High or Low Shank – How do you tell the difference?

We get emails sometimes from customers asking if their machine is high or low shank. Do you know what type you have? 

shank is the metal rod that holds the presser foot on your machine. Feet are interchangeable depending on what sewing task you are working on. 

high and low shank sewing machine

It’s useful to know which type you have when you want to add a new presser foot to your roster, or know what type of rulers to use for free motion quilting. 

Most domestic sewing machines are low shank. They are great at sewing quilting cottons, linens, lightweight canvases. 

High shank machines are typically in the higher end ranges of sewing machine brands. They are meant to have space to go through things like multiple layers of denim or canvas. 

Here’s how to measure so you know for sure. 

How to measure your sewing machine shank:

1. Put the presser foot down on your machine
2. Use a rule to measure from the base of the foot to the middle of the screw that holds it on.
3. If it measures 3/4″ or less, your machine is low shank.
4. If it measures 1″ or more, your machine is high shank

high or low shank

My vintage Elna Grasshopper is a low shank machine. You can see the centre of the screw is below 3/4”.  Low shank is more typical for home sewing machines. 

sewing machine shank size

My Janome M7 is a high shank machine. You can see the centre of the screw is right at the 1” mark. High shank machines are less common, but they are usually a major upgrade once you’ve been sewing for a while. More throat space and more power. 

Most major brands like Janome and Elna have both low and high shank machines in their range. Usually people who have a high shank machine know it’s a high shank machine, since they bought it for that purpose. Bernina has their own classification system. They aren’t high or low, it’s just a specific clip on system that only they use. 

Your machine brand may also sell an adaptor so you can switch between feet and or tools. Always check your manual to find out important info specific to your machine. 

Like GI Joe says, ‘Knowing is half the battle!’.

Happy stitching! 🙂 



Michelle Brassens

Hi, I’m Michelle! I’ve never met a craft I didn’t like. Sewing however was where I really found my groove! So I left behind life as a pastry chef and concentrated on making things with fabric instead of food. I work at Dinkydoo Fabrics now and get to write about sewing and quilting for work. Stick with me and I’ll show you all kinds of tips and tricks, from beginner to expert maker level. Can’t wait!