I see so many funny and kitschy names flow through my social media, but when I saw The Quilting Cowboy name (also, I confess his hotter than hot pictures didn’t hurt), I had to stop and check it out. Imagine your fantasy of the Marlboro Man and your love of crafts come together with a life story that would seem at home as an HBO movie – its all here – meet Dale Allen-Rowse aka The Quilting Cowboy.
Raised by a Baptist minister in a small town and urged to attend conversion therapy, feeling alone, Dale fled to dance school to discover his identity and come out – even to himself. But it wasn’t until much later – the day he ended his first marriage and drove off into the sunset with no direction – that he happened upon a pair of cowboy boots and, in a scene from a superhero film, from the moment he put them on, felt whole.
After the birth of his niece, he sat down to start a quilt – and the rest is history. Quilting has been a way to express his art as well as work though his dystonia – a movement condition that I had not heard of. It was such a pleasure to sit down with Dale and chat about his life, I’m even inspired to start a quilt of my own – with martini glass patterns, of course.
Your moniker The Quilting Cowboy meshes our ideas of masculine vs feminine qualities that men possess. To do you think its becoming more mainstream for men (no matter their sexual orientation) to embrace their more feminine side?
Definitely! And I feel like the juxtaposition of these ideas, in what used to be seen as extremes, that we as a society are finding greater internal harmony. The masculine and the feminine, in many cultures, cohabitate well within the same space or person. I am one of these such individuals. Personally, I don’t think I have to choose a box, I can be both. I am both and I feel lucky that we as a Country are moving past gender norms and allowing expression of one’s soul regardless of how it has been perceived by others in the past.
Your embracing of the cowboy style was actually born out of a breakup. How did putting on cowboy boots help you work through that?
Ugh… this is going to make me cry… I was so broken and so forgotten by me. In living for a family and a man who I was extremely dedicated to, well… I just forgot to consider me. Does this make sense? So, while the reaching for that pair of cowboy boots may have been seen as a simple thing on the surface, it was the first time, in a very long time, that I reached for something that was truly, honestly and uniquely me. They are an expression and a reminder to always remain true to who I am. This sentiment is also reflected in my logo; the sewing needles and pins represent my North Star which is creativity, joy and spirit.
What first inspired you to sew a quilt for your niece? Why not just buy a stuffed animal?
Haha, what an awesome question! I’ve never thought about this or considered it. I guess the answer is that I wanted to create something truly from the heart and I’ve always felt that quilts can welcome a new born and wrap them in love. I wanted that experience for my niece… I wanted to wrap her in love so she would always know she is welcomed and loved beyond measure by her Uncle Dale.
What is your creative process for each quilt you create?
I am one of these people who sees inspiration in everything. I’m constantly taking photos and saving images. My process generally starts with an understanding or macro idea of something. The details resolve over time as I find the right elements that I want to combine such as a shape, a color palette, a certain texture or fabric… but more than anything I do my best not to see color or shapes but rather the emotion that those things invoke within me. Synesthesia is the process of having one sense inform another. This is where I design from. What information I gather from my eyes, I do my best to understand in my heart.
How long does it usually take for each quilt?
Most quilts take 3 weeks to 3 months to make depending on how complicated the design is. This is why I do not sew for money. It is not a business model that pencils. When someone wants me to make them a quilt, I say great… then follow their question up with “how much do you make in a month? -Cause that’s going to be the base price for a quilt + supplies.” The conversation typically ends there cause honey you’re not paying me $500 for a quilt that takes a month to make. It’s also why I teach, make patterns, author books and have a new line of fabrics.
Are you listening to music, sewing in the same room each time, at the same time of day or what is happening around you when you are quilting?
In general, I sew and create in silence. It’s meditative, reduces stress and calms a condition I have called dystonia which is a movement disorder. It’s in the same family as Parkinsons or MS, but is non-fatal. In general, I don’t have unwanted dystonic movement while I sew. It’s my escape. It’s my place of silent meditation. On rare occasion I’ll put on music when I’m feeling a little down or tired. The deep house radio station on Pandora sometimes awakens the cha-cha heels within.
Did you ever think your personality as The Quilting Cowboy was going to take off so quickly?
No. Never. In fact, I created the name Quilting Cowboy so that I could post my work online anonymously. At first, I felt embarrassed that quilting was my thing. I thought people would laugh at me and yet I got a lot of joy out of sharing online what I was doing. Over time, as more people discovered the brand, I noticed they were cheering not making fun of me, so I got more bold and over the years was more honest about the fact that it was me.
Is there any pushback from the cowboy community or the quilting community?
