What is a Low Shank Sewing Machine?

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Cover Image: What is a Low Shank Sewing Machine?

I recently tried my hand at sewing cording into a unique design, and like so many other people out there, I assumed presser feet come in one universal size. Imagine my surprise when I wanted to buy a new cording foot for my trusted Bernina, and the shop assistant asked me for my shank size. I was baffled. What is the difference between high shank and low shank size?

What Does the Term Low Shank Mean?

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of my sewing machine, I usually just trust that it works, and has only a small collection of feet for buttons, zippers and the like. Little did I know that in order to purchase new feet, you need to know whether it will fit a shank that is either high or low. It was then that I needed to find out: what is a low shank sewing machine?

A diagram of low shank machine and high shank machine.

Image adapted from Crafts Capital

A shank, as you can see from the illustration above, is the metal rod that holds different parts of the feet which in turn keeps your fabrics in place. If you are not sure where to locate it, you can find out more about the different parts of a sewing machine here. In general, shorts shanks measure half an inch whereby larger shanks can measure from three quarters up to an inch in length.

How Do You Choose the Best Fit for Your Sewing Machine?

The shank varies according to the attachments and sizes available for a particular make. For example, machines used for general textile purposes tend to be lower than others made for working with more complex fabrics such as canvas or leather. It depends on the function as well as type at the end of the day.

Here are a few tips on how you can easily find out which is which:

Get to Know Your Options

presser foot on a thick fabric and maroon leather with stitches

Every machine is different, and the more you work with it the easier it becomes. Feet are like accessories, each intended for a specialized purpose like the zipper and button feet we know so well. Some of these feet have long shafts that attach to the back, and others clip into the front effortlessly.

Top Tip! Be on the lookout for sets, however, as it could be more cost-effective than buying them one-by-one. And, if one item in a set works well, then you know the others will too!

Read the Instruction Manual

Remember that little booklet that you found in the box when you unwrapped your beloved Singer for the first time? Keep that reference nearby. The instruction manual will easily inform you about what types of fittings best suit your particular model. In many cases, the manufacturer of a certain brand produces the accessories as well. This is very reassuring, as you know they definitely will be compatible.

What If I Do Not Know? You can always pop into your nearest sewing store and ask an expert. The latest sewing machine models tend to fall in the low shank category. Brands like Singer or Brother, in particular, are made to accommodate an assortment of sewing styles.

Method of Attachment

a close up shot of sewing machine feed teeth

Another important consideration is how the feet attach to the shank. This is known as the “foot screw” or “click on” type. When you consider buying new feet, you need to check this. As a rule of thumb, older machines tend to feature a thumb screw whilst in newer models, the attachment feet just click in.

Expert Advice: Detaching the foot that is currently in use can be a very good place to start. Generally speaking, all of them are equipped with a “multi-purpose” foot so that you can perform as many different sewing tasks as possible. You can examine this fitting to get a better understanding of its use, or, take it to your nearest dealer as a sample.

 What are the Benefits of Using a Low Shank Sewing Machine?

Baby Lock Altair Sewing and Embroidery Machine isolated in white background

Knowing the difference between high or low shank means you are better equipped to work with more complex sewing projects. For example, there are a variety of feet available for specialized sewings like embroidery, pintucks, and darning.

Further reading: Types of sewing-machine feet: a guide for the baffled.

Moreover, you don’t have to worry about getting an upgrade for that unusual new project either, thus adding many different styles to your sewing repertoire without the need for special components that cost extra money.

 Zipping it Up

Professional dual needle sewing machine with white fabric

All things considered, low shank sewing machines prove very versatile and are highly recommended for beginners because they are easy to use. In summary, getting new feet for your sewing machine needn’t be a mammoth task. All you need to remember is:

  • To examine the parts of the presser foot of your current machine model. This will help you buy the right items to suit your sewing needs.
  • Consult the instruction manual and ask questions if you are not sure.

Feel free to tell us about your experiences with a low shank sewing machine in the comments below. Did it help you expand the creative boundaries of your sewing projects?