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Live Chat with Sweet Prodigy

Welcome, everyone, to our live chat with Christine Dutcher, aka Sweet Prodigy. And welcome, Christine, I am delighted to be chatting with you AGAIN today!
Sweet Prodigy Live ChatBORDER
Hi, Julia! Thank you so much for having me back again!
As a bit of history, we first chatted with Sweet Prodigy back in 2016 when she was singled out as a "Rising Cookie Star" because of her mind-boggling intricately piped work that often leaves you wondering, "How on earth did she do that?" Christine recently assumed the role of our challenge host, so she's got that feather in her cap too. Today, we'll be talking precision- and micro-piping, challenges, and just about anything else you want to ask Christine.
As a reminder, Christine's bio and other info can be found under the blue "i" icon at the top of this chat room. Check out that area - it's great fuel for questions!
BUT . . . before we jump into your questions, I have a few housekeeping notes. First, questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Christine 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.
Hello Julia, hello Christine!
Hi Manu!
Hi, Manu! Glad you're here!
So, if you're not familiar with Christine's work, you soon will be! Prepare to be mind-blown. I'm kicking off the chat with some of her intricate stringwork pieces, which are bound to stimulate lots of technique questions. Here's the first beauty . . .
Gold Star - Sweet Prodigy
Another star, but this time in color!
Winter Poinsettia - Sweet Prodigy
Another stunner . . .
Blue Polygon - Sweet Prodigy
Another . . .
Easter Flower - Sweet Prodigy
And perhaps my fave (though it's sooo hard to choose) . . .
Gold Spider on a Black Web III - Sweet Prodigy
So, before we delve into technique questions (I, for one, have SO many), let's begin with a little basic background.

CHRISTINE: Can you tell us how long you've been decorating cookies and what/who inspired you to start?
JULIA: I hadn't started out creating intricate stringwork and needlepoint. For the first few years, I was making very mediocre "regular" cookies, and my first passion was actually for royal icing flowers. It was Sweetopia's video on piping lines that got me interested in stringwork designs. At first, my lines were quite wobbly but then I learned about PME piping tips, and that made all the difference in the world. Armed with nothing more than a few piping tips, some food color, and a batch of royal icing, I began to experiment. This is a picture of my first experiment using some leftover icing from my Valentine's Day cookies.
Frist Stringwork - Sweet Prodigy
Thanks for sharing your early cookie work! They still look impressive to me!
CHRISTINE: Your style is marked by intricate, very measured and precise stringwork and needlepoint. How did you happen to settle on this signature style? And how did you perfect it?
Everyone, I have a few question teed up for Christine . . .
BUT, this is your chat so feel free to ask questions at any time using the "Your Post" box at the bottom of the chat room.
JULIA: I first discovered cookie decorating by accident, back in early 2013, while searching online for cupcake recipes. At the time, I really didn't know much about cookie decorating, but I saw these stunning pieces of edible art and I knew I just had to try making them for myself. I also came across some amazing cookiers. I was most inspired by Sweet Sugarbelle and Lila Loa, who are masters of color, SweetAmbs, with her elegant designs, and Sweetopia who offered invaluable tutorials. And, of course, I was just in awe of the attention to detail you showed with your work. From there, I spent countless hours reading blogs, watching video tutorials, and learning all that I could. I decorated my first set of cookies in October of 2013.
Oops, posting answers a bit out of order. Sorry!
JULIA: How did I perfect my stringwork and needlepoint? By piping thousands of lines and tens of thousands of dots! And by making a lot of mistakes and doing a lot of things wrong, and learning tremendously from it all, which, I think, is the best way to learn.
JULIA: I remember wanting to recreate the design of the cookie in the center, but I couldn't remember how I made it. When I did try to recreate it, this is how it turned out. (To this day, I still can't figure out how I made the original one!) Once I made this design, however, I fell in love with it, and my obsession only grew from there.
Second Stringwork - Sweet Prodigy
Christine, Got your question. We'll get to it in a bit.
CHRISTINE: I think perhaps the best way to understand your technique is to have you dissect one of your cookie photos that I just posted. Let's take the spider web as an example, okay? Tell us first about the planning process. How do you figure out which line(s) to pipe first, and how to successively layer them to build up into this contoured shape? Did you start with a template or drawing?
