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What is a Ruana? + 4 Knit Ruana Patterns

Updated September 07, 2018
What is a Ruana
What is a Ruana

Ponchos, shawls, wraps, stoles, capelets… it seems like there are a thousand different names to describe knits that you drape over your body and they all mean the same thing. The truth is that, while the line can be blurry at times, each of these are distinctive articles of clothing with unique, defining features.

The ruana is a relative newcomer in the world of yarn trends, and you might have found yourself wondering, well, just what is a ruana cape, anyway? Read on to find out, and also learn the difference between knit ruanas and ponchos and snag some free ruana knitting patterns!
 

What is a Ruana?

Like shawls, wraps, and ponchos, ruanas are layering pieces for added warmth or protection from the sun, wind, or snow. They originated in the Andes in Colombia and Venezuela, and the word means "Land of Blankets." Typically, a ruana is rectangular in its construction with an opening in the middle for the head, and the front piece split down the middle to drape over the shoulders. From there, the ruana may be buttoned closed, and the ruana may be cinched underneath the arms to create pseudo-sleeves, but neither of these are a requirement.

Ruana vs. Poncho

Here is where most people get lost. They can see that ruanas are distinct from shawls because of the opening created for the head, but how exactly do ruanas differ from ponchos? Ponchos, unlike ruanas, lack the opening in the center that gives ruanas that cardigan-like appearance. While both may or may not contain designated armholes, ponchos typically are closed in the front. Additionally, ponchos may be either circular or rectangular, whereas ruanas are typically just rectangular. See below for a visual comparison:

How to Make a Ruana Cape

  1. As you can see from the above diagrams, the basic construction of a ruana is a large rectangle with an opening in the center and a divide in the front. There are a few ways you can accomplish this design:

    The first, and easiest, would be to knit the ruana in three parts: one large rectangle for the back, and two rectangles at the same length as the first, but half the width. You would then seam together the two thinner rectangles to the end of the thicker one, which leaves you an opening in the front. However, unless you do some special shaping at the bottom edge of the thicker rectangle, the opening for the head may be a bit awkward.
     

  2. A second way to construct a ruana would be to simply knit one large rectangle back-and-forth, and then steek the vertical row of stitches halfway across the rectangle, ending the steek at the midway point of the rectangle. You may also steek a circular opening for the head, or bind off for a head opening midway through knitting the rectangle in the center and do a backwards-loop cast on the next row to replenish your stitches. This will leave you with a wider opening for the neck, which your steek will meet at the center.

  3. There are many other ways to achieve the construction of a ruana, so see below for a few free patterns to create a knit ruana of your very own.

Ruana Patterns

Knitting a ruana is easier than it looks. There are plenty of beautiful paid ruana patterns out there, but these four free ruanas are just as excellent. You'll love the unique and intricate designs, and you'll find the ruana to be the perfect midway point between a poncho and a shawl when it comes to mobility and warmth.

Woodland Ruana Wrap

This ruana is ultra-traditional in its construction. It has no frills like a clasp or armhole seaming, and instead is just a half-divided rectangle to rest over the shoulders. The lacy construction and shifting colors of the yarn help add a little bit of intrigue, and the free-flowing design of this ruana makes it versatile enough to wear as a shawl or a scarf.

Brave & Colorful Knit Ruana

With this knit ruana pattern, the construction gets a little more complicated. This pattern will teach you how to knit a ruana with designated armholes, as well as some beautiful colorwork. If you're looking for a ruana that's easy to throw on over your clothing but still looks like a cardigan sweater, this is the ruana for you.

Ruana Style Vest

The Ruana Style Vest perfectly shows the versatility of the ruana. While it's not as traditional as the other ruanas shown here, it includes a lovely belt for tying around the waist and giving the wearer a flattering silhouette, as well as designated armholes. While this style is almost more of a cardigan than it is aruana, the flattering design still has the same drapey elements we love in a ruana.

Veronica Knit Ruana Pattern

For a more cropped ruana which looks more like a sweater vest than an oversized accessory, the Veronica Knit Ruana Pattern is the go-to. It sports the same open, cropped sleeve-like appearance of a traditional ruana, but is shorter in length and is a tighter fit, making it look much more classic and a deliberate component of the outfit rather than a thrown-on accessory.

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I love ruanas. I like to make them in different lengths to use for everything from a simple short wrap for keeping the chill off my shoulders, to a nice long ruana to wear as a jacket on a cool fall evening. You can dress them up in so many ways. They are really versatile.

Excellent explanation. I wasn't sure of the difference before now. I like the idea of a ruana much better than a poncho. I'll have to try one!

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