A FEW miles from what was once the 'wool capital of the world' Charlotte Meek is introducing textiles to a burgeoning workforce.

Two days of her busy working week are taken up with teaching industrial sewing machinists who are eager to pick up an important trade and help to swell Britain's textile workforces of the future.

The Textile Academy was born out of a £31,000 investment from the Textile Growth Fund. It is being developed by Leeds City College (Keighley Campus) in response to the skills shortage within the textile industry, and has been supported by local employers.

Since January, Charlotte has been busy developing and running the course aimed at long-term unemployed.

Working with local manufacturers and the Department of Work and Pensions, the academy has, so far, successfully trained six students into full-time work.

"When I came out of college in the early 90s, there was a down-turn in the economy and it wiped out much of the textile industry in the UK," explains Charlotte.

Historically, Bradford's textile trade diminished due to the impact of cheaper production overseas - but could the city's textile industry be booming again?

Charlotte explains it is a nationwide issue. "The other thing is production has been going overseas. Most clothing is being produced overseas, but because China and India are becoming more Westernised wages are going up."

Charlotte says, as a result of this, production is gradually returning to the UK but the industry needs skilled machinists to meet the demand.

However, a lack of investment in sewing machinists has contributed to the skills shortage the country now faces and is now being swiftly addressed by organisations such as the Textile Academy.

"A lot of production is starting to come back to the UK and there are a lot of companies setting up now just to feed the UK production," says Charlotte.

Chris Stott, Head of Business Engagement at Keighley College, says: "There is a real growth in textiles around us."

He explains how many of the big companies are turning to local manufacturers due to the high quality and also to keep up with the demand created by fast fashion and changing trends.

The Textile Academy's 'employer-led model' aims to train machinists with the skills they need to help local companies meet that demand - Chris talks of one company trebling the size of its factory.

Yet the stumbling block for many is recruiting machinists. According to Chris one of the issues could be the perception of the textile trade in the past. "I think part of the problem recruiting is they remember the days of working in a mill and it's not like that. The modern textile industry is clean and bright."

Chris also believes people may not be aware the textile industry still exists but he says the industry offers people the potential to pursue a successful career.

"We have managed to maintain this industry to this day and we are producing these high quality products and making sure they continue to do that and continue to grow by bringing young people in," says Chris.

Charlotte says organisations such as Meet the Manufacturer, Make it British are promoting the manufacturing trade and textile manufacturing in the UK.

She recently spoke about the skills gap and the future of the textile industry, along with her work with the Textile Academy, at a Meet the Manufacturer Trade Fair in London run by Kate Hills of Make it British.

Now Charlotte is busy promoting the profession to her students. "It is a good job, you could earn a good salary being a machinist and you are making something so it is really quite rewarding."

Charlotte speaks from experience. Her interest in making and creating is in the genes. Her grandmother, Edna Rogers, was a dressmaker and inspired her own interest in sewing and all things crafty.

"She was the biggest influence in my life really and taught me everything I know," says Charlotte.

As well as being a trained pattern cutter and dressmaker, Charlotte is also a keen knitter.

In a previous interview I learned how crocheting a blanket hadn't just been a satisfying accomplishment for the mother-of-two, it took her mind off the cancer treatment she was undergoing at that time.

"When you are learning a craft you have to give it attention. It took my mind off being ill and what I was going through and also it gave me a purpose. It really did help me," Charlotte explained previously.

When she isn't passing on her creative skills to others through the course, Charlotte is busy developing her apron business.

'The Stitch Society' is an appropriate brand. Operating out of a studio in Salts Mill, the landmark location within the World Heritage Site, Charlotte is creating a stylish yet practical piece of clothing - perfect for all the makers she meets.

Chatting with her customers, Charlotte can tailor-make aprons to suit their requirements; whether it be potters wanting a waterproof pinny, textile artists or weavers wanting to shield their clothes from their work, Charlotte's aprons are designed to help them do their job while being practical and pretty in the process.

The most unusual profession Charlotte has catered for is a client who creates model eyes for medics to practice on She explains how the apron she crafted for her has almost 'revolutionised' the way she works.

Another client purchased an apron as a gift for his wife who doesn't normally wear one. "She loves it, it makes her feel nice when she is doing jobs," says Charlotte.

"Firstly, they are nice to wear and they are really useful."

Charlotte is also conscious of the business' environmental footprint and the focus on sourcing British fabrics.

She explains how they are looking at ways to use the waste fabric from their apron range such as turning it into tote bags.

And she is keen to profile her creations, attending fairs throughout the country in locations such as London, Bath and, closer to home, the Saltaire Makers Fair.

The Stitch Society is participating in its first trade fair - The Home and Gift Fair - in Harrogate from July 16 to 19 and has been accepted to do the Selvedge Fair in Pendle in September and the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in October.

For more information visit thestitchsociety.com