An introduction to Khatam (Persian inlay)

The art of decorating the surfaces of objects with cut and juxtaposed layers, which leads to the creation of regular geometric patterns by them, is called inlay or Khatam (Khatamkari). Decorating objects with inlay layers is the last stage of the art of inlaying, and in fact the most complex and laborious stage is creating the khatam layers, which begins with making delicate prismatic wires of different materials and ends with the preparation of inlay layers.The most important feature of inlay products is to create a surface with colorful, regular and geometric patterns, which is obtained by combining and repeating a single shape (equilateral triangle with dimensions of up to two millimeters.  

Persian Khatimkari Furniture, Qajar dynasty, 19th. century

Khatamkari background

There are various narrations about the inventor of Khatamkari among artists, but in general, most of them consider the city of Shiraz as the main origin of the art of inlaying, because the oldest inlaid works have been seen in this city, such as the inlay of the Atiq mosque pulpit in Shiraz which is more than a thousand years old. However, it should be noted that during the Safavid period, this art was transferred to the city of Isfahan and achieved extraordinary prosperity.

How are Khatamkari products made?

To make the inlay layers, first thin strips with a maximum thickness of 1.5 mm are made of wood, metal and bone. Prismatic wires are made of these strips during a special process. Then, by putting these wires together and gluing them with a special glue and finally pressing them, geometric volumes called Ghame are made. By changing the order of prismatic wires next to each other,  different designs and patterns of Ghame will be obtained. Next, an inlay layer is obtained by cutting thin layers with a thickness of 1 to 1.5 mm from the made Ghameh. The inlay artist creates a custom design by using a combination of inlay layers and pasting them on the desired surface

 

Prismatic wires
Pasting prismatic wires to make Ghameh
Ghamehs
Making inlay layers from Ghamehs

Materials used in Khatamkari work

–Types of wood: ebony, walnut and betel wood are used for black and brown colors, logwood and jujube for red and orange colors, maple and boxtree for yellow and cream colors, alder and sycamore for green and orange colors.
–Types of metals: silver, gold, brass, copper and aluminum
–Types of bones: elephant bone and ivory, camel bone, horse bone
–Oysters: to create a glossy white color
–Special adhesives

 

Using inlay layers to decorate the product

Quality criteria for Khatamkari products

–Uniformity of colors and materials used in making the inlay
–No change in color and shape over time
–Restorations and patties are Unnoticeable in the final surface of work
–Symmetry of all shapes at the work surface and angles and sides
–The smaller the patterns and triangles, the higher the quality and value of the work
–Proper coverage by protective layers against moisture and also to polishing the work