Monday, April 5, 2010

Basic Stringwork Tutorial - Part 1

As promised, I will now begin posting tutorials for stringwork and extensionwork! There are many different kinds of stringwork so I'll be dividing the tutorials into different posts. Here are the plans right now:

Part 1 - Basic Stringwork
Part 2 - Stringwork with a Bridge
Part 3 - Bridgeless Stringwork
Part 4 - Oriental Stringwork

If there is anything else you want to see, leave it in a comment here!

And without further ado, here is the first tutorial!

Step 1: Prepare Your Cake

For this type of stringwork, you can work on a fondant-covered or buttercream-covered cake. If you are just learning stringwork, you might find it easier to work on a fondant-covered cake because it's easier to "erase" your mistakes as you go. Today, I will be working on a fondant-covered Styrofoam dummy.

Step 2: Prepare Your Icing

You can use either buttercream or royal icing for this type of stringwork. However, if this is your first time and you're working on a fondant-covered cake, I'd recommend using royal icing. Also, just use white icing. I am using brown here today so you can see a clear contrast against the cake. It will be much easier to "erase" your mistakes if you use white icing versus a colored one.

The consistency of the icing is also very important. There are many different royal icing recipes so there is no universal rule-of-thumb for achieving the perfect icing consistency. I like to use the Wilton recipe straight out of my mixer to begin with. As I start working with it, I sometimes discover that it is too stiff so I will empty my bag and thin it down a little by adding water. Basically, I just play with it until I like the consistency coming out of my piping tip.

Quick icing tips:
  • If your icing is breaking in the middle of the string, it is either too stiff or you need to squeeze harder. (Add water.)
  • If you feel pain in your hand, your icing is too stiff. (Add water.)
  • If your icing drips out of your piping tip, it is way too thin. (Add powdered sugar.)
  • If your string changes shape (gets very thin) and then breaks, it is too thin. (Add powdered sugar.)
Step 3: Begin Your Strings

Stringwork can be done with many different piping tips. Today, I will be using tips 1, 2, and 3 which are just round tips in increasing size.

To begin your stringwork, touch the end of your piping tip to the cake and begin applying pressure to the piping bag. As the icing comes out of the tip, slowly move away from the cake, allowing the icing to come out in a string. (*Gasp* String?!?! Yes, that's what we're doing!)

Ok, let's go through this bit by bit with photos:

As you continue to squeeze the bag, move the piping tip to the right, allowing the icing to naturally sag. To finish the string, touch the piping tip to the surface of the cake and stop squeezing the bag.

Notice how my hand didn't trace the line of the icing sag. The piping tip moved almost straight across (horizontally) as the icing dropped. Resist the urge to trace the icing line! Your stringwork will look SO much better if you just move horizontally. It's tough to grasp at first, but you'll be so happy with the result!

Here, I've done 3 strings. You'll notice that CONSISTENCY IS KEY in stringwork. If you squeeze the bag too much/too little or move your hand too fast/too slow, you strings will end up looking like silly string on the side of the cake. Also, you want your strings to be uniform.

If you're not good at making uniform strings on your own, mark your cake before you get started. Wilton makes a Cake Dividing Set that is really handy, but you can also do it on your own with no specialized tools.

Take a long piece of paper (or multiple pieces taped together) that is long enough to wrap completely around the circumference of your cake. Fold it in half...and in half again...and in half again...etc...until the segments on your paper are the size you'd like for your strings to be. Then, wrap the paper back around your cake. Using a straight pin or safety pin, poke small holes around the top edge of your cake at each paper crease. These holes are where you will start and stop each string. No one will ever know that you poked holes in the fondant - you'll cover the holes with royal icing! Now, remove the paper and begin your strings.

Step 4: Damage Control

Ok, let's pretend one of your strings didn't come out exactly how you'd like it. No problem! We'll erase it!

Using a clean, dry paint brush, gently swipe the string off the cake. Be careful not to smear the icing - just pull it off the cake.

Now use a slightly damp paint brush and paint water over the mark where the string used to be. Be patient. You can completely erase the line, but it may take some time. Also, try not to use an abundance of water. Water will stain your fondant.

See how the line is coming right off but you can see the water mark? If you cover the water mark with strings later, it's no problem. It all depends on your cake design.

Step 5: Complete Your Stringwork Design

You can stop at a single row of simple strings if you want. And sometimes that looks elegant all by itself! But...anyone can do that! Instead, dress up your strings a bit!

Here, I've taken piping tips 1 and 2 and piped smaller strings inside the originals.

Now, let's add the mini strings to the first set:

Create these mini strings the same way you would the larger ones! This time, however, the mini strings are attached to one of the other larger strings. Gently touch the piping tip to the surface of one of the larger strings. Pipe icing while moving to the right. Then touch the larger string again to finish the mini string. Continue all the way across the larger string.

Ok, I've jumped ahead a bit at this point. Just use your creativity to bring your stringwork to life! At the joints of the larger strings, I piped small loops and a dot on top of each loop. Then, I piped dots at the bottom of the largest strings too. Easy and just look at how much more complicated the strings look!

Stringwork takes practice and patience. If yours isn't perfect at first, keep working! Finish what you're doing and walk away. Come back to look at it later - and from a distance. Remember that you have the most critical eye. Others will probably think your work looks breathtaking.

Good luck!


Ronda said...

This is amazing and wonderful! I love your tutorial, your conversational "just talking with friends" tone, and your willingness to share your talents with everyone so freely!! Thanks so much!

Mel said...

Wow, what a great compliment! Thank you, Ronda!

Elise said...

This is such a great tutorial, Melanie! You almost make me want to try stringwork myself (almost). Maybe one day I'll give it a go. Bookmarking this!

Sarah said...

Your tutorials are great! I'm going to attempt the stringwork in the next couple weeks.

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