— Because you're going to be using small decorating tips that can clog, sift the confectioners' sugar for the royal icing; there are always a few tiny, rock-hard pieces that prevent the frosting from flowing evenly. I keep a needle close by while I pipe the icing, just in case. It usually does the trick.
— Piping straight lines is hard, even for experienced decorators. Practice a few lines on wax paper before you tackle the cookies. I used a zero (0) tip, which leaves a very delicate line, but a No. 1 is easier to find (most craft stores carry them) and will look fine.
— For the top, heel and toe of the stockings, pipe an outline and then, using slightly thinned icing, flood the areas and let them dry completely, about eight hours or overnight. (I used the same technique for the blue background on the snowman stocking.)
— For an argyle design, I scored the top of the baked cookie with a paring knife to mark the design, then piped the lines and pink background colors and let them dry.
— After the base colors are dry, add details as desired. For the argyle, I piped green lines and immediately sprinkled them with green sanding sugar, which added sparkle and texture. (For sugaring larger areas, such as toes, lightly brush with thinned icing and sprinkle with the sugar.) Let dry for a couple hours.
— Glue stocking pieces together with thick icing and let them dry completely.
And her thoughts on Usher's needlepoint design:
— It is a real challenge, but enlarging the design can make it easier. The trick is to pipe the lines as fine and straight as possible. I scored two perpendicular lines on the cookie top to serve as a guide, then piped vertical and horizontal white lines. (Don't worry if they're not perfect; it's just a cookie, and this is supposed to be fun.) After the lines dry, go back and fill in the little squares with colored icing according to the diagram.
— For the cookie lollipops, cut out two cookies for each pop. Gently push a stick on top of one unbaked piece and bake in place, Decorate the cookie tops, and glue the two halves together.