I finished the front and back of the vest. It was not nearly as difficult as I first imagined. I certainly did learn a lot though. I tried out the mattress stitch as several of you recommended and it works like a charm. Even my wife was impressed with how slick it works when you pull on the ends and she has been an embroiderer and cross-stitch guru for 40 years.
Should I block the vest parts before I join them together? If so, should I just spritz them, or steam them, or dunk them? It's 100% pure virgin wool (Fishermen's Wool).
As always, thanks for all the help!