JULIA: I did in fact, start with a drawing for my spider web design. I started with an image of a 12-point star, inside of which I drew another star. I then transferred that second star pattern onto my cookie. Next, I piped over the star pattern and continued piping my lines outward until I completed the spider web. Most of my designs are based on common geometric patterns like the one you see here.
Spider Web Sketch - Sweet Prodigy
CHRISTINE: For a scale reference, how big is the spider cookie (diameter), and how high does the spider web rise off the surface of the cookie? And what size tip did you use for the web?
JULIA: The spider web cookie is about 5 inches (12 cm) in diameter, which is about the same size as most of my geometric cookies. It rises about 1" (2.5 cm) above the surface. I used a tip no. 1 to pipe the web. This is my favorite tip that I use for most of my designs
JULIA: When I started piping the spider web, I really had no idea how it was going to turn out. Usually, my work is the result of experimentation…and sometimes, unintentional mistakes.
JULIA: I wish I could say that I am able to create complete sketches that allow me to see what the final design will look like but it is next to impossible to plan out this type of three-dimensional stringwork on a two-dimensional surface. And it is much easier and more productive for me to "sketch" and experiment with actual royal icing since something as simple as changing the piping sequence or the order in which the colors are piped can end up yielding completely different results. Here is an example of where I piped the same design but reversed the order in which I piped the colors, so you can see what I mean.
Reverse Piping - Sweet Prodigy
Can't see any chat or sound
HOME BAKED CAKES - it is a text based chat. Not sure why you can't see it. The posts show up to the left of this window. The only sound will be a "bling" when I post something. But the sound on your device must be turned on and also turned on at the bottom of the chat window. Hope that helps.
Hello Christine and Julia. A beautiful evening in Greece. I’m so glad to learn more about your fantastic work, Christine.
CHRISTINE: Your piping on the web is immaculate (as on all of your work)! What tips can you provide regarding prepping the icing for stringwork? Do you "spatula" (or spread it) first, the way Eddie Spence suggests, to eliminate air bubbles? Do you use a special recipe? How do you ensure clean starts and stops to your lines without any bigger blobs at those points?
Hi Tina! Glad that you could make it!
JULIA: Thank you so much for your nice words! I prefer to use fresh icing, to start with, and I use just a basic royal icing recipe (powdered sugar, meringue powder, water). I had only recently learned about the "spatula" technique, but I have always done something similar to help eliminate air bubbles. I also want to add that I still get air bubbles and broken lines. Those, however, get carefully removed with my scribe, so you never end up seeing them. Additionally, I have very specific icing consistencies that I use for both my two-dimensional and three-dimensional work.
Exquisite work.
Thank you Julia, got it. First time with live chat
HOME BAKED CAKES - Can you see it now? I'm having a bit of trouble with the left side of the posts being slightly cut off, but it may be the viewing mode I am in..
JULIA: When it comes to clean starts and stops, I find that using thicker icing helps to result in a much less smaller blob at the start of line. I also prefer a metal tip over a tipless bag because I feel like I have a bit more control in that sense. When I get to the end of a line I will use my piping tip to "cut" the icing in order to get a clean break. If you zoom in on my work you should be able to see this.
Hi Christine! I love your beautiful work. Do you put particular ingredients in your icing to make it stretchy or hard to break?
MINTLEMONADE (COOKIE CRUMBS) Hi! I'm glad you like my work. I'm a big fan of your work too. I do not put anything special in my icing to make it stronger although I have been thinking about trying powdered egg whites as this gives the icing strength. I also find that there is a difference between fresh icing and icing that has been sitting for a few days or has been previously frozen, particularly when it's a darker color. Equally important, would be to have a design where many lines cross each other since this can help to make the entire piece more structurally sound and less susceptible to breakage. I do not put anything in my icing to make it stretchy. I tried using corn syrup once, but I didn't like how it affected the royal icing stringwork. So, in this case, I would say that using proper technique (a combination of just the right amount of both pressure and pulling) is the best way to "stretch" the icing.
Yes, Thank you
Hi, Christine! I'm sure you'll be talking about this, but I'll ask anyway. What consistency do you use for such precise lines that never seem to break?
Tina asked the same question . . .
How can you describe your consistency?
