps everything moving along!
While on the subject of layering, can you give us all your best tips for creating layered effects? What do people need to watch out for, if anything?
Donna, I see your next question. I will post it after Hillary answers this one. Thanks! Keep 'em coming!
From a design standpoint - try to create a nice balance with your design or color choices. Layering a busy design on another busy design may not look great in the end.
Do you make any of your stencils?
I thought Hillary and her team made all of her stencils . . . but maybe not??
What do you mean by "make"? Design or physically?
physically? With a cutting machine
Ours are laser cut.
Did that answer your question, Donna?
aah I see. I am currently trying to learn to make my own and it just takes so much time
Yes, the machines with blades do . . .
yes it did Julia, thanks
Back to some of my earlier questions in the queue while we wait to hear from others.
What are the latest/biggest trends in stencil design, in your opinion, and why do you think these things are trending?
JULIA - Hmmm . . . llamas . . . donuts . . . sprinkles . . . succulents . . . Why - I don't know! lol Stripes are holding strong and have taken over from chevron. More modern looking patterns are popular. I always say to my husband: if you want to see what's popular on cookies, go to Target. lol He didn't believe me that llamas were going to be a big seller until I showed him all the llama items at Target! Llamas are definitely the new unicorn.
I know . . . if anyone knows why llamas are trending now, please clue me in. Yours are super cute though, Hillary, and clearly on trend.
JULIA - Continuing on trends . . . I am personally influenced a lot by interior design. If I had a second career, that would be it. So I look a lot at home design trends as far as colors, patterns, and sensibilities. Gold and geometric patterns have been so popular the past couple years, and you can really see that in cookie decorating now.
Yes they are. Why?
Hillary - any guesses? Is some other influencer/company pushing llamas right now?! :0
I wish I knew! lol
Yay! Doing unicorns now...SO many colors!!
Okay, gang, so I am flat out of questions in the queue, so it's your turn . . . GO!
Hillary - Do you have a stencil for making straight lines? Thin lines, thick or otherwise. I tried making straight lines using royal icing and a bag and the lines didn't come out very straight. I am thinking of trying an airpen but airbrushing them on a stencil would be less expensive.
So instead of airbrushing your lines, you want to pipe?
Hi, Pat (Meadows) and thecakequeen. Please chime in with questions at any time. Just scroll to the bottom of this viewing pane to enter.
While Sandi clarifies her question, here's one from thecakequeen . . .
How do you store your cookies? How long do they keep at room temperature?
I'm posting Sandi's clarification now, so we've got two questions now up.
I tried to pipe some guitar strings and it was quite difficult to make them perfectly straight.
If they are stored airtight - either in Tupperware or bagged - I think a couple weeks is fine.
So, Sandy, it sounds like you just want a stencil with a few super thin lines??
Ahh I see Sandi. Yes - straight lines can be tricky. When I need to do this I usually look at the spot where I need to land my line instead of where I am piping, if that makes sense
Do you have such a stencil, Hillary?
I have a ruled paper stencil, a I'm sure Hillary does too. You could just mask off all else on the stencil but the one line you want to airbrush and go that route too.
a = as
Yes that makes sense.
We have a pinstripe stencil where the lines are very close together. You could use it as a guide and drawing some faint lines with an edible marker to then pipe over. If the design doesn't all for actual stenciling.
Sandi's comment was in reference to Hillary's remark - not mine!
Are people going to be able to come to your new shop to purchase or is it storage and your business only? If that makes sense.
In reference to Donna's question above, can you first back up and tell us a bit about your new space. I'm not sure everyone knows about your new adventure.
While it is not set-up as a full retail shop, we can allow for shopping by appointment.
OK, thank you Hillary. I will investigate that stencil.
Sure! ...
Our new space is 5,000 sq ft of office/warehouse in Warwick, Rhode Island. It was long overdue in giving us the space we need to grow.
We are putting the finishing touches on our kitchen now too!
Awesome - how close is that from your home?
