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Understanding sewing machine shanks & presser feet

On the market, you can find a full range of different presser feet designed to make different types of sewing jobs easier and more productive. 

At MadamSew.com we sell universal presser feet. Our feet are designed to fit as many types of sewing machines possible and we have 3 types of adapters so almost everybody can use our presser feet. 

Depending on the way a sewing machine is built, the shank can be high, low or slanted and is equipped to use snap-on, screw-on or clip-on presser feet. And beside all that there is Bernina with a very own presser foot system. 

Let’s clarify this for you so you know whether or not you need an adapter to use our wonderful sewing aids. Some words used in this blog post might be new to you. 

That is why I made the image below to help you understand what I am talking about when I am using a technical term.

1. Do you have a high shank or a low shank machine?

Most domestic machines are LOW shank. If you don’t know what kind of shank your machine is, chances are it’s LOW shank. Because High Shank machines are generally “fancy” and expensive embroidery models or industrial machines. I think most people who have these, know that they have a high shank. But there’s an easy way to know for sure. You need to measure. 

You’ll need a small ruler. I made a little cardboard 2” ruler to show you. 

Put your presser foot in the down position. Measure from the bed of the machine to the center of the thumb screw (presser foot holder screw).

If the length from the bottom of the presser foot to the center of the screw is half an inch, you have a low shank machine. In the pictures you see a Pfaff machine and a Brother Innovis Anniversary. 

If you measure 1 inch or longer, you have a high shank machine.

If you have an old Singer machine and the length is 3/4 to 1 inch, you might own a slant shank, but these are really rare. 

Bernina sewing machines have a completely different presser foot system, they are not high or low shank, they are just … Bernina.

2. What type of presser feet exist?

Snap-on presser feet

In this picture you can see some of our snap-on feet: a wide hem foot, an open toe foot, a regular presser foot and an adjustable guide presser foot. What they have in common is the small bar at the back of the presser foot. That is where your sewing machine’s presser foot holder snaps on to. The presser foot holder is attached to the shank of your machine with a screw.

You snap them on and off your presser foot holder by pushing a little button or just pull down.

Snap-on presser feet work on both high and low shank sewing machines with a snap-on system. So to use snap-on feet it is not so important to know if your machine has a high or low shank. 

Most brands use the same universal snap-on system and that is the snap-on system we use on our universal snap-on presser feet. Some brands, like Pfaff have a different snap-on system though. With a suitable adapter you can however use all our universal snap-on presser feet on a Pfaff sewing machine.

Screw-on Presser Feet

In this picture we have 3 screw-on feet. You need a little screwdriver to screw the foot on and off. First you remove your regular screw-on foot or your machine’s presser foot holder and then you screw the new foot on the shank.

Opposed to snap-on presser feet, screw-on presser feet are different for high and low shank sewing machines. A screw-on presser foot that is built for a machine with a low shank will not fit a machine with a high shank and vice versa.

Bernina presser feet (clip-on)

Bernina has a specific clip-on system that no other brand uses. To use universal presser feet on a Bernina sewing machine you will need a Bernina adapter.

Overview of our presser feet

3. Do you need an adapter to use our universal snap-on presser feet?

Our universal snap-on presser feet can be used on any machine. Most people will be able to use them without the need for an adapter, some will need an adapter. Read on to find out if you need an adapter and if so, which one.

From what you read above you already know if you have a high or low shank machine and if your machine uses snap-on or screw-on presser feet.

A. Low shank, snap-on sewing machines 

Most brands use the same, universal snap-on system for their presser feet. The MadamSew presser feet also have that universal snap-on system. That makes the MadamSew presser feet snap-on easily to most sewing machines. So in this situation you do not need an adapter. 

Some brands, most notably PFAFF, have a different snap-on system. Universal snap-on presser feet can be used with Pfaff sewing machines if you use a universal low shank snap-on adapter.

B. Low shank, screw-on sewing machines

If your sewing machine uses screw-on presser feet, you will need the universal low shank snap-on adapter to be able to use our universal snap-on presser feet. This adapter attaches to your sewing machine in exactly the same way as your screw-on presser feet.

C. High shank, snap-on sewing machines

Most brands use the same, universal snap-on system for their presser feet. The MadamSew presser feet also have that universal snap-on system. That makes the MadamSew presser feet snap-on easily to most sewing machines. So in this situation you do not need an adapter. 

Some brands, most notably PFAFF, have a different snap-on system. Universal snap-on presser feet can be used with Pfaff sewing machines if you use a universal high shank snap-on adapter.

D. High shank, screw-on sewing machines

If your sewing machine uses screw-on presser feet, you will need the universal high shank snap-on adapter to be able to use our universal snap-on presser feet. This adapter attaches to your sewing machine in exactly the same way as your screw-on presser feet.

E. Bernina sewing machines

If you have a Bernina sewing machine, you will need a specific Bernina adapter + a low shank snap-on adapter to use our universal snap-on presser feet.

4. Can you use our low shank screw-on presser feet?

This one is very easy….

If you have a low shank sewing machine: yes

If you have a high shank sewing machine: no (and there is no adapter to fix this)

If you have a Bernina sewing machine: yes, you will need a specific Bernina adapter

5. The adapters

Above you learned if you need an adapter and if so, what adapter you need. Here I explain how to use the different adapters.

A. The low shank snap on adapter 

In the GIF you can see how you put the low shank snap on adapter on your machine. You screw off the presser foot holder or your screw-on presser foot and screw on the adapter. Now you can snap on our feet.

B. The high shank snap-on adapter 

You just screw the adapter on to your presser bar and you can snap our presser feet on and off.

C. The Bernina adapters

There are 2 types of adapters, on for the machines before 1996 and one for the models after 1996. To use the snap on presser feet, you will need the low shank snap on adapter as well. For our screw on feet, you won’t. To choose the right Bernina adapter, we listed the models for you:

Old style = before 1996 Models 

OLD STYLE: 530, 532, 534, 540, 600, 610, 640, 642, 644, 700, 707, 708, 709, 717, 718, 719, 730, 731, 732, 740, 741, 742, 744, 800, 801, 802, 803, 807, 808, 809, 810, 811, 817, 818, 819, 830, 831, 832, 840, 841, 842, 850, 900, 910, 930, 931, 932, 940, 950, 1000, 1001, 1004, 1005, 1006, 1008, 1010, 1011, 1015, 1020, 1030, 1031, 1080, 1090, 1120, 1130, 1230, 1260, 1530, 1630

New style = from 1996 Models 

NEW STYLE: 215, 330, 350, 380, 530, 550, 560, 570, 580, 710, 720, 740, 750, 765, 770, 780, 790, 820, 880, Activa 240, 230, 220, 210, 145, 140, 135, 131, 130, 125, Artista 730, 640, 635, 630, 200, 185, 180, 170, 165 Aurora 450, 440, 435, 430 Virtuosa 163, 160, 155, 153, 150

In Summary

When you change a foot, always put the needle in the downward position and back up to test if the needle doesn’t touch the metal of the foot.

The Ultimate Presser Foot Set

The ultimate presser foot set comes with the low shank adapter included. This makes it compatible with ALL low shank sewing machines. High shank sewing machines can use the snap-on pieces from the set but not the 4 screw-on presser feet (2 darning feet, gathering foot and adjustable zipper foot).

* If you notice that your needle touches the presser foot, then try with the included adapter. In some cases it works perfectly with a certain machine type and for some reason with the same type, the needle touches the foot. So always test with your hand wheel before you stitch.. If the set or a presser foot doesn't fit your machine we will issue you a full refund, no questions asked.

Wow, congratulations! You made it all the way to the end of this technical post. Technical stuff is not my favourite, I rather write about creating beautiful things. But I actually enjoyed making this overview. As we get a lot of questions asking if a foot fits a specific machine, I know it will help a lot of our customers to get a better idea of what they need (or don’t need) to start using our oh so useful universal presser feet. 

And I remember very well how I felt when I discovered all the amazing things I could do with specialty presser feet. 

If you have any more questions or hesitations about this, don’t hesitate to send me an email an@madamsew.com.

 Have fun sewing!!



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