Tina: I use a medium-thick consistency. It just depends on what I am creating. But generally something that will hold it's shape.
So we'll have Christine answer both at the same time.
THE SOPHISTIBAKER: Hi Patricia! There are a few consistencies that I use depending on what I am creating, but generally, I use a medium-stiff consistency. And as you have already read, I do in fact still get breakage. I have noticed that the two main reasons for breakage are air bubbles, and moving my hand too quickly relative to the amount of icing coming out of the tip.
What piping tip size do you usually work with?
I think she said a PME #1, but Christine can elaborate . . .
A tip no 1. This is the perfect size to get the best size lines
Just one more question in the advance queue from The Sophistibaker . . . then onto live questions.
Does your icing ever curl when piping? What causes this?
THE SOPHOSTIBAKER: I think a lot of people have problems with curling. Using a tip that doesn't have a seam can help. Also, touching down on the cookie first, so that there's contact right away, can also make a difference. More importantly, you want to make sure that there are no bits of dried icing, either inside or outside of your tip, and to make sure your tip is not damaged. I have heard some people say that too thick icing can cause curling, but I have used very thick icing and never had a problem - even with a 00 tip.
Onto some live questions, the first one from KARENBAKES.
Ready, Christine?! You've already touched on aspects of this question, but perhaps you can summarize your best tips again . . .
Hi Christine! I'm a big fan of your work and have a couple of questions so I hope you don't mind. The first one is how do you pipe such perfect lines? I've watched a bunch of tutorials on piping lines but just can't get them to be as straight or perfectly aligned as yours. What's your secret?
Christine will now be typing live, so answers may take a little longer to appear . . .
KarenBakes: I've watched a lot of these videos too, and for starters, I pipe my lines a lot differently that most everyone else. I also take into consideration things like posture and breathing, and the way I hold my piping bag. There are so many little tips and tricks that if I taught, I could probably dedicate an entire class to piping the perfect line.
Can you be more specific in terms of this statement: "I pipe my lines a lot differently than most everyone else". What does that mean?
While she answers, I'm posting a question from Tina for ALL OF YOU.
How is everyone doing?
Julia: I use one hand to pipe. I do not support my hand with the other hand. Also, the angle at which I hold my bag... many different things like that.
I am okay, Tina. Had a harrowing experience flying last weekend, as not many paid attention to masking policies, including the airline.
Well, I hope you'll teach a class one day soon.
I'm also working on videos for my next shoot in two weeks. How are others?
No trouble with clotting tips?
Above questions is for Christine, obviously.
Tina: No, I never have a problem with clotting tips, even with a 00, but I think this has more to do with the type of powdered sugar or meringue powder used.
But how do you keep icing from drying in the end of the tip? I imagine it takes you a while to pipe these things. Do you pipe non-stop, or cover the tip in some way when you have to take a break?
Julia: I pip non-stop. I also wipe my tip with a damp cloth before each line.
Good tip!
I’m sorry we have enough stress without people not wanting to wear masks. Christine, do you sift ? I have problems with clotting and shy away from a 0 tip.
Also, related to Tina's question and your previous comment, what meringue powder and powdered sugar do you use?
Tina: No, I don't sift. I just use a whisk to break up clumps as needed.
Julia: I use Redpath powdered sugar and Wilton meringue powder.
Hi Christine, your work is divine. How much time can you spend on just one of your beautiful cookies?
I love the look of a 0 tip line but it breaks my nerves to get anything done. I resorted to premix like Squires Kitchen Professional Icing for small detail work.
Lou Lou: Hi Lou Lou. I usually take about 3 hours for some of my work. My three-dimensional work takes about a full day, and some of my needlepoint cookies can take up to three days to complete!
I imagine it's an issue with your powdered sugar, Tina. Lots of variability in coarseness of it across the globe. Domino and C&H here in the US are quite fine, and pose no clogging issues for me at all.
Is more or less meringue powder best. I use about 5 TB for each patch with 2lb of sugar
Oh man talk about patience. The results show the love and skill!
Home Baked Cakes: I'm probably the last person to ask about ratios lol. I usually don't measure.
So you just eyeball the meringue powder? How does that work? Don't you get variable drying time and performance from batch to batch?
Julia: Well, I generally know can tell how much I am putting in by the amount in the bag and the number of tablespoons but I don't weigh anything like you're supposed to.
