Is it Real or is it Memorex!

YouTube tutorials are available on almost every cake decorating subject these days. You can learn to pipe extension work, ice a cake and how to make a sugar flower all from the comfort of your couch. You can stop and replay them over and over and learn it all, ten minutes at a time. For a lot of people, these videos are a lifeline that rescues them late at night when they realize they didn’t really know how to make that order they took. For people who cannot afford to take classes, these are an amazing free gift.

But are they the end all, be all? Do you ever need to take a real class? What are the pros and cons of YouTube, online classes and in person classes? I have had a bunch of people ask for a blog on this, so I wanted to tackle this subject.

I used to write disclosure statements for court, so here goes for my blog. I teach in person classes. I have done YouTube tutorials for CalJava. I have not done online classes, but did do an online tutorial through, and would love to do some for ( hint, hint). I have used YouTube videos to see someone do something. I have attended boatloads of in person classes. I think some things are very easy to grasp by watching a video and that some things are better learned by having an actual teacher. For that matter, I think some things are easy to learn with books and some are not.

The first thing you need to think about, is how YOU learn best. I was an education major and learned that some people can simply read something and they can comprehend it and execute it. For others, no matter how well the instructions are written, they must actually touch it or do it to learn the technique. It is the difference between being right brained and left brained. Any class will be made up of both types of students, as well as a few, like me, who are whole brained and learn both ways.

I often think about my time in Kathleen Lange’s Lambeth Bootcamp. I was a good, experienced piper and felt sure that I could look at most of the Lambeth designs and recreate them without assistance. I watched her do it, just like I could have watched a YouTube tutorial. When I went to pipe my first puff, I learned that seeing and doing are not the same. It was only when Kathy put her hand on mine and I could then FEEL the proper angle and pressure, that I was I better able to execute a puff.

I know that in many of my modeling classes, it is only when I roll the teardrop on the student’s hand for them, that they can “get” the technique I have described and shown. I feel like the videos on YouTube are a great starting place, but that it takes an in person teacher to finesse and perfect your technique. I had done flowers from books for a while before I took my first class with Eleanor Rielander. After my first class with her, I saw how much more I understood, how much better my flowers looked and how much faster I was at making them.

I know that many of you want to meet the famous decorators and hate that you cannot afford to take a class with them. The new breed of online tutorials give you a bit more than a YouTube video. Some of them are filmed live and you can ask questions for more information. has been providing services like this to their members for years. As I walked through Cake International at the NEC in England with Susan Carberry, she was constantly recognized by Brits who are members of Yummy Arts. They remarked about how much they had learned from her. I know lots of people who were so excited to sign up for the classes with Marina Sousa and others. These are a great step beyond the YouTube videos.

There are also a new generation of DVD tutorials on the market. Again, you might not get to take a class with Lauren Kitchens, Mike McCarey, Mike Elder or Dawn Parrott, but you can buy their DVDs and take some of their knowledge home with you. These videos will be available at any hour and you can watch them over and over until you master the technique.

If you learn by doing, you will always learn better in a class with a teacher there to help you. In your case, the investment of a class will pay great dividends over a book. If you have always been that person who reads something and can instantly recreate it, you may be just fine with books and videos until you decide to focus on perfecting or excelling at a technique. You crazy whole brained people already own the same books as me and are in the classes with me!

I honestly think that every method of learning is to be applauded. I know that there are many ways to make a sugar rose, or ice a cake or whatever and I hope that you keep your mind open to other methods. I hope that there is a YouTube video out there for you in your time of crisis. I hope that you grab the opportunity for online classes like those on or I hope that you invest in DVDs on techniques that you want to learn. I hope that you budget for a class with your dream instructor or on your dream technique. Use all the methods that are available to you, but never forget that in person training will almost always take you the furthest as a decorator. You will leave a class with a more complete understanding of the project and will have received feedback on how to do the best job possible for YOU at that time.

The one note I must leave you with is…never stop learning. None of us is perfect and we can all benefit from exposure to new methods and instruction. Education will keep our work fresh. Seek out knowledge, in all its forms, as often as possible. Any day that you learn something new, is always a great day.


9 thoughts on “Is it Real or is it Memorex!

  1. Being an instructor everyday, I find that most of students do not grasp the task until physically involved. I do show videos. I do demos before each class. This is not just cake classes but all pastry classes. Videos are great things to have as references but they cannot show you feel or pressure. These are learned by active instruction. For example, when you mentioned The instructor taking your hand and letting you feel the angle. I do the same thing when trying to teach piping. I try to have the student feel the angle, the pressure and movement.

  2. I have tried all of the above methods. I do,however, prefer a live class., although I will say that Susan’s classes and dvd’s on YA are great for learning and I actually created my first carved car cake with the help of Mike MCarey’s in depth dvd.

  3. I’ve been chomping at the bit to get to another class. It’s been too long! Finally I’ll be attending another workshop in September, and I can’t wait for the day. In addition to actually learning a very complicated skill, I’m equally excited about spending time with other decorators, and sharing stories and everything that goes along with meeting new people!

  4. Thank you for doing this blog. I am one of those people that prefers a hands on class because I feel learn more and by touching and feeling and asking questions

  5. I’m so glad you wrote this! I’ve taken numerous classes and I still cannot pipe a buttercream rose to save my life. It looks like cabbage! However, the “classes” have been amazing to me & my piping improved instantly! While I’m a hands on person, I’ve gotten more out of the Craftsy classes than I have so far out of YouTube and that says alot! Personally, I’m very willing to pay for those because Joshua John Russell, Marina Sousa and other teachers aren’t in my area demographically to take a class. I hope that you and Karen Portaleo and a few others will be able to do Craftsy classes!

  6. I will the one to say that I have tried all of these methods, and I actually prefer hands on class. There is nothing better than to have your instructor there when you are doing something wrong, and you can immediately ask the question with a quick response. With that said, I prefer the class!

  7. Great Article Ruth. You never get to old or know to much to stop taking classes. I would love to take Lorraine McKays class – but it is the first of the week and the DOS is the Sunday following. Can’t be gone that long. Especially just after ICES. Mandy and I are really looking forward to taking Zane and Norms shoe and bag class right after ICES. So much to learn.

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