I'll be be able to do classes there and host others too!
only 10 minutes
Your home kitchen? Or a kitchen in the warehouse to go with the class space?
This kitchen is in our new office
Perfect - I think the ideal is having your business out of the house, but close enough that you can get there as often/urgently as needed.
Great! Thanks for sharing the image!
It's been a great change for all of us. We were tripping over each other at home.
Do you also laser-cut on the premises, or is that done outside? The lasers can take up a ton of space!
And smell too.
That is not done here. But we package everything here.
So how many on the chat are going to CookieCon and looking forward to seeing Hillary then?
Would anyone like a sneak peek of some of our new Halloween stencils?
I can't. I am doing Ginny Levak's cookie rehab cruise next year. So have to save money.
Yay Sandi!
I will miss everyone there, but will have a small Cookie Connection press team there covering the action!
You will have so much fun Donna! I hear those trips are fabulous!
Yes on the Halloween stencils!
We were taking pics last week. Halloween is my FAVORITE holiday!
And, yes, the cruises are great! Can't wait to see you there, Donna!
So fun!
I mean "yes" would love to see the halloween stencils
I understood!
So, Hillary, tell us more about CookieCon - what you plan to teach and how you are prepping for that marathon of a teaching experience!
They are so bright! Love halloween also
My class is called "Beyond Backgrounds" - I'm going to show examples of where people really used stenciling as a way to make dynamic and eye catching cookies. Not just putting polka dots in the background, for example.
And show how you can save a lot of time making cookies this way too.
I'll be doing demoing in class too.
Terrific idea! I think the risk with stencils is that they can look "cookie cutter" if people apply them too literally. But they really can be used very creatively, while saving lots of piping time.
Will you be at the 2nd cookie con Hillary?
Sorry, what's the second CookieCon??
Exactly Julia!
Didn't they decide to have a 2nd one as the first sold out so quickly? Like January or March?
Yes - March in Reno
Oh, I think they made a decision just to run them every year, as opposed to every other year as in the past.
I am honestly not sure at this time. It's a long hike from Rhode Island, and it's during my son's only spring school vacation...
So back to stencils. Can you tell us a bit more about your design process? Are you the sole visionary and designer behind The Cookie Countess? Do you have any design background? (It sure seems like you do!)
Donna, your two questions are up next.
I don't have a design background, technically speaking - I was an English Lit major in college. But I come from a creative family. I do most of the design work. But I also work with some other graphic artists - like Drawn With Character.
Did you say you were going to give classes?
at home?
I will be offering classes in our new space. I don't have a schedule yet - but will hopefully put together a schedule for 2019 soon!
You seem to have a penchant for not just stencil design, but also product design . . . can you tell us a bit more about your latest new products. I think a magical rolling pin was among them?
Sure! The Precision Rolling Pin was a concept that evolved through a lot of trials and research. My husband was very involved in that one. We wanted something that would be a one step item for rolling cookies that was large and reliable.
Is your hubs also at work full time in the stencil biz?
We're always looking at every step of the cookie making process and seeing what we can do to improve and save people time.
he does! For about 2.5 years now
Everyone, we're coming down to the last five minutes in the chat, so if you have any lingering questions, please launch them now!
Wonderful that you two can work harmoniously side by side - not sure that would be the case with mine!
It works great for us!! But I know it's not for everyone. We're a good balance of skills.
For those who didn't make this chat live, the transcript will be saved under this link for posterity. I'm also hoping Hillary will do a follow-up, in-depth Cookier Close-up with me (pretty please!) to post to the site later this month or next after the CookieCon hoopla is over.
Thank you both for putting on this presentation.......
I would be honored! After Cookie Con 😉
Thanks for being here Sandi!
Yes, thank you, Hillary. I hope you didn't mind me probing you about stencil questions - as I know we are "competitors" of sorts. I appreciate your candor and admire your business/design acumen!
yes Thank you ladies!
It was my pleasure! Thank you for having me.
Yes, thanks too to all who attended and asked questions. There were some great ones!
Have a great weekend, everyone!
you too!
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