Christine, congrats again for your accomplishment, especially for being the first cookier to be named as an "Honourary PME Five Star Sugar Artist"! Can you tell us more about this accomplishment? Did you take a special course?
Don’t measure!!!!!!! Oh I can’t live without my scale. Julia the quality is not as fine as it needs to be and I need a finer sieve.
Lou Lou, good question. I'll post it next.
Oh congratulations on that well deserved honor!
Yes, Congrats
Manu: Hi Manu! Thank you. PME approached me and said that they were putting together a new Five Star course, and wanted to have my work in their course book. I was extremely honoured since I am always trying to challenge myself both technically and creatively.
How can you market a cookie that takes so long to complete? and Who would your customer be for such beautiful technique?
Manu: I did not take any special courses.
Christine: I can imagine! A dream! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
Lou Lou: My market would be more for those wanting to learn. In other words student. But I'm sure there are those who can afford these cookies too.
Tina: Thank you!
You don't sell your cookies, do you?
What an honor! Your work shows such talent.
Manu: Thank you!
Just re-posting in case you did not see my question: You don't sell your cookies, do you?
Julia: Sorry, I missed that one. I do not sell my cookies right now. I would like to sell them - and cupcakes - during special occasions such as the holidays.
Do you use the same icing consistency for your dots?
The Sohpistibaker: I use a much thinner consistency, more like piping consistency.
Your cookies are always so colorful and creative. How do you come up with your designs? Do you have a background in art?
Posting Tina's question at the same time, as it is almost the same as the one above.
How do you choose your designs - your work isn’t as trendy as much of what’s out there, yet each piece has such a WOW factor. I’m feeling most cookiers go with what’s trending.
Karenbakes: I did take a lot of art classes in school, and it's always been my favorite subject. When it comes to my stringwork, I usually like to start with a basic geometric shape, and just experiment with different ways to pipe the lines based on that shape. I also love experimenting with different color patterns because that is something that can also have a great effect on the outcome. Beyond that, most of my inspiration comes from artwork found outside of the cookie world.
Oh yes, the designs are mind boggling. Gorgeous!
Great minds think alike! 🤣
So with the knowledge of your technique, what would your students do with this skill?
Tina: I like to be different, and so I look for inspiration outside of the cookie world. Usually in the art world.
I’d love to have the satisfaction of just being able to say , I can do that, even if the skill brings me nothing more.
You do great with lines, but your needlepoint work is amazing as well!
CHRISTINE: Any thoughts on Lou Lou's question: So with the knowledge of your technique, what would your students do with this skill?
Lou Lou: They will be able to pipe straight lines. But I would like to be able to teach techniques as opposed to teaching how to decorate a particular set of cookie.
I definitely agree, Manu. It’s mind blowing.
Another question from me: You mentioned that PME tips were game-changers for you. But what's so special about PME tips? I understand how seams on tips can be problematic when piping straight lines, but there are plenty of other seamless brands of tips out there, like Ateco and Wilton to name just two.
JULIA: I started off using Wilton tips to pipe my lines, and my lines were okay. But once I started using PME tips, my lines became incredibly straight. I absolutely love how the icing flows out as well as the amount of control that I get. I cannot speak for the equivalent Ateco tip (No. 1), I have not used it. But I am very happy with my PME tips. That said, I do have other tips that are Ateco and Wilton, and I like them as well.
Julia: Just to add to that, my goal would be to mentor and to give students the tools they need to create their own unique cookie art.
I've used both PME and Ateco, and find them comparable in performance, but I still do most of my straight lines with a parchment cone anyway! The Ateco tips just run larger - a #1 PME is a fair bit smaller than an Ateco #1.
You are a master of piping lines. Are there any other techniques or media you would like to master?
Julia: I guess I am also brand loyal.
Thank you, I guess I never thought of it that way.
Question again from KARENBAKES: You are a master of piping lines. Are there any other techniques or media you would like to master?
Julia, I never mastered that darn parchment cone!😔
Karenbakes: Thank you. Yes, of course. I have been wanting to try working with isomalt for a while now. I used to paint with watercolors, so I would love to try experimenting with different painting techniques. And I would love to try creating grander royal icing designs on cakes.
