When his charity knitting group had an Oriole’s-themed get-together earlier this month, Sam Barsky’s shirt stood out a bit. Instead of orange and black, Barsky wore something in a more subdued color scheme that was still O’s through-and-through: a short-sleeved knitted sweater depicting Camden Yards.
Barsky has achieved worldwide acclaim for his sweaters of places — which he often wears in photographs of visits to those places — but he’s one of Maryland’s own, living in Pikesville.
Over the past 18 years, he’s worked on more than 108 sweaters. (There are multiple works in progress right now.)
Barsky’s knit-as-you-go freestyle sweaters are inspired by upcoming trips, or religious devotion, or just everyday things.
“Anything that crosses my eyes is a potential sweater,” Barsky said.
The first sweater of his own design, made back in 1999, featured a waterfall in the back and a covered bridge in the front.
“And I found once I could do that, I could do anything,” Barsky said.
Next came a lake scene, and then his first short-sleeved sweater (it was spring and the temp was rising) of a castle.
In May 2001, his fourth sweater showed the Twin Towers before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Then he made a London Bridge sweater. There are actually two of those, with the bridge traversing all the way around the garment with the center of the bridge on his side and the two large towers on the front and back.
A Golden Gate Bridge sweater has the same wraparound style.
There’s a sweater of the solar system, with a large circle on the left shoulder made of wispy yellow yarn to represent the sun.
His cicada sweater features pink and brown and blue ombre stripes with scattered cicadas, complete with protruding wings.
It’s not the only insect sweater; he made one of an ant farm, too.
And a power line sweater.
One with scattered playing cards on a lime background.
Ones with scenes from “The Wizard of Oz” and of pillaging pirates.
A Seder plate.
In short, a sweater for every occasion.
“I don’t own anything else to wear,” Barsky said recently. “If it’s a place I’m going to or an event, then I might wear that, or if I want someone to see a particular sweater ... or I’ll just pick like anyone else picks up their clothing for the day.”
At the beginning of 2016, Barsky started to think of what his “Sweater 100” would be. He settled on a sweater depicting miniature versions of 34 of his favorite sweaters.
Barsky fell into his nearly two-decade hobby after a setback. He was in nursing school in the late ‘90s when he started suffering major medical issues. After leaving school, he needed to find something new to do with his life.
After an article highlighting his quirky sweaters and his selfies in them went viral in January, Barsky has increased his paid speaking gigs and is receiving royalties from a pattern of one of his creations. He hopes to do more, perhaps including a book of multiple patterns. He’ll be speaking at The Frederick News-Post‘s Fiber Fest this weekend.
He’s also traveling to L.A. and Vegas soon for talks, which include a couple of perks. First, he will get to take a photo of his Hollywood sweater at the real Hollywood sign (temporarily, that sweater photo is just in front of a poster of the sign). And second, he’s been inspired to create some Vegas-themed sweaters.
Cityscape sweaters are particularly hard, he said. “The urban scenes are more difficult because you have to put cars in them. They require a lot of different yarn in the cars and then all the buildings. I knew from the beginning it was going to be a difficult one.”
The Vegas Strip sweater will make for another photo opportunity.
On Facebook, Barsky has shared almost 80 photos of himself wearing sweaters at their source of inspiration.
“After a while, I realized I have a collection of pictures wearing some sweaters in the places they represented,” Barsky said. “I realize that’s a form of art, too, so I stepped up my effort to get more and more pictures like that.”
It generally takes Barsky about a month to finish a sweater now. But it wasn’t always that way.
His first project — which he doesn’t count in his 108 completed sweaters tally because it wasn’t an original design — was a solid teal sweater.
“It took me eight months to complete,” Barsky said. “And it had a lot of kinks in it.”
What advice would he give to someone new to knitting?
“I encourage people not to give up, to keep trying, and go at their own pace,” Barsky said. “And to enjoy what they do.”
See Barsky’s sweater photos at https://www.facebook.com/colorknit.