When Sam Barsky logged into Facebook on Sunday, he thought he had been hacked.
More than a hundred friend requests and thousands of messages about his sweaters flooded his account. Barsky had gone viral.
The 42-year-old Pikesville resident, who has been knitting since 1999, is now widely known for his growing collection of eccentric, themed sweaters, many of which he knitted to match the famous landmarks and destinations he has visited over the years. He's been featured in more than a dozen online media outlets, and his Facebook page, "Artistic Knitting of Sam Barsky," had grown to nearly 29,000 followers as of Wednesday afternoon.
Ugly sweater season is here and several people share the stories behind their sweaters. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
Barsky has knitted more than 100 sweaters, many depicting scenes like Times Square in New York City, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Tower Bridge in London, and landmarks in Israel.
He has even made Jewish holiday sweaters and Baltimore-themed sweaters depicting Orioles Park at Camden Yards, the Light Rail and rowhouses in East Baltimore.
The full-time knitter first took on the hobby more than 10 years ago after dropping out of nursing school due to health issues.
"For many years, I had wanted to take a knitting lesson. I saw other people knitting. I thought it looked interesting and I tried to sign up for many classes, but they were canceled due to low enrollment," he said.
But in March 1999, he stumbled upon three women who offered to give him a lesson under one condition — he had to buy their yarn.
There are ugly sweater parties, celebrity-endorsed lines, a designated "national day" and major-league sports franchises and big-box retailers in on the act. The theme has been adapted to ugly-sweater shirts, hats, leggings, pajamas and attire for pets, often embracing pop culture.
Barsky took the lesson, bought the yarn and became a fast learner. He knit his first solid-colored sweater the same year, and months later, he mastered intricate patterns. He completed his first challenging feat, a sweater with a globe design he found in Vogue Knitting magazine, in five months and then began creating his own designs.
Each sweater, a labor of love, takes him about a month to complete, Barsky said.
"I do sweaters with pictures and landmarks and anything I can think of," he said, adding that some of his sweaters have been featured in magazine articles and exhibits, including "Float" at the American Visionary Art Museum in 2004.
"I like creating something of my own that I can wear myself. I feel like it's my own work. I enjoy looking at the picture I've done, the scenery," said Barsky, who also knits hats for babies in local hospitals with the group Tiny Toppers of Maryland.
"[Knitting is] very mathematical, and math was my strong point as a child and it works for me," he said.
Today, Barsky feels pressure to knit more sweaters after his recent exposure.
"It's overwhelming," he said of many of the messages and interview requests he's received from major networks.
"Many, many people, I don't even know how many, but probably hundreds of thousands of people are begging me for sweaters, and I feel bad, but I can't become a human sweater mill. It's just not possible," he said.
And he's not going to start fulfilling special requests anytime soon.
"If I consider one person special and make [a sweater] for one person, I'll make too many people jealous," he said.
Barsky said his plan is to find a personal representative that can assemble a team of professionals and possibly mass-produce his designs and sweaters.
Until then, Barsky is going to keep knitting. And according to his Facebook feed, he's working on a grape-vine sweater and a Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired sweater to celebrate the historical civil rights leader during the upcoming holiday.