Tina, it can be trickier than a tip, because of the paper folds, and, if you have the replenish icing, it's hard to cut the opening the exact same size as what you had before. But close enough for me!
You may have just answered this next question, but did you have anything to add to it . . .
Is there anything new you’d like to try with your perfect lines?
The Sophistibaker: That's a good question. I'm always thinking about what I can create that's even more complex than what I've already done (hence my cube experiment). Right now, I am obsessed with creating three-dimensional stringwork pieces, and I think there's so much more that I can do with them. My goal is to create incredibly complex three-dimensional pieces that no one can figure out. I would love to be able to showcase my work so that others can see it because they really look pretty cool in real life.
Your piping consistency, would it be more like a stiff peak or a softer peak that bends a little? I am still learning at my old age, LOL!
I had this same question about your dot consistency. I use a really loose consistency for dots, but it's nowhere close to what I would call "piping" consistency. I use "piping" consistency for line work. Can you clarify? Maybe describe what the icing does (how it behaves) for each task, lines vs. dots?
Home Baked Cakes: I really depends on what I am creating. For two-dimensional work, I will use a softer consistency. For three-dimensional work, I use a stiffer consistency - anything from just thicker than "toothpaste" consistency right up to a consistency that holds a peak.
Thank you
Thanks, Julia. I’ll stick with my disposable bags and my PME tips. 🤣. Christine, your work looks pretty cool in pics too!!!!
Julia: For my dots, the consistency should be should be thick enough to hold it's shape but thin enough to form a ball.
Okay, that makes more sense - that's how my beadwork icing behaves as well.
I do both cakes and cookies and would love to do this type of design on a cake. Wish I can started learning when I was younger.
Any more questions? We are out, but we officially have 4 more minutes to go.
Home Bake Cakes: Me too
I have one: You mentioned teaching a fair bit. Do you have plans to start teaching classes soon? Would love to see you doing that!
Where do you teach?
Julia: I have been thinking about teaching for a long time. I had actually started planning things around the beginning of the year but unfortunately, everything in the world changed and so that got put on hold. I would love to be able to hold classes where I could teach how to create both two and three-dimensional stringwork designs - and, of course, how to pipe a straight line. But I think, more realistically, I would be teaching basic and advanced classes. The only thing I really need is a place to hold classes (and students lol). So, hopefully, I will be able to find that once things go back to normal.
There's always Zoom for online classes. I am all geared up to take classes online, because in-person ones are very difficult right now.
Home Baked. I started later than most of you. We may be slower but we catch up!🥰
Thank you Julia and Sweet Prodigy! It has been a pleasure to be part of this live chat.
HOME BAKED CAKES - Great to have you here for your first chat!
Home Baked Goods: Thank you for your great questions.
Some possible news about these chats . . . my tech support team looks like they're considering developing video chats (finally - I've been asking for that functionality for years), so, hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, we can be talking instead of typing, and I won't have to go offsite to use Zoom for video calls.
This was lovely! Thank you Julia and Christine for a fun time!
This chat has been very informative, I'm glad I joined Julia's Cookie Connection because there are a lot of guests with great knowledge to share. Thank you again for you time and energy and I'm still a newbie learning the best I can.
The Sophistibaker: Thank you too!
Thanks for joining, Lou Lou. You are right - so many great decorators and chat guests here.
Thank you wonderful ladies. Everyone please stay safe. Wear your masks !❤️ Have a beautiful weekend.
Lou Lou: Thank you for your questions
Thanks for Christine for joining us - she is just a wealth of knowledge, and I so appreciate her generous sharing of tips.
Tina: Always nice to chat with you
Julia: Thank you Julia for having me here today. I really enjoyed my time.
Thank you to all as well for your terrific questions. You made it hard for me to keep up with the moderation!
Back at you too. Thanks
I'm closing the chat now - I think our next one may be Zoom-based, another COVID check-in, but it's still in the planning process.
Thanks Julia!
Thank you, have a nice day everyone!
Manu: Have a nice day too!
Have a great weekend, and thanks again, Christine!
Great news about the new video feature!
THE SOPHISTIBAKER - no guarantees on the video feature yet, but it appears to be something they're seriously considering.
Thank you, all be safe
You too Manu. ❤️
Bye now!
This chat has ended.
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