A mature student from Wem who pursued a passion for needlework at Staffordshire University has won an international prize for her embroidery designs.

Claire Edwards, 46, won second place in the Hand Embroidery Student Fashion category in the ‘Hand & Lock’ Prize.

Claire, an ex-Air Force employee before time off through illness, admitted finding out she had done well was a bit of a shock but admitted she was very proud.

“Working on your own it is sometimes hard to put your work into context and evaluate how good it actually is, so this has been a massive confidence boost.

“One thing that kept me going while I was off work was learning how to crochet. Having that artistic outlet was really therapeutic and that sparked my decision to go to university.”

Claire enrolled on the BA (Hons) Textile Surfaces course at Staffordshire University and during her second year received a long-awaited diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia.

Thanks to her defiant attitude, Claire didn’t let it affect her studies and she graduated with a first-class degree this summer.

The Hand & Lock award recognises Claire’s final year project, a high-end dress with an intricately embroidered Phoenix emblazoned on the back, which she feels symbolises her journey.

She added: “I didn’t want my illness to define me and the phoenix in my work celebrates that.

“Coming to university has changed my life and this design represents that idea of rebirth and rising from the ashes.

“The lecturers on the course were so supportive. Before I started the degree, I didn’t know much about textiles but I was like a sponge, I took in all the information and found my own way.”

Claire is now completing an MA by Negotiated Study in Innovative Textiles and has set up her own business, Defiant Embroidery, with support from Staffordshire University’s Be Inspired Programme.

Claire’s prize includes a placement with Hand & Lock and she hopes the experience will help kick-start her career in the industry.

She added: “I’m looking forward to the work experience and learning more about the industry.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to use that knowledge to expand my range of work and grow my business.”

Fiona Wilson, Textile Surfaces Course Leader, said: “Claire’s passions for hand embroidery has been evident throughout her three years of study with us at Staffordshire University.”