You can actually go see this one in person at the Brooklyn Museum. [Via]
You might know a linen press as a piece of furniture used to store linens, but did you know that there is an alternate meaning of this phrase? From the medieval period up until the 19th century, linen presses (also called napkin presses) were actual presses
that were used to flatten cloth, sometimes give it a nice sheen, and interestingly, to create purposeful creases in the cloth. It was also used for storage- many books of household management reference getting tablecloths out of the napkin press and putting them back in when the meal was over. These were so common, they are mentioned in household lists of furniture and guides for housewives without any explanation of what they are for or how to use them other than that they are helpful to keep tablecloths and napkins neat.
They worked like any kind of press- you put the linen in between two boards and then tightened it down with a screw mechanism. So, kind of ironing by pressure instead of heat. Speaking of irons, though, did you know you can buy giant irons that you feed tablecloths and sheets and things through (if you want them smooth and not with purposeful creases)? I found that out recently and I want one so badly because I am a wack who loves ironed sheets, but alas, I cannot fit a monster appliance like that in my Brooklyn apartment. Someday though.