Not that I’ve experienced from the cowboy community. I think we often don’t give enough credit to some of the good old boys. Yes, many of them are homophobic but not all. In terms of the Quilting Community, it can be 50/50. Some of the older ladies like the expression of my art, others… well… I tend to be kinda naked online with my work, so I think that’s a turn-off for some of the older folks, which is fine, cause honey I am not trying to be all things to all people. Besides I have lots of friends who I know have my back and if someone were to say something negative online they’d be schooled by the people who follow me.
What was your childhood like?
My father was a baptist minister and my mom was a school teacher. My younger years were pretty typical growing up in a small Canadian town, but I never had many friends and I always was a bit of a loner. Back then, I’d be happy making crafts in the basement for hours and I guess I kept busy with required church activities, school and dance lessons, which was the trade-off I made with my parents in lieu of sports. I’m mean, c’mon. How jazzy is football or rugby? Ugh. Like, not at all. How Jazzy am I? Oh, like way. It was an instant match plus there were sequins… so yay.
What is your coming out story?
I realized early on that I was gay. I was terrified of my parents finding out and I knew I had to leave home as soon as possible. The most direct route out of my family situation was to succeed in my dance classes and get accepted into a professional school way the hell across the Country from Rev. James and Sally. At the time I saw other friends of mine getting accepted to these types of performing arts high schools so that was my plan. I worked hard. Really hard… and a few years later it happened for me.
At 17 I was accepted into The Royal Winnipeg Ballet Professional Ballet School. Once there I still had a lot of internalized homophobia and didn’t come out for 2 years even though I was in a safe environment.
At 19 I went to my first gay bar with a friend. I just sat in the corner in awe. The next night I was back again, and again, and again. I think I must have gone almost every night for months. I would just sit in the corner and watch because it felt like I had a front row seat to a magical world. It took me a while to actually date and then begin coming out to friends. I remember telling my best friend at the time who literally did a spit-take with his drink and coughed out ‘NO SHIT’. God, I was really mad at him for that. I mean, c’mon… was it THAT obvious? —Yes, it was Dale. Yes, it was.
The first person in my family I told was my sister, then my brother. They were both fine. My parents I knew were going to be a different story. I waited to tell them until I knew I could financially support myself.
When I was 21, I wrote them a letter and moved to a different city with no forwarding address. It was a year before we spoke on the phone. They asked that I try and get better and get into conversion therapy. I declined their offer. Our relationship pretty much ended there. My father died in 2004 and I still struggle to speak with my mother.
What tips do you have for a beginner quilter?
Love it enough to survive your own learning curve. Start with patterns that are simple. Focus on the basics and find a safe environment to find your own creative voice. Quilting for men is uncommon but not completely unheard of. There are many online groups that are fun, loving and supportive. Try and connect with other guys in your city and see what has worked for them locally.
What future would you like to see for your brand?
My immediate list for the brand looks like this: I’d like to write a book a year, travel and give classes, have the opportunity for speaking gigs, grow my online presence, launch two new fabric lines a year AND make it my full time job/sole source of income.
My patterns and book sell well online but honestly, my only focus for the Quilting Cowboy brand overall is to be the face beyond stereotypes. I want to lead the charge that you can do anything that is in your heart regardless of gender, gender-norms, or stereotypes.
Just being out there is rewarding enough and the support I get along these lines gives me endless energy and personal fulfillment. It’s funny that the main purpose of the Quilting Cowboy isn’t even really about quilting… it’s about finding your voice, being true to who you are and expressing it regardless of what anybody else might think.
What do you think the LGBT community needs to do the most during our current social and political climate?
Be vocal. Fuck nice. And I mean that from a deeply spiritual place. Love must learn to say no. Love must learn to say ABSOLUTELY NOT! NOT ON MY WATCH.
When your child runs into the street, love is not silent and love is not passive. It’s from this place of strength that love can find unknown and untapped strength.
Ladies and Gentlemen… Our Country has run into the streets and I believe we are dangerously close to losing some of the fundamental principals of our democracy. So, find your corner of the world where you can make a difference and be heard. Hell, if I can take sewing projects and make real world change from there, imagine what others can do. So much is at stake. We gotta keep at it. We cannot grow weary from the constant onslaught of fuckery. I know it’s exhausting… but get busy. Get vocal. Give of yourself where you can, and more than anything learn to say no from the place of love; for from that place, real change will be realized.
Boxers or Briefs: Briefs. Things going a-floppity-flop is much too distracting.
What celebrity would you love to quilt for? Ricky Martin. I would love to make a quilt for him and his family. I applaud him coming out and letting the world see what his family looks like.
Favorite album: Daughtry by Daughtry 2006
You can only quilt with three colors – what are they? Greys, dark blue & black.
Strangest habit: As a former ballet dancer I have some weird eating habits in terms of foods that I deem ok, vs not ok. It’s ridiculous. For example, no carrots or bananas because they have too much sugar, but will I eat a donut? Yes. Yes, I will.
Find out more about The Quilting Cowboy: