What Is a Low Shank Sewing Machine? – Things that You Must Know

Learn how to know if you have a low shank sewing machine and what presser feet to use with it from this handy guide!
Jean Chaney
Jean Chaney
Research Writer
Jean is the brains behind her fashion label. She's a whiz with a needle and thread, and has been sewing since she was old enough to hold a pair of scissors. Jean has always read more
Reviewed By
Isabel Misner
Isabel Misner
Expert Consultant
A professional seamstress. Isabel has her own video blog where she shares her experience about all the aspects of sewing – from choosing suitable materials to step-by-step read more
Last updated: August 19, 2023
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If you’ve been sewing for a long time, at some point, you definitely felt that your universal presser foot wasn’t as efficient as it previously was. Like most people, you probably bought a new foot without confirming whether you had a low shank sewing machine, only to find that they were incompatible. It’s frustrating, right?

Well, you should know that depending on the build of your sewing machine, it can either have a high or low shank. This is why we advise that you identify your sewing machine’s system for a more enjoyable sewing experience.

If you’re relatively new at sewing or are unsure whether you have a low or high shank sewing machine, we’ve compiled this simple guide for you!

What Is a Shank and Why Does It Matter?

What Is a Low Shank Sewing Machine? - Things that You Must KnowBefore you look into the differences between low shank vs. high shank in sewing machines, you need to know what a shank is. It is a device, usually a metal rod, that is attached to the presser foot.

Shanks are the main reason why your garments hang and drape as you sew because they allow your fabric to stay between your garment and button.

How to Know If Your Sewing Machine Is Low Shank

There are 2 main sewing machine shank types; high and low. The best way to identify which type of sewing machine you have is by measuring the distance between the attachment screw and the presser foot’s bottom.

For this exercise, you’ll need a ruler, and you can easily make this using cardboard. However, the Creative Grids Non-Slip Low Shank Machine Quilting Ruler is best based on reviews. It is easy to use and is perfect for domestic sewing machines. You can also use it to make several quilting patterns, and it works perfectly with low shank sewing machines.

Start by putting your presser foot down, and then measure the distance between the presser foot holder screw and the bed of your sewing machine. If it measures half an inch, then your machine is low shank, but if it measures more than 1 inch, then you have a high shank.

In some instances, if you have old Singer machines, the distance may be ¾ inches, in which case you have a slant shank. These are, however, very rare and  Singer still remains one of the best manufacturers of sewing machines. Interestingly, around April, most models of Singer sewing machines almost went out of stock as there was a heightened interest in sewing amidst the pandemic.

The easiest way to differentiate low shank vs. high shank sewing machines, however, is their usage. Most domestic sewing machines are usually low shank, while high shank machines are often fancy and used in industrial manufacturing.

Types of Presser Feet

There are 3 main types of presser feet:

Snap-on Presser Feet

What Is a Low Shank Sewing Machine? - Things that You Must KnowThese types of presser feet have a small bar at the back where the presser foot holder of your sewing machine is supposed to snap on to. A screw is used to snap on your foot holder, and you can easily take them on and off by pulling it down or pushing a button.

Snap-on presser feet can be used on both low shank and high shank sewing machines, so you don’t really need to know how your machine works to use them. Based on popular opinion, the Smart H Adjustable Guide Sewing Machine Presser Foot is one of the best. It’s compatible with all domestic low shank sewing machines, including Singer, Brother, Juki, Babylock, and several others. It also comes with a ruler guide that allows you to make decorative and straight stitches perfectly and is great for channel quilting.

Most machine brands use a standard snap-on system, but brands like Pfaff have a different system. For such machines, you need a suitable adapter so that you can use the universal snap-on presser feet.

Screw-on Presser Feet

What Is a Low Shank Sewing Machine? - Things that You Must KnowFor the screw-on presser feet, you have to use a screwdriver to take the foot on and off. Start by removing your old screw-on foot and then screw on the new foot on your sewing machine’s presser foot holder.

Unlike the snap-on variety, these types of presser feet are not universal and come in different models for low shank and high shank machines. This means that you can’t install screw-on presser feet intended for a high shank sewing machine on a low shank machine and vice versa.

Bernina Presser Feet

What Is a Low Shank Sewing Machine? - Things that You Must KnowBernina presser feet are unique because they have a clip-on presser system that can’t be used on other sewing machines. You can, however, use a Bernina adapter to use the universal presser feet on them.

Quick Tips

  • Most sewing machines manufactured after 1980, except for Bernina, have a snap-on presser system.
  • You can use snap-on presser feet for Bernina machines, but you’ll have to use a Bernina adapter.
  • Some Singer machines manufactured in the 1960s and 70s are slant shanks, but they are very rare. Most modern Singer machines are, however, low shank.
  • There are various high shank and low shank rulers in the market, but Bernina’s are different and have a specific ruler for their machines. While medium rulers are often used with these sewing machines, they aren’t as effective, and you have to manipulate them so that they can fit.

Final Thoughts

Sewing machine technology is constantly evolving, and modern machines are more advanced. A while back, sewing was considered an age-old skill, but after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the demand for masks reignited the interest in sewing machines. In fact, at some point, Singer models almost ran out of stock.

Sewing is a delightful activity, but you need to understand how your machine works for maximum efficiency. There are two types of sewing machine shanks; low and high. Low shank sewing machines have a ½ inch distance between the machine’s bed and the foot holder, while high shank machines have a 1-inch distance. Most low shank sewing machines are also used for domestic use, while high shank machines are used for industrial use. Some singer brands are slant shanks, but it’s hard to come by them.

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