There are people who come to Monica Andrew who have never quite worked out how to thread a needle, while others just want advice on how to make a tricky repair.
Mrs Andrew welcomes them all to her weekly "repair cafe", which runs each Wednesday afternoon at the University of Canberra.
With a sewing machine on hand and plenty of fabric scraps and thread colours, Mrs Andrew encourages those who drop in to repair their ripped, torn or worn through clothes.
It is all part of a PhD project in "mending", or how repairing clothes minimises the environmental impact of textiles.
Mrs Andrew was shocked to see the amount of clothing sent to landfill in Australia portrayed on Craig Reucassel's War on Waste television documentary broadcast by the ABC.
It got her thinking about the growing environmental burden of so-called fast fashion.
"For an average male, there's about one kilo of cotton in that outfit [of jeans and a T-shirt]," Mrs Andrew said.
"OK, so you just buy one kilogram of cotton, but you're also buying a lot of other things embedded in that, like 66 kilowatt hours of energy, 10 to 20,000 litres of water to produce that one kilogram of cotton.
"And unless it's organic, and less than one per cent of cotton is organic, it's the pesticides and herbicides. The clothing industry is a very long and complex supply chain and every stage has a negative impact on the environment."
The research project, which grew out of a desire to offer something to the university, has led to the weekly "repair cafe" sessions, which have been running for three semesters.
Attendees have ranged from first-year students to professors and Mrs Andrew has helped attendees with everything from hem repair to sock darning.
"I always thought mending was boring - but I've changed my view over the years," she said.
Once there was probably no need for such sessions at a university, when clothes were relatively expensive and a culture of repair and reuse was instilled in a population unable to readily afford new garments.
"I think fast fashion is the equivalent of a one-night stand with clothes whereas we used to have long-term relationships with it," Mrs Andrew said.
She said there had been two major changes that had affected Australians' relationship with what they wear.
"One was that they stopped routinely teaching manual skills in schools, and that seems to have stopped in about the 1990s, I'm not sure exactly. That was because there was this idea that we needed knowledge workers not manual workers.
"But the main one was just the cheap clothing with the abolition of tariffs, the development of global trade ... Now, you can buy a T-shirt for two or three dollars."
Lots has changed since then. Mrs Andrew said as women joined the workforce, they had more money and less time to repair the clothes they already had.
"It was why bother repairing now that I can go and buy a new one?" she said.
"Mind you, if you really think about, it's not actually saving them labour because it often takes as long to go out and buy something as it would to do a quick repair. I get a lot of repairs in here that take five minutes or less.
"I've had people who want buttons put on garments, through to hems that are falling down, ripped seams, jeans; lots of jeans with what I call holes in unfashionable places, as in the crotch area."
The biggest attitude shift people needed to make when it came to their clothes was that, even if they were extremely cheap, they could still have extra life with a bit of care and attention.
"Yes, it is worth repairing a two-dollar T-shirt," she said.
Handy skills the trick for a volatile future
From sock darning to repairing gutters, patching water tanks to repairing window sashes, there are plenty of skills in keeping a household up and running.
And with resources set to become scarcer as the climate changes, people will need to rediscover many of these skills which have been lost in a consumer-led society.
That is the view of lecturer Dr Chantel Carr, whose research at the University of Wollongong's school of geography and sustainable communities focuses on the relationship between people's paid work, skill and the environment.
"As we head towards much more volatile times, with resources becoming a lot scarcer and climate change leading to more volatile weather events that we've seen this week, I think it's time for a discussion around how we can better value people who know how to fix things, how to keep things going for longer, how to extend the life of the stuff around us," she said.
"It's probably a good time to start having that discussion."
Dr Carr, who started as an apprentice electrician at the Wollongong steelworks two decades ago, interviewed steel workers as part of her PhD to find out how their trade skills influenced the work they did at home.
"I found lots of households where people had those skills, they would repair guttering, they would repair or install water tanks well before that was a thing.
"They would do everyday household maintenance in a way that was quite skilled compared to lots of people without those skills," she said.
For the head of the University of Melbourne's geography school, Professor Lesley Head, the household is an important and changing piece of the sustainability puzzle.
Professor Head, who has collaborated with Dr Carr, said the interest in the relationships households have with sustainability was triggered by everyday dilemmas.
"It really started when we all started discussing our own dilemmas in our own households. [Talking] about how do you undertake sustainable practices but juggle the various social demands, and time demands, and work demands that we all have," she said.
Professor Head said small-scale consumers had power but needed to weigh up the cost of their actions towards making their households more sustainable.
"It's really about how much effort do I put in to changing my practices when the broader systems are so hostile to change because clothes are cheap, because we're offshoring our labour, and all those kinds of things," she said.
"There are different ways to think about why you might want to change your own household practices. You might want to resist those broader trends, you might want to increase your own skills.
"And the sewing skill is a really interesting one in that respect, because people get a lot of pleasure out of developing skills in making and maintaining things."
Dr Carr said vulnerable communities had always displayed a level of thriftiness and developed skills to make more of what they had.
Anyone who grew up in the Depression knew never to throw away a tin, scrap of fabric or piece of wood in case it would come in handy. It is a mindset not unique to that era.
"There's other households we now look to that have these kind of skills for a different reason.
"Migrant households, people who have moved from places where there is a need to extend the life of stuff they have. Lower socio-economic households who don't have the money to buy or to replace items so easily," Dr Carr said.
And these skills will become increasingly important for households which so far have been cushioned from any hard going.
"We're in a bit of a disposability culture [at the moment]. You go to Bunnings or you go to fast-fashion outlets and you buy a new one. But there's something to be said for those people with the skills to keep the stuff that they've got going that little bit longer, I think."
Professor Head said it was easy to see the need for a return to old skills, but there were many ways which they could now intersect with modern technology.
A repair cafe might have a social media presence, and videos online could help pass skills on to people who have had different upbringings. "Yes, these are practices that have been with us throughout human history but they've also got a 21st century edge on them as well, I think," she said.