Blog, Sewing for Beginners, Sewing Machine Hardware

How Do I Know If My Sewing Machine Is High Shank Or Low Shank?

By Jessica Strohlson

There’s a pretty simple rule of thumb for determining whether your sewing machine is low shank or high shank. Most domestic sewing machines sold at craft stores and in online marketplaces such as Amazon are low shank machines. If you’ve purchased a budget sewing machine sight unseen from a trusted brand like Singer or Brother, it’s likely a low shank sewing machine.

High shank sewing machines, on the other hand, are usually specialized devices. Industrial sewing machines meant for high-capacity jobs are often high shank. Specialized embroidery machines and more complex sewing machines built for commercial use are also more likely to be high shank than a common domestic machine purchased at Michael’s or Jo-Ann’s.

Most users with a high shank sewing machine already know that they have one. That’s likely because they’ve specifically targeted a sewing, quilting, and/or embroidery machine with a high shank.

If you’re still uncertain as to whether your sewing machine is high or low shank, there’s a simple way for you to figure it out once and for all.

woman working on a low shank sewing machine

How To Determine If A Sewing Machine Is Low Shank Or High Shank

To find out whether your sewing machine is high shank or low shank, you’ll have to measure your particular device’s setup. Let’s walk through the steps to measure a sewing machine to determine its shank level — 

  1. Find the smallest ruler you can. A three-inch or four-inch drafting ruler is a perfect measurement tool, or you can make your ruler out of cardboard or foam.
  2. Push your sewing machine’s presser foot into its down position. Make sure it is completely clicked down for an accurate measurement.
  3. Use your ruler to measure the distance between the bed of your sewing machine and the center of your presser foot holder screw (also known as a thumb screw.)
  4. If the distance between the thumbscrew and your sewing machine bed is 1/2 inch or thereabouts, you have a low shank sewing machine.
  5. If the distance between the thumbscrew and your sewing machine bed is one inch or larger, you have a high shank sewing machine. 
  6. For those who own an older Singer sewing machine model, the distance between the thumbscrew of your device and your sewing machine bed might sit between 3/4 inch and a full inch. If that’s the case, you have a rare slant shank (or slanted shank) sewing machine. 
  7. If you own a Bernina sewing machine, it uses a very different system. No Bernina sewing machine is high shank or low shank. They require separate adapters to use presser feet.

Snap-On Sewing Machine Presser Feet Versus Screw-On Sewing Presser Feet

sewing and threading a needle on a piece of cloth

Most sewing machines built after 1980 use snap-on presser feet. By omitting the previous screw-on design scheme for something much more malleable and practical, modern sewing machines have virtually eliminated the need to worry about high shank and low shank setups. 

If you have a snap-on presser foot system for your sewing machine, any snap-on peripheral should fit your device. Your device is likely considered a low shank sewing machine from a technical standpoint. But, it’s unnecessary to measure your sewing machine and search out presser feet for your particular shank level. 

If your sewing machine has a screw-on presser foot system, all it takes is a simple measurement to determine the right peripherals for everyday use!


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