A knitter after my own heart! I too would have tried and retried until I got it right. I love that you didn't give up. Way to go!!
Here's a tip for your long tail cast on. Before starting, wrap the yarn around your needle as many times as there are stitches to cast on. That will give you the perfect length to start your long tail cast on.
Even quicker, take the width measurement for the finished item and multiply that by 3. Measure your yarn to that length, make your slip knot, and start casting on.