Machine foot with fabric and a blue tape measure

Understanding Shank Types in Quilting Machines: High Shank vs. Low Shank and Ruler Compatibility

This question pops up a lot:  What is the difference between a high shank machine and a low shank machine? And when it comes to ruler work, which rulers can I use? 


High Shank vs. Low Shank Machines

The shank of a sewing machine is the part that connects the presser foot to the machine. The key difference between high shank and low shank machines lies in the distance between the screw that attaches the foot and the base of the foot itself.

  • High Shank Machine: This type of machine has a significant space between the screw and the base of the foot. All longarm quilting machines fall into this category, meaning a ¼” ruler is what I am accustomed to using daily.
  • Low Shank Machine: In contrast, a low shank machine has very little space between the screw and the bottom of the foot.

Here's a visual comparison:
Low shank
High Shank

Ruler Compatibility for Quilting

When it comes to ruler work, the shank type of your machine significantly impacts the ruler you can use.

  • High Shank Machines: For these machines, a ¼” ruler is standard and works perfectly.
  • Low Shank Machines: A ¼” ruler won't fit due to the limited space between the foot and the screw. Trying to use a ¼” ruler on a low shank machine can result in damage to your ruler and difficulties in quilting. Instead, you should use a ⅛” ruler, which is the same thickness as standard rotary cutter rulers. However, be mindful of the ruler's length as longer rotary cutter rulers can be difficult to control.

Solutions for Low Shank Machines

If you have a low shank machine, don't worry—there are specific rulers designed for your needs. Several brands offer low shank machine quilting rulers, including:

  • Angela Walter’s Range: Known for their quality and ease of use.
  • Westalee Rulers: They even provide a ruler foot specifically designed for low shank machines.
image of Westalee's domestic machine ruler foot
Image from, supplier of Westalee products

Special Considerations

Some manufacturers, like Baby Lock, recommend using a 3/16″ thick ruler for certain models. This adds another layer of complexity. How do you determine the right ruler thickness for your machine?

  • Longarm or Mid Arm Machines: If you’re using a machine like the Q’nique or the Moxie from HandiQuilter, stick with the standard ¼” thick rulers such as Tramlines and Keyhole.
  • Sitdown Machines: For models like the Sweet Sixteen from HandiQuilter, the same ¼” thick rulers are suitable.
  • Domestic Machines: Check with your machine's manufacturer to get accurate information about compatible ruler thicknesses.

Understanding whether your machine is high shank or low shank is crucial for selecting the right rulers for quilting. While high shank machines are compatible with standard ¼” rulers, low shank machines require ⅛” rulers. Always consult with your machine’s manufacturer for specific recommendations, especially if you own a domestic machine.   

Feel free to reach out if you have more questions or need advice on quilting tools and techniques.

Happy stitching!

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