Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Capes Will Rise Again

I've long wished for a return of capes/cloaks/drapey wraps to ordinary life, because they're just so cool-looking. Admittedly, jackets and coats do a better job of keeping people warm, but they can't compete with capes for style (a few really cool-looking examples, such as Spike's leather trophy coat on Buffy, notwithstanding.) If you live in an area with mild winters, you don't need the warmest possible clothing. What I'm saying is, it's time for the Deep South to revive the cape!

I've started doing my part already. Late fall or early winter of last year I made a ruana and wore it all winter. "Ruana", for anyone who doesn't know, could be considered a fancy word for "a poncho split up the front", but I don't like ponchos and I do like ruanas. They are very easy to make; my first one was just a cut-and-wear one of brown fleece, but when I pulled it out to wear when the weather turned nippy last week, I got a compliment on it from a fellow shopper who told me she wanted to make a cape and was looking for ideas, so I figure it can't look too bad. This is somewhat in contrast to last year, when the first time I wore it Uncle Pookie told me I was wearing a blanket; of course when I pointed out I could hide a gun under it, the way Mexicans or seeming Mexicans sometimes did under ponchos in Westerns, the advantages of such a garment became obvious.... Hmm, maybe, just for the record, I should point out I'm not planning on shooting anyone, much less staging an elaborate trap, complete with apparently snoozing Mexicans, for my enemies any time soon?

I got the directions for how to make a ruana--and the word, which I'd never heard before--from a library book on plus-sized dressing that I skimmed back in the '90s. The author recommended ruanas for super-sized people who have difficulty finding coats, but they're nice for anybody. I would credit the book's author, but I can't remember the title or author's name; I wouldn't remember the book at all if I hadn't taken notice of the ruana project. Since then I've seen directions for a ruana in Pattern-free Fashions, by Mary Lee Trees Cole, and I just saw the very similar "wrap cape" from Nancy Zieman at Sewing.org .

The measurements below should fit most adults, but they could easily be changed to fit especially petite women or children.

How to Make a Ruana--A No-Sew or Low-Sew Project

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For a no-sew ruana, take two yards of a non-ravelling, 60"-wide fabric, such as Polar fleece, and make sure the end edges are trimmed straight across. Fold the fabric in half, so that it is 60" wide and one yard long; where the fold is is where the shoulder line of your ruana will be. Measure over 30" and mark with chalk the middle of the fabric both on the fold and at the bottom of the top layer. Draw a line between the two marks; this will be the front opening of your ruana. At the top, where the fold is, draw a line 6 inches wide; center it, so you have 3 inches on each side of your center front line. Now, take a bowl or plate and chalk a curved line from each side of the neck opening to the center front opening, so that the top front of your ruana curves a bit, rather than meeting in a square; it will hang better this way.

Double check to make sure everything you've marked looks right. Now get your scissors and carefully cut along your chalked lines, straight up the front of your top layer and then across at each side of the neck. (If you want to use a rotary cutter, spread the fabric out before cutting.) If desired, also round the bottom corners of your ruana at this time. Ta-da! You have a ruana. Wear it hanging down like a cape or throw one end over the opposite shoulder.

No-sew variations, other than curving every corner, could include cutting the bottoms into fringe or changing the length. Also, because the sides of the neck opening get a little more stress than the other cut places, I put a dot of Fray Check on each side; this was probably wholly unnecessary.

This becomes a low-sew, instead of a no-sew, project if you want to add embellishments, such as applique or decorative edge stitching, or if you use woven fabric. Obviously, if you use woven fabric instead of a non-ravelling knit, you're going to have to bind the edges somehow to prevent ravelling. My second ruana, which I made a month or two ago, was of a woven fabric. I bound the edges with black double-fold bias tape, to go with the black-and-white check of the main fabric. It looks great, except for one thing. I was so busy grumbling to myself about how I had to cut out fabric on the dining room floor (long story) that I forgot the cardinal rule of "measure twice, cut once"; actually I'm not even positive I measured once. (It's amazing how often irritation goeth before a fall.) Somehow I let my folded fabric be more than a yard long, and then when you add the way the weight of this fabric makes it drape, it is much too long. Unless I decide I like it this way (not likely) or get up the energy to rip out over thirty feet of bias tape (black thread on black fabric, an optometrist's dream), this ruana may remain sitting in my closet. But whatever I decide to do with it, it won't be my last ruana.

Update January 2006: This isn't anywhere near being important, but since writing this I have discovered, through the necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention method of needing something to jazz up an outfit, I can wear the black and white ruana I mentioned above, provided I wear one front end draped over the opposite shoulder. It would still look better shorter, but this is nice enough. The black binding creates pleasing lines when it's draped this way.


Anonymous said...

thanks so much for posting this. I think the book I read was called Size Doesn't Matter.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you, capes and cloaks are totally stylish. Check out www.ravenworksip.com, they make some awesome ruanas and cloaks.

Anonymous said...

The Book was "life is Not a Dress Size" I checked it out of a library maybe 10 years ago. And remembered the ruana. (Just now I was doing a search for ruana and found your blog.)

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J'net said...

Thank you thank you....crossing the pond in 4 days, and that "something simple but elegant" warm outerwear hadn't appeared after endless shopping. I wonder if I could make one in velvet and line it with something...then there is that fox trimmed cashmere ruana from some pricey joint for 3K...right. Wish I had found out about these sooner, would have saved a LOT of shopping time.

Murielle aka Salem said...

I found you searching "how to sew a ruana" so I'm pleased that you were clear in your instructions. I know sewing or not sewing a ruana would be the simplest method (versus my original plans to knit or crochet one) and while I understood the basics of the garment having measurements specified was most helpful!

Do you mind if I site you in my own posting and any later tutorial writing?

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Anonymous said...

I have a friend at work who has rheumatoid arthritis and is cold all the time. She has a real hard time with heavy sweaters around her neck. I didn't know what this was called, but thanks to Pinterest, I found the name and then found your website with the very nice, simple, directions. Thank you so much! She was thrilled. I made it from a leftover piece of polar fleece from a self-binding baby blanket. I embroidered her initials and a poppy on the corner to liven up the white fleece.